Nigeria’s Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Prince Clem Agba, has said the federal government was seeking to explore extensive use of technology to ensure that the 2023 population and housing census remained credible, reliable and whose outcome would be generally acceptable.
Speaking during a high-level engagement with donors and relevant stakeholders on funding the census, he sought their support towards the acquisition of relevant capturing devices that would make the outcome unquestionable.
Agba said, “We require 885,000 personnel to handle the census but we currently lack 405,000 tablets that they should use. We already have more than half of the requirements.
“Because we want each enumerator to have a tablet and not that they would be shared; because if they begin to share, it creates room for rigging and we don’t want to rig the census.”
He said, “These tablets are going to be automatically uploading the numbers as they are worked. As they go to each household and take the information, it automatically uploads the information that has been provided.”
He explained that the census had been rescheduled from March 2023 to May, because of the general election.
The minister described the head count as a digital, green and transformative census that meets international best practices.
He said the federal government had demonstrated a high level of financial and political commitment to the census project in spite of the election cost and activities.
He put the total requirement for the headcount including post-census activities at N869 billion (about $1.88 billion).
He said so far, the federal government had committed N291.5 billion (about $632 million) to the census, representing 46 per cent of the total funding requirement for the exercise.
Agba, however, explained that the sum of N327.2 billion (about $709.9 million) was required to complete the census.
Meanwhile, the federal government on Sunday argued that it would not add information relating to religion or ethnicity of Nigerians in the proposed 2023 population census, contending that it was capable of derailing the exercise.
Speaking on ARISE News, the Director of Public Affairs at the National Population Commission (NPC), Dr. Isiaka Yahaya, also contended that the amount budgeted for the programme was not bogus, stating that over a million Nigerians will be engaged in the process.
According to the NPC, censuses conducted in the past were marred by the very sensitive issues of religion and ethnicity in Nigeria, noting that it was not prepared to travel the same route this time. However, it noted that in other surveys carried out in-country, those parameters may be included.
“The commission had some very deep thoughts about these. Of course, every religion and ethnicity are very important, not only in censuses but in surveys because it gives you the background to understand the context in which some of that data has been generated.
“But we have a peculiar situation where these two items have been sources of conflict and they have the capacity of derailing the entire census exercise. You can imagine you come up with data tomorrow to say Christians are more than Muslims, or that even Hausa are more than Yoruba.
“We will just be embroiled in unnecessary controversy and leaving out the essential data that we need, like data on unemployment, on provision of infrastructure, on education and so on. We do not want this kind of controversies to detract from the utility of the census.
“So that’s why for now, we are leaving the ethnicity or religion out. When you think of it, the data we’re going to generate is not dependent on either ethnicity or religion. This data from census is used to allocate funds or resources for education and health. It doesn’t matter whether you are Hausa or Yoruba or Igbo or whether you are Christian or Muslim.
“So, we should not allow this data which is unfortunately very controversial within our situation, to deny us of the immense benefits that will derive from this census and that’s why it will not be there but we still do it for other surveys that we conduct,” Yahaya stated.
Explaining why the cost of the proposed census was very humongous, Yahaya stated that it would serve several purposes beyond the counting of Nigerians.
“About one million Nigerians will be employed and if you are paying them just N150,000 that’s a lot of money and that has almost taken you to hundreds of billions, not to even talk about the money you are going to pay during the enumeration process.
“So, the cost is not high, but one point you also need to realise is that the census itself is an economic empowerment programme, because you are talking about funds that will be given to millions of Nigerians. We will use this one to reflate the economy.
“So, it’s not something out of the blue and it’s also an investment that is worth it. If you look at the total budget of Nigeria, for example, in 2022 and then you compare this with the census budget, this is barely two per cent of the total budget.
“This could not have been too much for you to have sustainable development, to have data that you use to plan on how to spend not just the budget for this year, but even for the next 10 years that the census data will be used for planning purposes,” he noted.
The NPC also stressed that the census process would be paperless, describing it as ‘green’ in order not to contribute to the felling of trees and destruction of the environment.
“As regards green census, every stakeholder is concerned about the deteriorating climate situation. And the national population commission will need to also fall into this line and that’s what we mean by green census.
“So in other words, if the census were to be conducted, like in previous years, we used tons of papers, so many trees will have to be felled. But this time around, we are not going to use funds that will run into millions given the size of Nigeria population to do this.
“So in this exercise, we are going to use personal digital assistant. So this is what we mean by green census. Counting a country of a population of 200 million and you use paper to count them will definitely impact negatively on the climate,” he added.