BY ROBERT OBIOHA
All over the world, population census is used for socio-economic, strategic and developmental planning. In almost all countries, demographic data are used for provision of infrastructure, water, power, housing, health and educational needs of the inhabitants amongst other uses. For such planning to be effective, it must be based on accurate population census figures.
In advanced democracies and some countries in Africa, conducting a population census is a normal exercise that people don’t lose their heads about worrying of its outcome and which part of the country will have the highest figure and other inanities associated with population census in Nigeria.
The story is not the same in Nigeria, the giant of Africa. In Nigeria, census figures are manipulated in view of the fact that the data are important in delineation of electoral wards and constituencies and in revenue allocation. That is why unscrupulous politicians are more concerned with its outcome. Because of the inherent abuses of census figures in the country, virtually every census conducted in the country has ended up in controversy. It is either the North rejects it or the East or the West does not approve of it.
The inability of the leaders of the country to arrive at accurate population census is at the heart of major crises the country has faced since independence. The political dominance of the North over the South since independence due to the seeming population advantage it has over the South is part of the Nigerian problem. That is why every census exercise in the country is always acrimonious and contentious no matter who supervises it.
Even if angels are brought from heaven to supervise Nigerian census, some people will still complain. Perhaps that is the way Nigerians perceive census, especially when the result will be used for sharing of the national cake, essentially oil money.
It is based on proven scientific data and evidence of such census abuses that the chairman of the National Population Commission (NPC), Eze Festus Odimegwu, recently lampooned past census exercises conducted in Nigerian before independence and after as being inaccurate. As most Nigerians are aware, Odimegwu did not say anything new or what nobody has said in the country. He has said the truth of the matter. Perhaps his ‘first fault’ is that he is insisting that all demographic information like tribe and religion, which were excluded in the 2006 census exercise be included in the 2016 one as it is done in all parts of the world. Perhaps his ‘second fault’ is that he said that the 2006 census was manipulated in favour of a section of the country. When has saying the truth become a fault in the country?
Those who are contesting Odimegwu’s claims should not bother any further. The recent Census Tribunal’s ruling that some areas of Lagos be recounted because they were not correctly captured during the 2006 census exercise has amply justified Odimegwu’s stand. Lagos State had after the release of the census figures that gave Kano State more population than Lagos contested the outcome. Lagos State might not be alone in such misrepresentation.
The South-East was not adequately covered during the 2006 census exercise due to the threat by MASSOB that Igbos should not participate. How can a census that did not factor tribe and religion, the two major demographic indices for accurate census be taken as credible? Many Nigerians protested then that those demographic indices be included but were never heeded by the powers that be. Conducting a population census is a serious business. Figures should not be assigned to wards and constituencies at the whim of the powers that be, they must be accurate. That is exactly what Odimegwu is saying.
Therefore when the governor of Kano State, Rabiu Kwankwaso, raised undue dust over Odimegwu’s comments, it is understandable where he is coming from. His assertion that Odimegwu’s appointment as NPC chairman is ‘a mistake’ is quite unfortunate and unbecoming of a state governor who should be concerned of the need for accurate population count in the country. Kwankwaso’s grandstanding on the issue and his unprintable invectives on Odimegwu are in bad taste and against Odimegwu’s right to freedom of expression. It is public knowledge that Kwankwaso went too far in his verbal umbrage on Odimegwu and his competence to conduct the 2016 census.
This is not the first time that Kwakwanso will be so condemnatory in any matter that concerns Ndigbo. The other time, it was the call for additional State to the South-East zone, the only geo-political zone in the country with five states.
Kwankwaso did not only condemn the call, he also berated those making the call and dismissed the agitation with a wave of the hand because he is not involved. Such hate approach to national issues in a plural society as ours is indeed parochial and uncalled for.
Let Kwankwanso and others that think like him (the Arewa Consultative Forum) understand the need for accurate population census and support those that want Nigeria to have accurate and credible census come 2016. Even if they don’t like the messenger, let them not discard the message. The message, irrespective of the bearer, is very vital for the continued functioning of the country. It is surprising that some people will be posturing against the clarion call for accurate population census. How do such people plan in their household or the state they govern?
Therefore, the call on President Goodluck Jonathan to sack Odimegwu based on his defence of accurate population census, is diversionary, unnecessary and should be dismissed. It does not advance the cause of a transformational administration and statehood that Nigeria is aspiring to be under the current dispensation. Let those castigating Odimegwu over his insistence for accurate headcount leave him alone and think of how best to govern their states.
Before coming to NPC, Odimegwu has had a distinguished career as an accomplished manager of men and resources as well as a board room guru at Nigerian Breweries Plc. Since leaving the conglomerate, he has been successful in diverse business ventures. His competence to conduct a credible headcount for the country is therefore not in doubt as Kwankwaso wants us to believe.