This report tries to provide a link between the hit and miss approach to national development and the incredible census figures the country has had since independence. This is advisory for policy makers to go beyond political imperatives add square up with issues which are pertinent to sustainable development in the country.
Within the first decade of Nigerias independence, crisis of identity and mutual suspicion amongst her three major ethnic nationalities had dwindled prospects of the countrys emergence as a virile nation. This is against the favourable economic outlook based on a passionate and committed leadership, competent civil service, booming commodity trade and a good spread of mineral deposits in the country at independence.
The first major expression of the countrys fragile polity was the widely disputed 1962 census result which had to be cancelled. Amidst claims that the figures were either exaggerated or under-reported in different parts of the country, ethnic affiliation and religion striped the exercise of legitimacy. While figures from the repeat headcount of 1963 and the subsequent ones have been officially adopted, census in Nigeria is perceived as an instrument for exercising political influence and aggregating federally shared revenue by the constituent states of the federation.
This anomaly has been reinforced by a revenue sharing policy that links accrual to a state from the federation account to the size of its population. There are two key outcomes of these policies, which are linkable to underdeveloped state of the economy:
Fragmentation of the country along economically unviable states sustained mainly by shared national revenue. This in itself increases unproductive use of resources in rewarding dysfunctional bureaucracy maintained at the state level, apart from corruption and opportunities for revenue leakage.
Disincentive to economic growth borne out of healthy rivalry among the constituent parts of the country, especially as it was during the regional political structure that existed until 1976 when the four regions were split into twelve states.
While the discovery of crude oil and the foreign exchange earning from it was seen by the General Gowon administration, for instance, as capable of paying for anything the country knew how to acquire, the jumbo oil income shielded the economy from the realities of its collapsing earning from commodities like cocoa, groundnuts, cotton and palm produce. This was the foundation of the now deplorable mono-product economy which the country has been operating for many years, but which is inadequate for sustaining the growing population put at over 140 million by the 2006 census. Needless to say that over 70 per cent of this population figure lives on less than $1.00 a day, whereas Nigeria was at a time a leading producer of some of these products in the world.
What then is the value of inaccurate or disputed census for Nigeria? It looks like the framework for arriving at census figures in the country is a wedge necessary for holding the country together. With the 1973, 1991 and 2006 census figures reflecting no structural changes in the population in terms of the relative size of the north to the south over 44 years, the exercises affirmed a mind set. But after four decades of being wedged together by disputed population census, it is high time the country moved on to providing accurate data to inform her development plan.
Pre-independence headcount in the country was a less controversial exercise. In fact people generally under-represented their population because of the fear that the colonial government was going to use census figures for the purpose of taxation. This provides an argument that should government reconfigure its revenue sharing mechanism, for instance, if it adopts the much advocate fiscal federalism principle, it might contribute to a more accurate national headcount. The benefits which accrue from national planning based on near accurate census can also make the citizens be less sensitive about their religion in national discourse.
January 23, 2007