New Telegraph

The Importance Of Credible Population Census

The recent pledge made by the Chair- man, National Population Com- mission (NPC), Mr. Nasir Isa Kwarra that the Federal Government agency is well prepared to deliver a “credible, reliable and acceptable population census in the country” underscores the importance of walking the talk, especially on matters of national importance such as this.

And it has become compelling, when it comes to providing the nation with the long sought after reliable database, as a tool for the leaders to plan predicated on both human and material resources.

Incidentally, he made the promise while launching the 2023-2024 Nigeria Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) during which he unveiled the remodelled Akwa Ibom State NPC office building.

Worthy of note is that the survey is meant to provide data supporting the evaluation needs of maternal and child health, as well as for family planning pro- grams. That would enable evidence-based planning and resource allocation.

In specific terms, the 2013- 2014 NDHS “is to gather quality data on a wide range of vital indicators, including fertility rates, maternal and child health, contraceptive use, childhood mortality, gender-related issues, nutrition and HIV/AIDS awareness”.

That is much-needed for pro- people policies to succeed. Of significance are the lessons to glean from the NDHS ahead of the general census. This exercise is a semi-census programme carried out all over the country. It is conducted once in every five years with the recent one being the eighth in the series in Nigeria.

With regards to that of Akwa Ibom State, the survey covers over 25 local government councils, involving 39 clusters and 14,000 households, with the focus on health issues of women and children.

It is done in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and that of the USAID and ICF, as technical assistants. But extrapolating it to the national landscape, conducting a population census that would be acceptable and in tandem with the promise made by the NPC Chairman would be more demanding.

In fact, to succeed at it the challenges that bedevilled the past conduct must be identified, highlighted and severely curtailed, using a holistic approach.

Apart from the usual challenges of the figures being open to manipulation and politicised to favour some geo-political zones, in addition to porous borders that give room for the influx of foreign nationals, there are deep-rooted issues to be confronted headlong.

For instance, there are frictional factors such as the deployment of wrong investigation methods, choosing inappropriate time and insufficient funding from the government, all leading to poor quality assurance of the figures presented.

In addition to these are logistics issues, poor quality control, lack of qualified personnel and that of equipment and facilities that could cause missing data from incomplete datasets.

This calls for training and re-training of the personnel, more so in the use of modern technology. Against this challenging backdrop, the NPC has to do a thorough thinking through process by fully engaging in partnerships with the Ministry of Science and Technology for application of requisite knowledge, and the security operatives to avoid the process being weaponized.

It should also collaborate with information technology experts and of course, the mass media. The media will certainly be needed to sustain publicity in the traditional and carefully selected social media platforms; to disseminate the vital information across to all the nooks and crannies of the country, using the local languages.

Nonetheless, being the first digitalised census the onus still lies on the NPC to come up with census figures that would be free from the deliberate falsification that characterised the previous ones conducted in 1921, 1931,1962,1973 and 1991.

Though the first census of 1921 covered the Southern Protectorate including Lagos the subsequent ones were nationwide. But the credibility was the issue at stake. Even that of 2006 was largely criticised for being in- accurate due to undercounting, double counting and dubious enumeration.

In fact, the Lagos State government rejected the census figure of 9.1 million people and tabled its discontent at the Census Tribunal.

To avoid such pitfalls this time around the electronic forms to capture and be hosted in Personal Digital Assistant devices should be fully functional. Good enough, there is the demarcation of enumeration areas using mobile handheld devices and Geographic Information System (GIS) and satellite imageries.

All said, for the NPC to succeed at this all-important national assignment and “to ensure that the constitutional mandate is fulfilled”, as promised by its Chairman, all hands must be on deck.

Proper planning, provision of adequate funds by the government in good time and the enabling environment to operate, the training of personnel, sustained public enlightenment and execution of the plans will make all the desired difference.

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