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According to the Nigerian Population Commission (NPC), there were 140 million Nigerians as of 2006, with 71.7 million men and 68.3 million women.

However, Festus Odimegu, former Chairman of the NPC, said no census in Nigeria’s history had been valid and that trying to count Nigerians was “impossible”. Note impossible. He continued, “These figures are just guesstimates; nobody knows whether the population is 120 million, 150 million, 200 million – no Nigerian, not the NPC, the UN, the World Bank. “Unless you conduct a proper census, which has never been done without political interference, it is not possible to know.”

Census

The 2006 census said Kano State had 9.4 million inhabitants, followed by Lagos State, with just over 9 million. Lagos State rejected this result, conducted its own census, and announced it had 17.5 million inhabitants. Case closed?

Africapolis – the African arm of e-Geopolis, a global study of urban populations – which is supported by the Agence Française de Développement – provided population estimates. The organization believes that 2006 census numbers for Lagos of around 9 million were reasonable and that the state’s own estimates of 17.5 million are overblown. However, the group found the 2006 census figure for Kano city at 9.4 million inflated.

In Nigeria, censuses are controversial: The country has even gone as far as annulling two of them (1973 and 1991). From the 1953 census done by the British to the 2006 census done by Nigerians, all censuses have ended in controversy. Why is census so important to Nigerians? After all, it’s just a simple headcount, is it not?

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Well in Nigeria, the population determines how much each state and local government gets from the Consolidated Revenue Fund/FAAC. The population is 30% of the horizontal allocation formula for states. The population in an LGA also carries a 30% weighting to share. The population figures also determine how many seats a state has in the House of Representatives. Other criteria are basic equality of states 40%, Landmass & Terrain 10%, Internal revenue effort 10%, Education 4%, Health 3%, Rural Portable water 3%.

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So, the number of people in a state or local government is very important. I will call it the most important “asset” a State or Local Government has in Nigeria.

But let’s look critically at the Nigerian population figures from four 4 census figures – 1952, 1963, 1991 and 2006.

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Summary

From 1952 to 1991, the Northern region has maintained a 54.1% average in all censuses in Nigeria.

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From 1952 to 1991, the Western region has maintained a 18.7% average in all censuses in Nigeria.

From 1952 to 1991, the Eastern region has maintained a 22.7% average in all censuses in Nigeria.

Let me be clear. According to the data, in 39 years (1953 to 1991) ALL regions, North and South, have grown at about the same pace. Rural to Urban drift had not occurred in Nigeria in 39 years! The relative proportion has remained the same! Nigerians don’t migrate.  I did not say so; the Nigerian Population Commission said so.

So, what about the 2006 census? Maybe the figures had been relatively the same because they were not done under a democracy.

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Ok, 2006 census, SW retained 19.65%, North retained 52%, East 26.7… Again, no change.

Census in Nigeria is an exercise in allocation. The global number can be 300m; that’s immaterial. The regional allocations are known and applied. These allocations seem to follow the desire to maintain a share of FAAC. The World Bank reports 168 million people were living in Nigeria in 2012, which on the basis of a 3% growth rate, would suggest a population of around 178 million in 2014.

This 174m really makes no sense if all Nigeria will do is allocate to maintain a cast iron population distribution. How can Nigeria dynamically plan if the census figure per state and region are known?

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Are the census figures correct?

Should the population determine how much a state should get from the Consolidated Revenue Fund/FAAC? More than portable water, roads, health & education, derivation?

If a population is a key criterion for attracting Federal taxpayer money, will any state adopt family planning? If education and health care are 4% and 3% determinants in sharing revenues, will any state provide them?

What can Nigeria do, going forward? Nigeria surely cannot plan if she doesn’t know how many people live and earn in Nigeria, in every state. I mean, can Nigeria count a proper census, devoid of politics? The realist in me says that’s impossible.

It’s much easier to redefine what population means than to take away the population from the revenue sharing calculations. So, can we define the population to mean population in primary school as evidenced by education budget spend per child by the state for instance? We can also define the population as the number of kids vaccinated. Point is tying that population figure to something, and so it would not just be a figure given to a state to spend at will.

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Also, if a state claims a 9m population figure, it should first make a budgetary commitment to that figure by allocating to education and health a figure appropriate to her population numbers as stated.

These are structural changes that touch on the existing structure, but what about changing the entire structure of revenues to entitlement? Population per state will always remain a key determinant in any decision-making matrix on how to allocate and spend public funds. The challenge for Nigeria is how to deploy the population as a positive number for growth, not for entitlement.

Why allocate revenues based on population per state if the state Governor would simply use those same funds to build airports or political billboards, and not spend on the same people? The population funds must be for the population, by spending on education, health and general wellbeing of the citizens.

Without a census there can be no national plan, without a national plan, no nation can develop…

It’s our problem, we can fix it.

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