According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), “a population census is the total process of collecting, compiling, evaluating, analysis and publishing or otherwise disseminating demographic, economic and social data pertaining, at a time, to all persons in a country or in a well delimited part of a country.” Periodic national population and housing census is a policy thrust of government aimed at improved good governance, effective and efficient national strategic development planning, projections and decision making processes. United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) further emphasised that census data are critical for good governance, policy formulation, development planning, crisis prevention, mitigation and response, social welfare programmes and business market analysis. Establishing the accurate number of citizens is a sure way of defining and determining who gets what, where, when, why and how. A typical national census is imperative for determining strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to sectoral and national growth index, planning and governance strategy. Census figures to a large extent drive very important economic and political decisions such as revenue sharing formula, budgeting benchmarking and legislative representations in Nigeria.
The essence goes beyond head counts to arrive at a certain numbers or figure. Census serves as a potent policy tool for measuring human, societal and economic indices and progresses of nations. The intrinsic importance of the exercise is tied to the outcome intended to drive national plans and projections. In the light of the above, the National Population Commission (NPC) has concluded plans to carry out the fifth national population and housing census of Nigerians come April, 2023. This is coming 16 years after the last one held between March 21- 27, 2006. As a rule of thumb, the United Nations recommended national census to take place after every decade interval.
However, the commission said that; “lack of resources and political transitions were responsible for the inability of the country to conduct population census for 16 years.” The decision of government to conduct another census after over a decade and half to determine the exact number of Nigerians which has been regularly put on estimation is highly commendable.
However, for the planned exercise to achieve the desired results, government has a duty and responsibility to effectively water the ground with adequate information and diligent planning. Government at all the tiers has to invest in raising the consciousness of Nigerians on the general importance of the census. The minds of citizens have to be prepared and supported with vital education and knowledge. One question agitating the minds of people is: How can government get Nigerians ready for the census? The answers are not far-fetched.
First, allowing the citizens to take ownership of the project, consent and buy in, need to participate and benefits accruing thereof is essential. Projects succeed when people see it as theirs, are aware of the value it adds to community and their general well-being. Suffice it to say that; citizens’ active participation in the census exercise and processes is crucial for government to achieve set goals.
Second, the need for deployment of effective mass media campaign on constant education, information and sensitisation of the public on the essence of the population and housing census is crucial. The potency of the mass media to reaching out to large audiences and simultaneously also should be leveraged upon in mobilising Nigerians. This should be based on messages compelling and capable of inspiring positive action from the target audiences. The role of the media in setting agenda for the public through education, information, entertainment and sensitisation on topical national issues is also fundamental.
Third, there should be deepened partnership and genuine collaboration between the government and the traditional institutions. The traditional rulers occupy strategic position as custodians of the peoples’ culture and beliefs. They have age long tested channels of conveying credible information to the people which is required to convince them to cooperate and actively participate in the census.
Fourth, involvement of religious institutions and leaders alike as flag bearers to shape and sharpen deeper understanding of the import of the exercise deserves encouragement. The positions taken by leaders of the two major religions on issues of national importance are more or less sacrosanct and binding on adherents. With such influence at their disposal, it will not be out of place to engage them in opinion moulding and guide in decision making on the census.
Fifth, field sensitisation activities like road shows, street campaigns, community sensitisation and advocacy visits to major stakeholders are vital ingredients for the census to succeed. This ensures aggressive community, stakeholder and street mobilisation of citizens who ordinarily may be lukewarm or ignorant. It helps to deliver prompt messages through influencers and cultivate closer relationship with the people at the grass root level.
Sixth, appointment of desk officers for evaluation of concerns and responses arising from queries on census and provision of feedback mechanism should be in place. Hotlines for citizens’ engagements, emails ids and other channels for direct contact with the commission when need be are necessary.
Seventh, selection and employment of census ad-hoc staff is paramount. This will empower the teeming unemployed youths and distract many from engaging in societal vices even if it is momentarily. Ad-hoc staff for the exercise should be individuals resident within a given community with adequate knowledge of the norms of the environment. People seeing their own as enumerators give comfort, relief of some sort and removes suspicion of the intentions of the exercise.
Meanwhile, according to the Bureau of Statistics, the 2006 census population figure stands at 140.43 million. Kano state has the highest number of people with 9.4 million followed by Lagos state with 9.1 million. Abuja – the FCT is at the bottom of the population ladder with 1.40 million. The census figure presented showed that male population in Nigeria is put at 71.34 million which represents (50.8 %) of the population while female population is 69.08 million representing (49.2%).
Currently, World Bank estimate of the country’s population has climbed to 211.400 million as at 2021. The nation unfortunately has been planning and working with a population figure adopted sixteen years ago. With the above scenario, adequate planning for development remains a mirage. The National Population Commission has assured Nigeria that it will; “conduct an accurate, reliable and acceptable census that will drive the country towards sustainable national development in 2023.” NPC relies substantially on all Nigerians for triumph. Therefore, all hands must be on deck for the project to succeed.
Sunday Onyemaechi Eze, a Media and Development Communication Specialist wrote via firstname.lastname@example.org and can be reached on 08060901201