Since 2006 when the last population census was conducted in Nigeria under controversial circumstances, knowing the actual population figure has remained guesswork both by those that ought to know, namely; the National Population Commission, NPC, and the public. This situation has given rise to speculations. While the Commission says that Nigeria population is 170million, other agencies (local and international) quote figures ranging from 160 to 200 million. If the NPC does not know the actual number of people in this country, who else would? Population census is one of the most important undertakings in any country. It is important to both the individual and the government. It is important for planning and for economic and industrial development.
Census is a unique event – it tells us who we are! It is one occasion, once every ten years, when each and every one of us gets the opportunity to make our mark by putting on record who we are, where we are, what we do, what we have to offer and what our current situation is. It doesn’t matter if you are 1 hour old or 100 years old, it doesn’t matter if you were born in rural or urban centre. We are all Nigerians. Census will give a comprehensive picture of the social and living conditions of our people. Only a census can provide such complete detail right down to the smallest area and the results are an essential tool for effective policy, planning and decision making purposes. It provides the knowledge so that public resources can be shared evenly across the country and to ensure that services at local level are relevant to all the people who live there.
It is our duty as a nation to see to it that we produce population census results which have been thoroughly conducted, verified and appraised, and therefore acceptable, without any shadow of doubt, to all governments of the world and to all international bodies such as the United Nations and its agencies, the World Bank, etc…
The impression of the manner in which a country conducts its affairs are one of the factors which earn for it the respect or disrespect of the rest of the world.
The current problems with the population census in Nigeria continue due to current issues regarding religious pride, tribe and political redistricting in the country. The issue of determining the population of Nigeria has been a very contentious issue since1866 and establishment of the total population in the country, in each state and local government area has been mere speculations.
The reason for this is not far-fetched. People believe that population is a political weapon. The higher the number, the more government amenities, an area will stand to attract. Higher population figures lend credence among other reasons to the demand for more seats in parliament, more local governments and more states for a particular tribe or region.
Therefore, it becomes expedient for people to inflate the figures of their communities, LGAs and states and attempt to deflate that of others. These are the reasons behind the tension that have continually trailed Nigeria’s attempt to answer the simple question of “How many are we?, through a population census.
In next year’s population census, emphasis should be placed on the quality of the population–how the skills and abilities of people can be improved and how their motivations and values can be modified for the specific purpose of development efforts. Suffice it to say that planning for development with the aid of population census without the most fundamental fact – the number and characteristics of the people, – is tantamount to chasing the shadows. Next year’s proposed population census should serve as opportunity to right all the wrongs in our population data collection system.