Victim of Census Politics

Festus Odimegwu, resigns as chairman, National Population Commission following internal and external political pressures mounted on him

|  By Anayo Ezugwu  |  Nov. 4, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

THE news of the resignation of Festus Odimegwu, as chairman, National Population Commission, NPC, on Thursday, October 17, did not come to many as a surprise. The question on the lips of many watchers before that date was not if he would resign but when. Odimegwu has been a victim of country’s census politics.

He stepped on powerful toes following his recent comments over the 2006 national census in a media interview in Abuja, last month. In the interview, the former NPC chairman said that the country had not had any credible census since 1816. He blamed the irregularities on the distortion and falsification of figures for selfish and political reasons. “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,” Odimegwu said.

His remark once more exhumed the controversy over national census in Nigeria and many prominent Nigerians in the north called for his sack. Expectedly, Odimegwu’s remarks earned him a presidential query, which the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, called on the presidency to withdraw and also tender an apology to him in the interest of fairness. The CAN further described Odimegwu’s query as political, saying it was a ploy by the north to blackmail President Goodluck Jonathan ahead of the 2015 general elections.

Kwankwaso
Kwankwaso

Rabiu Kwankanso, governor of Kano State, in his reaction questioned the appointment of Odimegwu, as the NPC boss. “I raised the issue of the chairman of the National Population Commission headed by one Festus Odimegwu. We are not happy about that appointment, and think that it was a mistake. He had only worked in an alcoholic industry all his life. And my guess is that he’s taking a lot of his products and that is why we feel that his appointment is a mistake because he cannot be the chairman of the NPC and at the same time attack what his predecessors have done,” he said.

Realnews also learnt that the 22 NPC commissioners had expressed fear that if their former boss was not called to order by the appropriate authorities, the proposed 2016 census might suffer a major setback, as his unfavourable policies were already putting the commission at loggerheads with some of its development partners. The petition by the 22 commissioners among other things, stated that the chairman had refused to sign the presidential committee report on centralising demographic data collection headed by Vice President Namadi Sambo, and boasting to the staff and the commissioners that he had written a minority report to replace the vice president’s submission.

Apart from the alleged controversy, Odimegwu was also said to have strongly disputed the figures for the Lagos State in the 2006 population census. He accused Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State, of fraudulently inflating their number to 17.2 million people as against the figure of nine million arrived at during the exercise. However, 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.

Over the years, controversy has always trailed the results 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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