By Adeola Aderounmu.
“That census enumerators trek short or long distances to count people is a shame in the 21st century”
The National Population Commission (NPC) does not seem to have the final results of the 2006 census yet. So, maybe the eventual figures will tell us that we are more than 140million people. It seems that policy executors in Nigeria do not know the pace at which the world is advancing every other day. This is the 21st century and it is now possible to count how many people live within a defined geographical region anywhere in the world without much hullabaloo.
To count Nigerians is not a 5-day project. It is not even a 50-day project. Counting in every country should be a routine work revealing how many people live in that country at a particular point in time. It should also involve close monitoring of the number of births or deaths that are recorded daily or periodically.
It is the work of some people to keep track of population flow. The first step is to make an attainment to the technological level when you can click on the computer and enter a database where the appropriate authorities are storing records of registration of all citizens within the country. Similarly, immigration and emigration of persons should be noted. Unless certain individuals have decided to live illegally within a country, we now know that all the people living in that country are registered on a database system.
Taken simply in the Nigerian context, what we need in terms of knowing the population of Nigerians is a long term plan. It is a process that will start gradually, remain focused and eventually reach a stabile. Nigeria needs a system where her citizens are recognized by social security numbers (SSN) or what in other places is known as personal numbers (PN). This number which should be imprinted on our national IDs and passports is a tag that should not be changeable whatever happens! Everything that affects you (good or bad) should always be recorded against this SSN or PN on a computer database.
This SSNs should be with all public institutions under strict conditions of confidentiality and trust regarding the personnel that work in such offices. Some private institutions may have special access too depending on the nature of their assignments. It should not be possible for a person to have double SSNs because fingerprints will go along with them. However, that does not rule out that identities cannot be stolen but if the law catches up with such people, they should face the music directly. An individual’s SSN should be connected to records at the Hospitals, Tax offices, unemployment offices, Insurance companies, Motor Vehicle Licensing offices, 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 NPC has to be re-engineered to catch up with modern realities. The way we count ourselves must change.
Nigeria needs to focus on the task of her census with long term considerations. A 5-10 year plan to count all Nigerians coupled with daily observations of changes from the start will be a good approach. This will make good planning possible. We should monitor daily population growth and periodic influx or out-flux. Where you reside in the country should not be a factor, the point is that we should know that you exist and live within a certain region in the country. If you leave the country, it should be possible to detect that. We should also be aware when you return as long as you have taken the legal approaches to do these things. In crime situations, people can beat some of the checks or controls mechanisms but the essence of knowing the estimated number of people will remain.
It is not ideal to count people in Nigeria using a deadline. This will leave room for panic and people will be rushing or running around aimlessly because they want to be counted in their homelands. 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. It is also not a matter of life and death that a particular administration should be saddled with the task. Knowing the population is not a job for a particular regime, it is the reason that the NPC is in existence. This Commission, in the future and after good planning, should be able to send out population figures at a click! Nigeria must look into the future; make concrete 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 offices should be connected to a central computer network at the headquarters. State of the art technology must be in place to detect multiple fingerprints. Let us look at this scenario, a young man sought asylum in Greece and somehow surfaced 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, fingerprints, photograph, 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.
Having a lengthy time to take care of population figures will be more than enough to let people know how population flow is observed and what is expected of everyone concerning their registration on the database. When a child is born for example, the hospital should have the means (either by the computer network) or otherwise to inform the local NPC of a delivery. Obviously, the families of newborns know that they are obliged to get SSNs for their children. Representatives of the local authorities would only need to see the baby and the information that they have received from the hospital about the sex, weight at birth, date of delivery and so on. The connection between the local authorities or local governments and the NPC should be paramount as the number of people in the locality should correlates with financial/economic implications.
In essence, taking care of population figures or census is not supposed to be a big deal. It should become a way of life. With time, all Nigerians will be registered. The operations of the NPC must be completely computerized with appropriate backups. The number of foreigners living among us should also be noted. They should also have SSNs that can be coded so that once they appear on the system, it becomes obvious that they are foreigners and the exact country they come from appears. The nature of their businesses in Nigeria should also be revealed by the same SSN.
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 Ikeja and that 30 000 Nigerians have migrated to Europe in the last 2 years for example. The Nigerian embassies all over the world should have the responsibilities of the NPC in their various locations.
One hopes that in 2017, NPC will find it easy to look into its database system and tell us how many we are as Nigerians. One of their statisticians should be able to have a cup of coffee or tea by his side and still make a first click to find out the latest entry on the database network and a second click to give the total number of people that are Nigerians. By then it should be possible to stop counting cows, goats, chickens and sheep as humans. If Nigeria is also truly the heartbeat of Africa, then we need to set the pace not only in population or census aspects but in other areas that affect the quality of our lives.
The 2006 census should be the last time we count ourselves using paper and biro. It should also be the last time the government sent people to our homes for the purpose of census. We deserve our privacy!
May the glory of Nigeria come, soon!