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Why Census Should Not Be Politicised, By Ezeh

EJIKE EZEH is the Federal Commissioner representing Enugu State at the National Population Commission (NPC). In this interview, he speaks on the commission’s readiness to conduct a credible and acceptable census, why the commission deliberately did not include religion and ethnicity in the census questionnaire and why there would be no need for census migration, among other issues

What actually led to the postponement of the national population and housing census which was supposed to have taken place in 2023?

If you look at the history of population and housing census, it has been bogged by a lot of wrong narratives. If you check, in the past 15 years, the country has found it difficult to conduct an accurate and reliable census.

But in the past three to four years, we have been in the field planning on how to give the country an accurate and reliable population and housing census. Census is not a one-off thing; it is a process that involves a lot of stages.

We have done many of the stages like area demarcation of the country; the 774 local governments remaining one local government in Borno State, maybe, because of the security challenges in that area.

We were almost in the process of recruiting the enumerators before the census was adjourned because there was already a government that was ready to come in.

The former president deemed it fit that it will be more honourable to allow the incoming president to have an input into what we are doing. That led to the postponement of the census. So, we are also hoping that the incumbent president, who we know as a man of data, will sooner than later make a proclamation on the forthcoming census.

You talked about the controversy over the conduct of the national census over the years in Nigeria. What sets this one apart from the rest?

The controversy over the census all along is politics. You know, housing and population census is purely an economic issue. So, we have looked at all those issues and found out that if we can divulge politics from it, we will be good to go.

That is why in all our activities, we try as much as possible to play down the issue of politics because population and housing census is purely an economic issue and not politics, even though there are some elements of politics.

It is purely for economic planning. That is why we are not looking at the issue of politics. That is why you find out that ethnicity and religion are not part of our questionnaires.

Those ones are not relevant. If we can play down those issues that are volatile, like religion, like ethnicity, then we will be good to go.

You have been talking about the introduction of technology to this year’s census. Can you tell us more about the areas you will be bringing in technology and how does it work?

The entire process is going to be technology driven. We have our Personal Data Assistants (PDA) which the enumerators are going to use. As they are getting information from the field, it will be going directly from the system to the server.

So, that is a remarkable difference between past exercises and the current one. We know that technology will give us 85 to 90 per cent assurance.

Every process will go through the PDAs and as you are getting the information, you are processing it and it will be going through the server to the dashboard.

How far have you gone in the preparations for the census?

Before the exercise was postponed, we had almost gone up to 65 per cent. We had done the delineations of all the 774 LGAs. We have recruited our ad hoc staff, which was done online. We have also trained facilitators.

We were almost at the verge of recruiting the enumerators before the postponement. All those recruitments were done online, so as to give everyone equal access to participate in the exercise.

It was at that point that the former president deemed it fit that he had to do further consultation because we were

We try as much as possible to play down the issue of politics because population and housing census is purely an economic issue and not politics

transiting to a new government and he needed the buy-in of the incoming president. So, at that point, the census was suspended.

In terms of security, how are you collaborating with the relevant agencies to ensure a census without a hitch?

If you look at the whole architecture of the census, you will find out that it is an exercise that involves virtually everyone in the country, including security agencies. You will also find out that at the verge of when we thought the exercise would go on, there were standing committees and security was one of them.

This committee involved all the security agencies in the country. The staff of NPC are not security experts, so we need to collaborate with the security agencies. They are the ones to advise us on security issues and we rely on them because the whole country will be mobilized, even the President himself.

So, if the country must be conducive for us to have the census, security agencies will be involved. We collaborate with them and we work hand in hand with them. The security agencies will handle the issue of agitation and insurgency.

Our concern is how we can give our people a credible national population and housing census. That is what our people understand. When it comes to the issue of security, we have security agencies that will handle the matter. Our mandate is to execute this census.

Most times, the people of the South-East complain of marginalisation. What do you think should be done to extricate them from this blame game?

This issue of marginalisation is a thing of the mind. There was one book we read when we were small. It was written by one Prof Ikoku or so; ‘The battle of the mind.’ Our people need to get into national politics; it is very important.

We also need to get out of the mindset that we were defeated at some point because these are the hangovers that are still trailing most people. We really need to get more into national politics.

That is the only way of getting out of this mentality of marginalisation. We cannot just remain in our cocoon, believing that someone will come and give you something. So, we really need to get out of our cocoon and get involved in national politics.

In the last census, a lot of people alleged that cows, goats and even fishes were counted in some parts of the country. What are you doing to ensure that these kinds of stories do not come up?

Some of us have heard such things but there is no evidence. You need to have evidence before you start commenting. People bandy all those things around and when you ask them if they had any evidence to show that cows and goats are being counted, you will see that there is none.

Some even say that fishes were counted in the Niger Delta and some people believed it. How are you sure? If you don’t have any evidence, why are you saying such things? The way the coming census is planned, it will not even give room for such rumour to come out again.

There is always this mass exodus of people during census as everyone wants to be counted in his hometown. What is the commission doing to discourage such movement?

If you look at the questionnaires, local government of origin and possibly your language will also be on those questionnaires. Therefore, what you think you are getting when you travel will always be the same thing as someone who did not travel.

If you want to get the population of your local government, the way the whole thing is designed is that by mere pressing a button, you will get the number.

Whether the person is from Kano or Sokoto, once anybody from your local government clicks it, he will get all the information. That is why we are doing everything possible to discourage census migration because there won’t be any need for you to travel.

Where you are in Lagos or in Kano and you are from local government A or community Z, it is still the same thing. All we want is for Nigerians to trust us. With their support, we are going to do a credible and verifiable population and housing census devoid of politics and ethnicity

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