By BEN AGANDE
ABUJA — PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan explained, yesterday, that the former chairman of the National Population Commission, NPC, Chief Festus Odimegwu was relieved of his appointment because of certain statements he made, which brought credibility problem to the commission.
The president, who disclosed this while swearing in the chairman and two commissioners of the National Population Commission; a member of the ICPC as well as two Advisers at the Presidential Villa, charged public officials to be mindful of their utterances in order not to erode the confidence of the people in the work of their agencies.
He said: “When we have a country that the population is growing than the way our economy is growing, then we must know our population figures, so that government at federal, state and local levels will be able to plan.
“The population commission is critical and you also have to be mindful about the statements you make and that is not limited to the national population commission alone, but to all of us who are holding offices.
“You must be very mindful and not make statements that will create problem for the society.”
Addressing the new chairman, the President said: “I dropped your predecessor because of certain statements he made.
“He is a fine gentleman, everybody knows him, very cerebral. But an institution like the National Population Commission must be one that people will believe in whatever you do.
“And if you make pronouncements that will create credibility problem to that institution, the best thing is for you to step aside for some other person to step in because the credibility of that institution is critical.
“Perception in most cases are stronger than real, no matter what you do if the perception is wrong then society will not follow you,” the president charged.
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, Kano State Governor, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso.
Going by the 2006 headcount, Kano is the most populous state in the country.
During a visit to President Goodluck Jonathan at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Kwankwaso called for Odimegwu’s sack over his denigration of the 2006 Nigeria census, saying: “We are not happy about that appointment and think that it was a mistake. Festus shouldn’t be there in the first place…because he cannot be the chairman of NPC and at the same time be attacking what his predecessor had done.”
Odumegwu’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.
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 has been “over-counted”.
They argue that going by simple demographic distribution pattern across the globe, population increases as one moves from the hinterland (desert or Savannah regions) to the coast. They wondered why in the case of Nigeria, the North which lies more 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, said argued that several head counts had confirmed.