By Ali Abare
Even as the country gears toward the 2023 general elections, there is yet another critical milestone of even more significance to the development aspirations of the country, which is the scheduled 2023 national housing and population census, being put together by the National Population Commission (NPC).
In as much as the coming general election is critical to the development, as well as democratic mileage for the country, the scheduled 2023 national population census is relevant for both economic planning and delivering dividends of democracy to the people.
Indeed, the population census is not only the total headcount of a country’s population but also contains information about a country’s social, demographic, and economic information. It is, therefore, no gainsaying to say that population census is a means to reveal people’s standard of livelihood and the spread of it, thus pointing the way for government at various levels as to where and how to intervene.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), “data obtained from the census on the economic characteristics of the population can be particularly useful to prepare basic tabulations of the population by their labour market situation whether employed, unemployed or outside the labour force.”
Thus there’s no gainsaying that data gotten from conducting a population census are important in formulating economic policies as the government relies on these figures to form the basis of making decisions at all levels.
Generally, the census is a principal source of demographic data globally. Data on population size, age-sex composition, fertility and mortality levels, migration and spatial distribution, urban-rural composition, and the proportion of literate and labour force, among others, are generated during census exercises in a country. These data are needed for effective socio-economic development planning.
Even though Nigeria has carried out another census before now, it’s a known fact that planning for the socio-economic development of the nation, as well as states, has been adversely affected by the inadequacy, obsolesce and unreliability of available demographic data.
It’s also generally accepted that past national development plans have failed partly because of a lack of demographic data for planning.
It’s based on this premise and more that Nasarawa State Governor, Engineer Abdullahi Sule, since he assumed office on May 29, 2019, has continued to stress and harp on the significance of conducting a credible national population census that will accurately capture the population of the state to enable his administration plan adequately for the development purposes.
This is even more imperative as the Governor relentlessly cites the present population of the state pegged at a paltry 1.8m based on the 2006 population census.
According to Engineer Sule, the 1.8m population census given to Nasarawa State is not only ridiculous but a huge joke, considering that even the population of Karu Local Government Area is close to 2m people.
During a town hall meeting for the North Central states with the presidential steering committee at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, in Lafia, the Nasarawa State capital, Engineer Sule saw the opportunity to bring up the matter regarding the dismal population count given to the state.
At the parley chaired by Mr Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Engineer Sule described the outcome of the 2006 population census pegging the population of Nasarawa State at 1.8m, as a mere gimmick.
While noting that the 1.8m population attributed to the state is adversely affecting his administration in terms of effective planning towards the delivery of much-needed dividends of democracy to the people.
According to the Governor, the population of Karu Local Government Area alone is more than 1.8m.
Determined to rectify this obvious anomaly in the population of the state, Engineer Sule visited the headquarters of the National Population Commission (NPC), the body charged with the responsibility of conducting the population count, where he met with the national chairman of the NPC, Mallam Nasir Isa Kwara.
Presenting the complaint of his administration regarding the shortfall in the population count which appropriated a meanly 1.8m population to Nasarawa State, Engineer Sule described the outcome of the 2006 population census as a huge joke taken too far.
The Governor traced the inability of previous administrations to significantly develop the state to this low population count, essentially because there is no accurate data for effective planning.
He explained that, as a Governor, he has to resort to thinking outside the box, for the state to function, because what Nasarawa State receives alongside Bayelsa and Ekiti from the FAAC, cannot take the state anywhere.
He pointed out that, with Nigeria’s growing population expected to reach 400m by the year 2050, there is an urgent need to plan in terms of producing food to feed the expected population, the structure to house the population, as well as a thriving economy to sustain the population.
While noting these as the challenges of the future, Engineer Sule emphasized that the figures that will come out from the 2023 national census, will help the country plan for the future.
He appreciated the NPC commissioner representing Nasarawa State, former deputy governor of the state, Silas Ali Agara, for personally undertaking the conduct of the EAD across the entire state, adding that Nasarawa is interested in the world knowing her true population.
Engineer Sule was however optimistic that amidst the challenges of insecurity and economic growth, Nasarawa State holds a promise for the future, saying that explains why his administration is working hard to take the state to the next level of development.
“One good thing that I found on the ground, is the fact that Nasarawa holds one of the greatest prospects for the future development of the country. That is the reason why we keep working hard to do it,” he stated.
Also, speaking at a stakeholders awareness workshop on Enumeration Area Demarcation, as well as flagging off of training programme for enumerators, organized by the National Population Commission, in Lafia, Engineer Sule said by the continuous use of the 1.8m population figure for the state, Nasarawa is being denied lots of opportunities, stressing that if there is any state that is being shortchanged, Nasarawa remains most shortchanged state in the federation.
According to the Governor, even though the state appealed its case before the census tribunal, nothing came out of it, stressing that if the exercise had been fair, considering the population density in Mararaba, Karu, Masaka, Panda, Uke and Keffi, Nasarawa should not have anything less than 3.5m population.
He noted that since President Muhammadu Buhari has made known his resolve to conduct a credible, fair and authentic census, all that Nasarawa State requires, is fairness.
The Governor equally lamented that when it comes to population census, Nasarawa and Lagos share a similar fate, where a proportion of the population residing in these states, relocate to their state of origin for the census but return to the states to enjoy the benefit of the census.
He, therefore, appealed to traditional rulers, local government chairmen, as well as government officials, to take up the awareness campaign, to make those people remain and be counted in the state during the next national population census.
Indeed, Nasarawa State the closest state to the federal capital territory faces this daunting challenge when it comes to the population count. Hundreds of thousands of civil servants, as well as private-sector workers, live and reside in Nasarawa State but work in the FCT.
However, once it’s time for the population to be counted, most of these civil servants and private sector workers relocate to their original states to be counted. They come back to reside in Nasarawa State after the population census, putting more burden on the scarce resources of the state.
It’s in this view, that the Nasarawa State Government, under the leadership of Engineer Abdullahi Sule, has embarked on an enlightened campaign to sensitize the people on the need to remain in Nasarawa State to be counted, especially since they live and reside in the state and as such most demand for and enjoy dividends of democracy such as quality healthcare services, education, water supply and good roads, amongst others.
“The essence is not for the state to get extra money but for the state to be able to manage itself.
“If we know we have this number of people at a certain location, it allows us to plan for those people,” he said.
Engineer Sule has always emphasized that the census is for where the people live, not where they come from.
“Those who live in Abuja, the FCT, should remain there and be counted. When they are counted, this will give us a good number that we can plan with.”.
In this regard, while declaring open recently, the second level management training workshop, organised by the NPC for state directors, comptrollers of local government areas and other top management officers in the states for the June 2022 trial census, Engineer Sule made a case for the NPC to select Nasarawa as among states for the forthcoming trial census.
The Governor was optimistic that the train census will allow the NPC to capture the true population of the state, especially in areas like Karu, Keffi and Lafia, where there is a constant influx of people.
“My request for the selection of Nasarawa State for the trial census is based on the high population density of the Federal Capital Territory that is migrating into Nasarawa State daily,” he stated.
Also, recognizing the need for an accurate 2023 population and housing census, the National Population Commission (NPC) saw the need to call on Nigerians to remain at their places of residency and be counted.
Executive Chairman of NPC, Nasir Isa Kwara, made the call at the opening ceremony of the North-Central Second-Level Management Training Workshop in Lafia.
Kwara advised that Nigerians would not need to travel to their villages and states of origin to be counted as the questionnaire would capture their areas of origin.
Certainly, the 2023 national population census presents a golden opportunity for Nasarawa State to get its rightful population. This could only be achieved if traditional rulers, critical stakeholders and every well-meaning citizen buy into the campaign started by His Excellency, Engineer Abdullahi Sule, seeking to prevail on residents of the state to remain behind and to be counted here in Nasarawa State.
That way, it is assured that Nasarawa State will have accurate data for effective planning and the APC administration under Engineer Sule will be in a position to adequately plan and deliver critical infrastructure, as well as necessary socioeconomic deliverables for the good of the people of the state.
Abare is a Special Assistant on Media to the Governor of Nasarawa State.