By CLIFFORD NDUJIHE & OKEY NDIRIBE
FOLLOWING controversies that trailed his recent comments that Nigeria has not had a credible census since 1863, National Chairman of the National Population Commission, NPC, Eze Festus Odimegwu has resigned from the commission.
President Goodluck Jonathan, yesterday, accepted Odimegwu’s resignation, according to a statement by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim.
The statement further indicated that Dr. Sam Ahaiwe, the Commissioner representing Abia State in the Commission, will act as NPC chairman pending appointment of a substantive chairman.
This came on a day the President appointed erudite scholar and pioneer chairman of the National Economic Summit Group, NESG, Professor Anya O. Anya to replace Professor Ben Nwabueze, SAN, in the Presidential Advisory Committee on National Conference/Dialogue.
Nwabueze declined his nomination on account of ill-health and suggested Chief Solomon Asemota, SAN, a member of The Patriot, as his replacement. The Presidency quietly rejected Nwabueze’s nominee and opted for Anya, a versatile scholar, who has served in various government panels in the past, to step in and boost the work of the PAC.
The Anyim statement further showed that Pius Osunyikanmi has been appointed as Director General of the Nigerian Technical Aids Corps, NTAC.
Odimegwu stirred the hornet’s nest in an interview with newsmen in Abuja late August when he claimed that the country had not had any credible census since 1863. Blaming the irregularity on distortion and falsification of figures for selfish and political reasons by politicians, Odimegwu had said: “No census has been credible in Nigeria since 1863. Even the one conducted in 2006 is not credible. I have the records and evidence produced by scholars and professors of repute. This is not my report. If the current laws are not amended, the planned 2016 census will not succeed.”
Odimegwu’s comments raised a quantum of dust in the polity with the Presidency firing him a query. He also received an avalanche of attacks from many northerners especially, Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano State, who during a visit to President Jonathan called for Odimegwu’s sack over his denigration of the 2006 census.
Indeed, Odimegwu’s comments stoked the fire of controversies that has always trailed headcounts in the country. The first recorded headcount was at the Colony of Lagos in 1863. Another one was held at the then colony in 1871. It was, thereafter, conducted every 10 years.
The first national census was in 1911. Of the 16.054 million persons counted, the Northern Protectorate had 8.12 million, about 50.1 per cent of the total population.
After the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914, another exercise was held in 1921. The population was put at 18.7 million with the South having 48 per cent of it. Other exercises were conducted in 1931, 1953, 1962/63, 1973, 1991 and 2006. Except in the 1962 exercise, the North has always maintained an edge over the South, thus affirming the 1911 projections.
The 1952-53 exercises put the nation’s population figure at 31.6 million. This census was considered an undercount for a number of reasons: apprehension that the headcount was related to tax collection; political tension at the time in eastern Nigeria; inability to reach many remote areas; and inadequate training of enumerators in some areas. The undercounting was estimated at 10 percent or less.
The 1962 and 1973 censuses were most controversial and were subsequently cancelled by the governments in power. The mid-1962 exercise was cancelled after much controversy and allegations of over-counting in many areas. Of the 45 million Nigerians counted in 1962, the South had 24 million, thereby “overtaking” the North, which was allegedly favoured in past exercises.
A second attempt in 1963, which was officially accepted, was also encumbered with charges of inaccuracy and manipulation for regional and local political purposes. Indeed, the official 1963 figure of 55.6 million was inconsistent with the census of a decade earlier because it implied a virtually impossible annual growth rate of 5.8 percent.
The equally controversial 1991 census posted a figure of 88.9 million people with a projected growth rate of 2.9 per cent
Before the 2006 headcount, intense bickering arose regarding the proposal to include ethnicity and religion in the questionnaires to generate the statistics of the various ethnic and religious groups in the country, given claims and counter- claims regarding their relative strengths. The North threatened to mobilize its people to work against the exercise should these two indices appear in the questionnaire. There was equally a counter threat from the South-East to boycott the exercise if they were not included. In the long run, the North had the upper hand and religion and ethnic group was excluded to the chagrin of South-easterners.
Consequently, population figures had always been a subject of mudslinging between Southern and Northern politicians. For Southerners, the belief is that the population of the North had been “over-counted”.
They argue that going by simple demographic distribution pattern across the globe, population increases as one move from the hinterland (desert or savannah regions) to the coast. They wondered why in the case of Nigeria, the North which lies in the arid zone, is more populous than the coastal South.
For Northerners, their extensive landmass and population must not be taken for granted, facts that several head counts had confirmed. The controversy continues.
Odimegwu’s comments belie Nigeria’s topsy-turvy experience with population census. Acclaimed as the most populous nation in Africa, the true number of Nigerians has always remained a matter of estimates. Currently, Nigeria’s population is between 160 – 167 million based on projections from the 2006 census that put the nation’s population at 140 million with the North accounting for 73.6 million and the South having 64.9 million.
One state that strongly disputed the 2006 census was Lagos, which promptly filed a petition at the Census Tribunal and got a favourable judgment. At the 1991 headcount, Lagos had 5.686 million inhabitants while Kano had 5.632. However, in 2006, Lagos recorded 9.014 million people compared to Kano’s 9.384 million.
The state government, whose parallel headcount recorded 17,553,924 people, described the NPC’s figure as too low. It prayed the tribunal to order a repeat headcount in 14 Local Councils, namely, Alimosho, Ojo, Ajeromi-Ifelodun, Apapa, Lagos-Island, Lagos Mainland, Ikeja, Ikorodu, Kosofe, Mushin, Badagry, Oshodi-Isolo, Shomolu and Surulere and the prayer was answered.