Victim of Blunt Talk


Festus Odimegwu, chairman of the National Population Commission, spoke the minds of millions of Nigerians when he averred that Nigeria is yet to have any credible census. He got a presidential query for being blunt

|  By Anayo Ezugwu  |  Sep. 16, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

NIGERIA is a country where the law of nature does not apply. Elsewhere, the law of nature states that the nearer the sea coast, the greater the concentration of human population. But in Nigeria, the reverse is the case. In the reverse law of nature, population density starts from the desert in the north and reduces progressively from the Savannah grassland through tropical rain and mangrove forests to the sea.

This reverse law of nature is at the heart of the dispute still trailing the 2006 national census which put the population of the north at 75 million and that of the south at 64 million. The unending controversy was ignited once more by Festus Odimegwu, chairman, National Population Commission, NPC, when he said in a recent interview in Abuja, that Nigeria is yet to have any credible census. He based his fact on the history of distortion and falsification of figures for selfish and political reasons.

Said the NPC chairman: “No census has been credible in Nigeria since 1816. 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,” he said.

Expectedly, Odimegwu’s remark once more exhumed the controversy over national census in Nigeria. That remark earned him a presidential query and the call by some prominent Nigerians in the north for his sack. But the nullification of the 2006 census figure in 14 local government area of Lagos State by the National Census Tribunal, has vindicated Odimegwu. The tribunal sitting in Abuja, on August 30, nullified the census results of the local government areas, citing illegal and inaccurate counting as reasons. It ordered for a fresh headcount in the constitutionally created local government council areas in the state.

The local government areas are Amuwo-Odofin, Agege, Ojo, Ajeromi-Ifelodun, Ikeja, Eti-Osa, Alimosho, Lagos Island, Lagos Mainland, Surulere, Apapa, Badagry Mushin and Epe local government council areas. According to the National Population Commission, the population of Lagos State in the 2006 census was 9,113,605, while the state government argued that the population of the state should have been within the range of 13 million and 19 million.

Over the years, controversy has always trailed the result of Nigeria’s census figures. For instance, the results of the population census taken in 1962 were not published because of disputes over their accuracy despite the fact that the exercise was the first comprehensive census held in the country. Eventually, Nigerians rejected its results. A second census was taken in November 1963 and when the figures were published in February 1964, they were greeted with controversies. The Eastern and the Mid-West regional governments rejected the results, claiming that the census figure for the Northern region had been inflated. The official figures published in Lagos gave the North a population of 29.9 million, the West 10.3 million and the East 12.4 million. Mid-West got 2.5 million and Lagos 700,000, giving a total population of 55.7 million people in the country.

Subsequent exercises followed the same pathway. A new population census was taken throughout the country from November 25 to December 2, 1973. The provisional figures announced in May 1974 by General Yakubu Gowon, former military head of state, gave Nigeria a population of 79,758,960. The total figure of the then six northern states was 51 million and the six Southern states accounted for 28 million.

Gowon reportedly said that the figures were preliminary and were being cross-checked. Despite this inconclusive statement, the announcement of the results generated a great deal of unease and acrimony with claims and counter-claims of inflated figures in various states. The 1991 national census figure put the population at 88.5 million. Again, it was dogged by controversies and rejections. Today, it is the same bitter disagreement over the 2006 census figures, with the Northerners and Southerners expressing contradictory views on the exercise.

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