Population studies remain one of the most important sources of information on the socio-economic well-being of inhabitants of any geographical area of interest. It provides insights into structures, size and dynamics within the population. Population census is one of the fundamental tasks of the government. It has become a bedrock for government’s political, economic and social policy formulation. Population census is one of the key planning strategies towards sustainable development and progress of a nation. It provides answer to questions such as: How many we are? – interms of the total number of people living in the entire nation; Who we are? – in terms of age, sex, education, occupation, economic activity and other crucial characteristics; as well as Where we live? – in terms of housing and access to social amenities. The answers to these questions provide numerical profile for planning and development within a nation by providing, expanding and sustaining the infrastructures that will enhance the quality of life of the people.
The dearth of accurate and credible statistical data has been a serious handicap to the economic and political development of Nigeria. Planning is therefore required to correct this anomaly and as such, adequate knowledge of the number of the citizens, their distribution over space, their age/sex, education among other characteristics are indispensable for sustainable development in Nigeria.
The rationale behind conducting census at regular intervals is to ensure better performance in terms of planning sustainable development that is holistic. Previous population and housing censuses have been hampered by many difficulties. This ranges from lack of staff and logistics, to unjustified political involvement and manipulation. As a result, there have been conflicts and disagreements over Census figures, particularly with the nature of patrimonial politics being played in Nigeria. Figures recorded from the 2006 and previous national census could not be trusted because sharp practices were observed just as figures were exaggerated for certain region of the society at the expense of other regions. Issues such as fake and over-blotted results marred the exercise. Census has become political instrument in the hands of the elite and the ruling class in Nigeria, leading to struggle amongst states and ethnic nationalities to inflate census figures to their selfish advantage. As such, the continued utilization of the defective, outdated and fly-by-night census figures of 2006 may have hampered and hindered effective implementation of societal transformational initiatives to enhance socio-economic activities, political stability, robust security network, and a facelift of infrastructural development of the nation, hence, the need for Nigeria to conduct another and genuine census that will be devoid of previous and sharp malpractices.
The Imperative of Another Census
Nigeria conducted her last population census in 2006. That is 16 years ago as against the stipulated 10 years standard interval as suggested by the United Nations. Expectedly, this would have created information vacuum as the data from the 2006 census is outdated for planning purposes. It has therefore become imperative for the nation to conduct another national census to produce a new set of demographic and socio-economic data that will provide the basis for national planning and sustainable development.
Demographic data are important for national development. A youthful population like Nigeria requires accurate information on characteristics like the age and sex of the population and how they are distributed spatially. This is the basis of policy and planning for education, employment and health systems. Conducting another population census will provide much more evidenced based information about the individuals, households and communal socio-economic wellbeing with a view to identifying the areas of strength and weakness, opportunity and threats as reported, experienced and assessed by the respondents.
Again, there is need for knowledge of the national population in terms of size, distribution and socio-economic characteristics. This is required for planning purposes as well as enable the country to know her population and then use the data to plan for the people and future generations. Nigeria requires a new data set to drive the implementation of the National Policy on Population for Sustainable Development and other government policies. Data emanation from the population census will help to determine housing needs, household composition and size.
Furthermore, conducting population census now will help in determining the population density in urban areas. Census plays an essential role in giving detailed information on the population density. The information obtained from the census will assist the government to distribute resources, for example, areas densely populated get, as a rule, more resources than areas that are scarcely populated. Government bodies and various businesses make use of this information to resolve whether to invest in certain regions or communities. This also help in resource distribution. The government can either give an equal share to all the regions or distribute the resources according to the data obtained.
Moreso, conducting population census will help in forecasting possible economic needs. It helps to forecast the country’s economic needs, for example, electricity, housing, food, etc. This will ensure proper planning and implementation of progremmes that will pull people out of poverty. Census data on residential mobility provides a better understanding of spatial differences and changes in the socio-economic status of residents.
National and regional population data obtained from new census will play an essential role in estimating the environmental impact of population growth, use of water, land and other resources in this era of flood occasioned by climate change. Population census makes it possible for the government to make a comparison between different groups of people across the country. It gives information about parts of the country that need the government’s help and funding the most and which ones need the least. The population and housing census is critical in public management. The results of a census are used as a critical reference to ensure equity in the distribution of wealth, government services, and representation throughout the country, for example, by informing the distribution and allocation of government funds among various regions and districts for education and health services, delineating electoral districts at the national and local levels, and measuring the impact of industrial development, to name a few.
The census exercise has become an emergency issue requiring the government to organize another round of population and housing censuses which should be done with genuine intent to ascertain the exact number of people and housing units in the country. Population and housing census is critical and central to the optimal performance of Nigeria’s socio-economic, political, security and sustainable development because both population and housing units are constantly changing factors, requiring frequent census to accommodate updates and modifications. Therefore, the Nigerian government must practice the minimum standard of 10-year period in conducting census exercises as advocated by the United Nations.