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Need to completely digitalize Nigeria’s population database

No man plans to fail, people only fail to plan. The importance of planning to both an individual and nation cannot be overemphasized in order to make efficient use of limited available resources for maximal satisfaction. Planning relies basically on data. Accurate data is a very scarce commodity in Nigeria due to myriad of problems arising from the inadequacies of Government and Data Collating Agencies, the unwillingness of Nigerians to reveal information and the outright manipulation of data for pecuniary or other gains. The most vivid illustration of the problem of data in Nigeria is the fact that for years, nobody has been able to accurately answer the simple question “HOW MANY ARE WE IN NIGERIA”? A country that doesn’t know it’s true population would definitely not be in a position to determine the other vital statistics necessary for planning like birthrate, death rate, number of those of school age and the other demographic characteristics and changes in the population which are essential for planning.

The unfortunate thing is that we do not know for sure the number of our population, not even the population managers know. The high point of our population data crisis was experienced during the 2019 World Population Day celebration week, when three authorities from the Commission saddled with the responsibility to manage Nigeria Population, at different forums quoted three different figures of 198 million, 201 million and 206 million as Nigeria population figure within the space of five days while some other sources quoted Nigeria population to be between 200 million to 214 million. The difference between the estimated population of 198 million and 214 million is 16 million and that number is too huge to be left as a floating population. The floating number is more than the population of so many countries in the world such as Tunisia, Portugal, Sweden, Israel, Belgium, Norway, Singapore, Hong Kong, Gabon etc. The uncertainty and non-inclusion of such a large number of population in development planning could be one of the reasons many well-crafted policies and programmes fail in Nigeria. The Population Commission cannot be blamed because Nigeria’s population has undergone various changes since the last national head count that makes relying on data from the 2006 census for population growth projections unreliable. The Federal Government unwillingness to declare another census even after the stipulated time has passed makes accurate projections difficult. The above last year figures and our current population data are just estimates by the experts on what our population should be based on our current fertility rate of 5.3 and other indices. There are even discordant tunes on population annual growth rate ranging from 2.6 to 3.2 percentage. We do not know for sure our accurate population number because the Federal Government has ignored the advice of the population experts that every country should count its citizens every five or ten years based on international best practices. The last population and housing census was conducted in 2006 and we are now behind by four years because we should have recounted our population in 2016. To worsen the situation, the Federal Government has not shown serious commitment to make a Proclamation to conduct this simple but critical act of enumerating the Nigeria citizens and houses distributed among the States and Local Government Areas.

It is important for us to know our actual number for much better reasons than the total number alone. No country relies solely on its estimated population because such estimates ignore the demographics unearthed by census data which are needed for national planning purposes. A national population census, in addition to determining the actual number of the people also gives us important data on distribution of the population by age, sex, location, household characteristics and socio-economic strata among others. This detailed information is critical to national planning and development. No serious Government desirous to achieve development strides needs to be told that it must know how many people it is ruling. How can it plan to provide for the citizens’ basic needs such as light, water, schools, housing, health facilities and education if it does not know the accurate population number? Estimated populations are unhelpful and unrealistic because it will not give actual data needed for effective planning. We should know a lot more about our population than the absolute number, factual or estimated. We should know for sure if our country is more of ageing or more of a youthful population. We should know where the population is concentrated- urban or rural, States and Local Government Areas. Only an accurate and reliable biometric population and housing census can give us these demographic data.

Despite the fact that we have dwelled on population estimates for years now, one thing is certain- our population is growing at an exploding rate. We have the fastest population growth rate among the ten most populous countries in the world as well as having the least GDP among the ten most populous countries. Among the top ten most populous countries (China, India, USA, Indonesia, Pakistan, Brazil, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Russia and Mexico) only Nigeria has more than two percent population growth rate. Others have put their population growth under check. Nigeria is densely populated at a rate of 226 per square km. We are currently ranked 7th most populous country in the world with population estimates of over 206 million (2.64 percent of total world population)) and projected to increase to 400 million by 2050 to become 3rd most populous country. Even, statistics from the US Census Bureau shows that Nigeria has overtaken Brazil to become 6th most populous country with population estimates of 214 million. To compound the problem, it is expected to see increased birth rates in the next couple of months as a result of Coronavirus lockdown that brought about a spike in copulation among couples. Our population is growing much more than our GDP growth rate and that is a very disturbing fact. It portends great danger for the country. It is always a problem whenever population growth rate outweighs GDP growth rate. It makes economic development difficult to achieve. The gap would lead to under and unemployment with resultant social turmoil. The more the population, the greater the hardship for the citizens unless we know our true population figure and plan for the unanticipated new arrivals at estimated growth rate per annum. We are imposing an infinite number on finite resources. How to manage a growing population is a challenge of monumental proportions. We cannot be prepared for this challenge without knowing our actual population size. Our huge estimated population size and fast growth rate amidst slow GDP growth rate and dwindling revenue call for concern as it is giving the country negative economic and social indices such as low per capita income, a country with highest number of poor people, high unemployment rate, high cost of living, high number of out of school children, high housing deficit, doctor to patient ratio as well as police to civilian ratio etc. We should be mindful that as our population is increasing, our land is not increasing in size. The Governments are not building adequate infrastructures and providing basic amenities commensurate with the rapid population growth rate. It is better to have a country with a manageable population in which the scarce resources take care of the majority of people than a country with a huge population that is a problem unto itself.

Although, a huge population if properly harnessed turns to assets like the USA population but the reverse will become a liability to a nation. The problem with Nigeria is that we don’t have enough revenue, social infrastructure, electricity megawatts, schools, hospitals, health facilities, houses, jobs, food, transport facilities etc to cater for the growing population. This is why Federal Government should come up with population policies that will address the factors causing rapid population growth such as cultural and religious beliefs, early child marriage, high birthrate, lack of access to family planning, illiteracy and high number of unemployed dependent women. History has shown that educated and working class women tend to have fewer children than illiterate and unemployed women. So the Government should look on how to educate and empower more women to be able to make informed decisions with their spouses/partners regarding the number and spacing of their children as well as inform and educate men, women and decision makers about the health, economic and social benefits of reducing fertility and preventing unintended pregnancies. For it to be possible we need a national biometric population and housing census to first ascertain the accurate figure of Nigeria population and other demographic data.

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The next biometric population census will completely digitalize Nigeria’s population and provide the country with the most comprehensive and accurately reliable electronic database of all Nigerians, where data from other data collating agencies will be built upon. This will bring to speed the actualization of the ongoing efforts by the Federal Government to merge databases of different Government Agencies in order to stop proliferation and duplication of biometric-based identity systems in the country. There is urgent need to harmonize and integrate existing identification databases in government agencies such as biometric Census Data and biometric Births and Deaths registration data provided by National Population Commission(NPC); National Identity Number(NIN) by National Identity Management Commission(NIMC); Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) card registration being handled by the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC); Bank Verification Number (BVN) by Central Bank of Nigeria(CBN); Driver’s License from the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC); Voters Card Number by Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC); International Passport Number by Nigeria Immigration Service; Tax Identification Number(TIN) by Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) among others into the central National Identity Database (NIDB). The synchronized data will help to solve security challenges and fight corruption, fraud and other crimes bedeviling the country as well as to be used for development planning purposes. As it has been seen none of the databases from these Government Agencies can guarantee total coverage of Nigeria population except census data. So far only 41 million Nigerians have been issued National Identity Number(NIN) since NIMC started issuance in 2012 while just 40 million of Nigerian population have BVN. Although INEC has registered 84 million Voter’s Cards but facts on ground shows that some Nigerians have more than one of these voter’s cards and also there is no centralized data from NCC to determine the actual number of Nigerians that have registered 185.7 million SIM Cards as most of GSM subscribers have more than one SIM cards. Data from these Agencies only cover sections of Nigeria population while only biometric population census can comprehensively cover and digitalize the whole population within the shortest period. With the biometric national population census in place, it will be easier to keep track of Nigeria population growth rate through biometric registration of births and deaths.

The President of Nigeria should prioritize biometric population and housing census and make it a national agenda to get accurate data for effective planning and solving security issues and other purposes by making the much awaited proclamation. The proclamation will trigger International donors that have been waiting for the presidential action to come up with counterpart funding of up to 50% of the total census budget. Also the National Assembly should strengthen the Establishment Act of the National Population Commission to institutionalize population census every ten years as well as make birth certificate and death certificate mandatory for every birth and death in Nigeria. This will help in monitoring our population and in generating accurate demographic profiles of the country at all times for planning purposes.

Though we are four years behind the stipulated year for the next population census, it is better late than never. Federal Government should act now as foot dragging would compound the current complicated problem of planning with either an outdated population figure or some outlandish estimated national population. The managers of our national economy need reliable data from the biometric population and housing census to do a good job of planning our future and our national development. To impose outdated facts and figures on them is to authorize them to do a shoddy job. We need accurate data of our population for development planning and I think the National Population Commission is ready to give the country reliable biometric population census if given the presidential nod with accompanying budgetary provisions. As we join the rest of the world to mark 2020 World Population Day today, lets ponder on the benefits of biometric population and housing census to our country.

Long Live Nigeria!!!

Author: Stanley O. Nwosu…

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