The ambitious move of the Nigerian government to spend a whopping N869 billion to conduct a national census appears to be spending meagre resources on back burner issues that will further hurt the country’s financial capacity.
The last population census in Nigeria was conducted in 2006, which recorded a total population of 140 million. Since then, there have been several attempts to conduct another census, but they have been postponed for various reasons.
The National Population Commission (NPC) had postponed the count from March to May 2023, which was largely necessitated by the rescheduling of the gubernatorial election to March 18.
It is anticipated that the forthcoming census will present updated demographic data on the population of the nation, including its size, composition, and distribution.
Understandably, the government needs this information to plan, strategize and evenly allocate resources amongst the 36 States and the FCT. Demographics are crucial for informed decisions on parameters surrounding basic infrastructure; housing, health care, and education, including technological advancements.
We also acknowledge the fact that international donor agencies, creditors and monetary institutions are wary of ‘pumping’ in funds to countries like Nigeria with inaccurate national population figures. This feeling was one of the prime factors that pushed the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy to mandate NIMC to up the NIN registration game. The stories are there how it has all panned out.
However, the cost implications of the 2023 census exercise should be reviewed!
The United Nations projects that Nigeria’s population of more than 200 million will quadruple by the year 2050. Nigeria would surpass the United States to become the third-most populated nation in the world, after China and India.
According to findings, censuses from around the world indicate that the average is between $4 and $6. In contrast, it costs $16 per person in the United States. They spend roughly $10 per person in Botswana. Nigeria’s is estimated to cost $6 per person.
According to Clem Agba, Nigeria’s Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, N626 billion ($1.36 billion) will be needed for the census at a cost of $6 per person, and N243 billion ($527 million) will be needed for post-census operations up to 2025. This totals N869 billion ($1.88 billion).
Mr. Agba pointed out that the government has provided N291.5 billion ($632 million), or 46% of the overall sum required for the project.
The Nigerian government is currently seeking donations to carry out the exercise, which has raised many eyebrows. There are fears that the funds are likely to be misappropriated, and the country at this time does not need a head count.
Government agencies have not gained the trust of Nigerians when it comes to spending public resources to carry out national projects or assignments. The most recent one is the just concluded election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). It spent a whopping N300 billion to conduct an election that many have described as the worst in the history of the country.
Can we Harmonize Data from NIN and BVN?
For nearly 10 years, the Nigerian government has been on a mission to harmonize data among some of the institutions that warehouse critical datasets such as the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN; Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC; Federal Inland Revenue Services, FIRS; Pension Commission, PenCom; Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC; Nigerian Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS; Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, FMARD, etc.
Again, the country has records of voter registration schemes, Bank Verification Numbers, and National Identification Numbers. Birth and death records are kept throughout the nation. The question that is yet to be answered is this: Is there no way these data sets can be harmonized or estimated to have a clear insight into Nigeria’s population?
In September 2023, the National Identification Number (NIN) will be ten years old, and the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) said almost 90 million people have registered for the scheme.
The enrolments for the Biometric Verification Number (BVN) by bank account owners in the country rose to 54.7 million as of May 29, 2022, according to the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS). However, only 15 million people with BVN have been linked with NIN.
The country has statisticians and mathematicians who can gather and look at these data from different industry segments and come up with an estimation of the entire population that we can work with.
Rechanneling the Focus
Nigeria is in dire need of economic revival. Its economy has been on the ropes due to several factors such as insecurity, inflation, low production, a high integrated rate, a low ranking in the ease of doing business, poor electricity, and many more.
Other than a head count, the N869 billion required to conduct the census has the ability to significantly predict socioeconomic prospects for the country, ultimately increasing the human capital index of the country.
The education system needs funding. Small businesses across the country need funding, farmers in rural areas are in need of technology to boost productivity, insecurity is still a big challenge, and electricity projects need more funding.
As a fact, the government at this point does not have funds to completely carry out the project. Why not (re)channel that energy into areas that are more fundamental to the country?
We dare to ask if the Nigerian government realized that it is in a precarious fiscal situation considering its huge debt profile of N70 trillion?
Nigeria’s revenue has been on the decline; hence, every naira and kobo should be properly spent and accounted for.