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World Population Day 2019: How many people really live in Nigeria?

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DIRECTOR-GENERAL of the National Population Commission (NPC), Ghaji Bello, on Wednesday, said the estimation of Nigeria’s population presently stands at about 198 million.

The NPC was set up by the federal government to collect and publish data on population, so it is the topmost authority on the subject.

“We arrived at the estimated 198 million after elimination of all the variables like mortality rates,” Bello told the News Agency of Nigeria, ahead of the World Population Day marked globally today.

But the agency gave the same figure well over a year ago.

Eze Duruiheoma, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and NPC’s immediate past chairman, made the disclosure in April 2018 while delivering a talk at the 51st session of the Commission on Population and Development in New York.

“Nigeria remains the most populous in Africa, the seventh globally with an estimated population of over 198 million,” he said.

Whereas, in 2017, the commission’s Director-General had given the country’s population as 182 million. That estimate, he had explained, was based on “the population of 140 million recorded in the last census a decade ago, using an annual growth rate of 3.5 per cent weighed against other variables such as rising life expectancy and a declining infant mortality rate”.

So, is it that Nigeria’s population has remained the same since 2018 or has the NPC simply failed to update its data to reflect the country’s growth rate?

What is Nigeria’s true population estimate?

The website of NPC has been inaccessible for a while and the data reports and publications previously uploaded could not be extracted.

However, data from the commission first published as a gazette in 2009 and titled “Population Figures and Growth Rate Based on 2006 Population and Housing Census” has been made public by the National Bureau of Statistics.

The document shows population estimates between 2006 and 2016 based on the last census conducted by the commission. An analysis of the data shows that the progression over the years since 2006 are all based on the assumption that there’s a constant growth rate of 3.25 per cent.

The NPC projected that Nigeria’s population as of 2016 would be an estimated 193.4 million. Using the same growth rate figure, then the country’s population in 2019 should be 212.9 million. But international organisations have formed a different assessment.

The United Nations’ Economic and Social Affairs, in its 2019 World Population Prospects Data Booklet, has stated that Nigeria’s mid-year population is 200.9 million in 2019, will be 263 million in 2030, and 401 million come 2050. The growth rate adopted by the agency, for 2019, is also a modest 2.6 per cent.

So, is the NPC wrong to have maintained that Nigeria’s estimated population is 198 million even since April 2018? Bola Lukman Solanke, a senior lecturer at the Obafemi Awolowo University with a Ph.D. in Demography and Social Statistics, does not think so.

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“We should understand that all population projections all over the world are based on assumption. The way we do it technically is we have low variant, medium variant, and high variant,” he explained to The ICIR.

“That 198 million he is talking about is the medium variant. He is not talking about the high variant. He is just being realistic. It is an average person that will say because it is a new year, we expect the population to increase.

“But when you are talking in terms of the aggregate, the increase or the reduction are not that obvious. So you want to play safe by holding on to the 198 million which they reported last year. Aggregating population to determine increase or decrease is not done per month or per quarter; we do it yearly … I believe that’s why the NPC director is not going beyond that.”

Solanke also said the accurate estimate of Nigeria’s population depends on who is making the estimate and what assumptions they rely on to make projections, based on 2006 census figures.

“Roughly now, what we adopt, we are talking in terms of about 198 to 200 million, based on the growth rate obtained from the 2006 census,” he said.

Awaiting an overdue census exercise

One fundamental reason for the conflicting reports about Nigeria’s population estimates is that no population count has been conducted since 2006. The United Nations Population Fund has recommended that a national census is conducted every 10 years.

“Though it is a very laborious and costly operation, it is a vital one. Only a census can provide the fine-grained and accurate data needed by analysts and policymakers to make informed, evidence-based development policies,” it states.

“A series of censuses allow experts to assess the past, describe the present and estimate for the future.”

Nigeria’s constitution does not state how frequently censuses are to be taken in the country, but only empowers the NPC to undertake “periodical enumeration” of the population using surveys and censuses. This is however not the case in some other countries. For instance, the constitution of the United States mandates that a census be done every 10 years.

The NPC had said the census proposed to be held in 2018 and projected to gulp N222 billion could not go as plan due to poor funding, but it assured last weekend that one will be done before the end of President Buhari’s second term.

Solanke blames what he calls “political pressures” for the delay of census-taking and inflation of figures in Nigeria.

“Ordinarily, it’s supposed to be a routine statistical exercise, but in Nigeria, it is politicised. I understand that there are aspects of the constitution that provide that states of the federation, they receive money from the federation account based on the population,” he noted.

“And then the Independent National Electoral Commission also delineates constituencies based on population, so every politician wants to struggle to make sure that his area or his constituency has an inflated figure. That has been the problem we have, but we are supposed to take the census only as a statistical exercise without political involvements.

He added that Nigeria is already behind schedule and needs to have another census soon, whether emphasis is placed on politics or technicality.

“We need this information to update our national database for administration. A lot of new things are emerging. If we really want to administer this country efficiently, we need this accurate population census.”

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