Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Nigeria 2006 Census

Nigeria has had a total of four head counts- in 1952, 1963, 1973 (result cancelled), and 1991. National issues revolving around population, religion, and ethnicity are vigorously debated and have strong sociopolitical implications, even the simple business of head counting- the census- is often fraught with controversies and laden with intrigues.

Past censuses have shown that the semi-arid, Muslim-dominated northern Nigeria is more populated and has higher growth rate than the more lush and Christian–predominant south. Whether this is the hard truth, or sheer fallacy, no one can tell.

There are 126, 252, 844 Nigerians, according to population projection (2003) from the Nigerian Population Commission, I wonder if there's any validity to this number?

Going by the last census in 1991- the head count was 89 million; whereas the World Bank projected there should have been atleast 120 million Nigerians. The very first time questions on religion and ethnicity were dropped from the census was during the 1991 census, and Nigerians and experts in demography got a shocker of a result. Was this 30-million-head discrepancy an error, or were past censuses manipulated and to produce bloated numbers?
  • What could have accounted for the lower than expected head count in 1991?
  • Was there a widespread boycott of the census in 1991?
  • Were there systemic errors, manipulation, and biases in the methodology of 1991 census and previous ones?
  • Were there deliberate inflation and distortion of population counts in the past?

Without access to abundant data and privileged information, these questions can’t be answered unequivocally, and may forever remained unanswered. However, I strongly believe that:

  1. A widespread boycott of the 1991 census couldn’t have accounted for the deficit of 30 million;
  2. There were deliberate manipulations of the past censuses; and
  3. The result of 1991 census may be the most accurate population count for Nigeria.

Just like the 1991 census, the 2006 census will exclude ethnicity and religion from the survey questionnaire, and not unexpectedly, there have been mixed reactions to this nationwide. My comment on Chippla's Weblog where the issue was raised then conveys my disapproval:

“Ethnicity is a reflection of cultural practices, it has huge relevance and implications in medicine and public health, even in Nigeria. The exclusion of this important health variable speaks to the level of reasoning of Nigerian policy makers…”

According to the Nigerian government, the reason for dropping these variables is to forestall manipulation of the census by the ethnic and religious groups, for this reason, I long to see the outcome and result of 2006 census.

The presence of significant agreements between the 2006 and 1991 census figures, and the post-1991 population projections will suggest that pre-1991 censuses were manipulated for political reasons, and to some extent, will justify the exclusion of ethnicity and religion. Reasonable and acceptable tradeoffs, I think.

I have not switched camps and I believe demography without ethnicity is incomplete, but to save Nigerians from further international embarrassment of- “not knowing how to count ourselves”, and because of the strategic importance of reliable population data, I will gladly and blissfully consent to the temporary exclusion of ethnicity and religion variables if it enables a more accurate and reliable enumeration.

The 2006 census will be an acid test for Nigerians, if we can successfully conduct the census and demonstrate agreement between 2006 and 1991 census figures, then Nigeria has come a long way as a nation.