Census 2006: Why count primitively?
“That census enumerators trek short or long distances to count people is a shame in the 21st century”
The essence of this write up will be to proffer an advice to the Nigerian Nation and the authorities who don’t seem to have learnt anything from the way the world has advanced in recent years. It is a shame that Nigerian leaders waste a lot of public funds traveling to developed countries and even buying houses and properties in these countries without taking back home the good part of these well-to-do countries. The 2006 census (whether the results are released or pending) is not how to count Nigerians. This is the 21st century and it is now possible to count exactly how many people live within a geographical boundary anywhere in the world. Even if you are not very careful, someone is looking at you right now using goggle earth, a satellite online tool that can give a view of anyplace anywhere under the sun.
To count Nigerians is not a 5-day project. It is not even a 50 days project. Counting in every country should be a daily thing based on how many births or deaths have been registered on that day. It is the work of some people to keep track of population flow. The first step is to make an attainment to the level where you can make a click on your computer and enter a database where the appropriate authority is keeping track of registration of life and death. Similarly, immigration and emigration should be noted. This means that airport authority including custom and immigration establishments and their records of flights and passengers play a crucial role.
Taken simply, what Nigeria needs in terms of knowing how many people make up Nigerians is a long term plan. It is a process that will start gradually, remain focused and eventually reach a stabile. Nigerian needs a system where her citizens are recognized by social security number (SSN) or what in some countries is known as personal numbers (PN). This number which is also indicated on your national id or passport is a tag that does not change whatever happens! Everything that affects you (good or bad) is always recorded against this SSN on a computer database. This SSN is with every public institute and some private institutes have special access too. It is not possible for a person to have double SSN because fingerprints go along with it. But that does not rule out that identities cannot be stolen but if the law catches up with the perpetrators, they always face the music. An individual’s SSN is found in Hospital Records office, Tax office, Employment office, Insurance companies, Motor Vehicle Licensing office, Bank records, Statistics bureau, and so on and so forth.
Where do we start from in Nigeria? The problem in Nigeria is that counting is not done with sincerity of purpose. Politicians meddle with everything that is of National Interest for selfish gains and personal reasons. This is the debacle that must be removed. A public institution like the National Population Commission (NPC) has to be re-engineered to catch up with modern realities. The way we count ourselves must change. Personally, I will suggest a 5-10 years plan to count all Nigerians and then a daily observations of changes. This is how developed countries plan for her citizens; they monitor daily population growth and influx or out flux. Where you reside is not a factor, the point is that they know that you exist and live within a certain region in the country. If you leave the country, they know. They are also aware when you return as long as you have taken the legal approaches to do these things. In crime situations, people beat some of these checks but the essence of knowing the number of people remains.
This is my idea. A 5-10 years plan so that nobody is rushing or running to meet a deadline. There is no need to create chaos just because you want to meet a deadline. It is not necessary to count Nigerians in a hurry.
Nigeria must look into the future; make solid plans for things that work forever, not temporarily. What about the NPC registering every Nigerian at its local offices, giving out SSN and taking fingerprints? All the local office should be connected to a central computer network. State of the art technology must be in place to detect multiple fingerprints. Let us look at this scenario, a young African man sought asylum in Greece and somehow surface in Sweden for the same purpose. He was told that his fingerprint has been previously recorded on the central European asylum seekers machine! This is the stage that the world has reached.
A person need to be identified with his name, SSN, address, occupation, marital status, children (or not) and so on. A change of address should be immediately reported so that the state or local government knows who has moved in or out. People moved for many reasons; to be with family, change of job and so on. To know those who have migrated out of the country especially, the migration office or the NPC could do random check by asking individuals to return a form with fingerprint. Obviously, no 2 individuals have been reported with the same fingerprints. With time, each family would have registered their children and relatives even if they are not all educated. A 10 year period is enough to let people know that something is in progress. Nobody would rush and there would be no stampede. When a child is born, the hospital should have the means (either by the computer network) or otherwise to inform the NPC or a registration of birth. Obviously, the families of newborns know that they are obliged to get a SSN for their newborns. The NPC only need to see the baby and the information that they have received from the hospital.
In essence, what I am trying to say here is that with time, all Nigerians will be registered. NPC should exist in every community or Local councils. Their operations must be completely computerized with appropriate backup. The registration of death should also be taken into account as much as that of births. How many foreigners live among us can also be noted. Foreigners should also have SSN that can be coded so that once they appear on the system, it becomes obvious that they are for foreigners and the exact country they come from appears. The nature of their businesses in Nigeria is also reveal by the same SSN.
Many of the things that I have suggested here are based on my experience in Europe, Sweden especially. I have lived in Sweden for more than 5 years and if you want to know anything about me, all you need to do is to go to the Tax office in Stockholm and give them my Personal Number. Even telling them my name gives similar results. They will tell you my entire life history since the first time that I registered that I am living in Sweden. You don’t need any special authority to find any information about me!
It is unnecessary and a waste of time and resources to count people before, during and after elections. We should be able to click on the NPC database in the next 10 years and say there are maybe 150 million people in Nigeria. We should be able to say things like, 2,000 foreigners live in Ketu and that 300, 000 Nigerians have immigrated to Europe in the last 24 months, for example.
It is not modern to make the journeys to count people in their homes when you can make the click on a secured PC. It sound like some of the events of biblical era and it is extremely a primitive concept. Even then, lacking the resources to do logical simple counts still called for a re-think in a country that considers itself the “sleeping” giant of Africa. Enumerators only need to click the mice of their desktops with a cup of coffee or tea by their side to find out the latest entry on the database network and a second click to give the total of how many people live in Nigeria. If Nigeria is also truly the heartbeat of Africa as been advertised on CNN, then we need to set the pace. Surely, Nigeria is filled with rot which explains why we can hardly do anything right yet, it is a shame. Using various intellectuals minds, the plagues that afflict Nigerians have been over flogged by Nigerian media houses using editorials and contributions. Nobody is listening and the politicians will never be interested in making things work right. This is a worrying amusement. The talk of sanity within public establishments is seen as foolishness by many especially those who have lost hope in how the Nigerian system works. Good ideas don’t see the light of the day because no one is planning for a hundred years to come. The failure of the past leaders has robbed on our collective intelligence and the persistent foolhardiness of the old brigades in governance will almost invariably robbed the future generation of looking forward to greatness as a nation. We continue to look out because only a few people have harnessed Nigerians wealth to selfish gains. It will be a huge shame and disappointment if the 2006 census is a platform to continue in our cycle of idiocy. A non-violent positive change in the near future will be succour.