What is the Population of Nigeria?

DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA BY AKIN OSUNTOKUN, Email: akin.osuntokun@thisdaylive.com

The history of census in Nigeria is all but summed up in the following excerpt: ‘Attempts to conduct a reliable post-independence census have been mired in controversy, and only one was officially accepted. The first attempt, in mid-1962, was cancelled after much controversy and allegations of over-counting in many areas. A second attempt in 1963, which was officially accepted, also was encumbered with charges of inaccuracy and manipulation for regional and local political purposes. Indeed, the official 1963 figure of 55.6 million as total national population is inconsistent with the census of a decade earlier because it implies a virtually impossible annual growth rate of 5.8 per cent. After the civil war of 1967-70, an attempt was made to hold a census in 1973, but the results were cancelled in the face of repeated controversy. No subsequent nationwide census had been held as of 1990, although there have been various attempts to derive population estimates at a state or local level. Most official national population estimates are based on projections from the 1963 Census’.

One of the more remarkable experiences I have had in my engagement with public life in Nigeria was the attempt to help weed out the phenomenon of ghost workers from the payroll figures of state governments. An ICT entrepreneur friend had developed a programme that can eliminate the incidence of this entrenched institutional fraud in the public account system. So sure was he of his product that he sought no payment other than commission from the potential savings-resulting from the application of the fraud detector programme. Talk of a win-win situation for the government, wouldn’t you think? Yet each and every state governor I approached turned it down. Pray what inference can we draw from this encounter other than the state government has a vested interest in maintaining a status quo he knows to be fraudulent and amenable to his personal exploitation.

Contemplating a confrontation with the challenge of ghost workers padded wage bill, a more conscientious governor was warned on the potential consequences of this quest, including defeat at the last governorship elections. He needed no further persuasion to drop the hot potato menu. You, of course, remember the exploits of the ill-starred Abdulrasheed Maina of the Pension and Biometric task force fame, the cat who was charged with the responsibility of ensuring the welfare and well-being of a colony of rats. This behaviour, the propensity to play fast and loose with population figures, is generalisable across all the levels of public authorities in Nigeria from the local government to the federal government level.

Ever since I can remember, efforts directed at inflating voter registration figures, census and any population enumeration exercise, at the local community levels are deemed a noble and highly appreciated obligation of community leaders. Typically, financial war chests are raised from donations of well to do indigenes dedicated to underwriting such expenses as giving the enumerators five star hospitability treatment and the monetisation of their criminal collusion in maximally forging the numbers. This typical Nigerian attitude towards census exemplifies the thesis of Peter Ekeh in ‘Colonialism and The Two Publics of Africa’-where committing a crime at the state (official) level to benefit one’s local community is accepted and celebrated behaviour at the informal primordial public (community) level as patriotic service to the community.

One peculiarity worth recounting in the perpetration of the census fraud is the enumeration of an infant as father or grandfather-to whom several descendants are then attributed. Up North, there is the logical and logistical impossibility of meaningfully accounting for the nomadic and bush Fulani population category. By definition, these are a category of Nigerians who mostly dwell in the bush and whose shifting abode varies from week to week if not on a daily basis. Other than guess estimate, how amenable are such Nigerians to accurate enumeration? And since this nomadic subculture is a borderless West African Sahel civilisation, how do you distinguish Nigerians from non-Nigerians? Yet it is all this cooked up figures and conjectures that are added together and summed up as the population of Nigeria.

Wards, local governments, federal constituencies and states are created and awarded on the basis of population distribution and density. These units and tiers of government are in turn the captive revenue and resources allocation sub heads. The more of them you have the greater the share of revenue you attract. This status quo has severe implications for corruption and federalism. In a situation in which Nigeria largely lives on the unearned income of the economic rent from oil, it has fostered the ideology of consumption rather than development as the organising principle of the Nigerian state. The units of government are governed by the culture of consumerism and not the development ethic.

A rather apt and critical testimony to this ideology was borne by no less a pertinent authoritative figure than General Yakubu Gowon. And just how pertinent his witness can be was revealed in an extended interview he had with the Africa International Television (AIT) a while ago. ‘He said the North was originally opposed to the creation of states (which amounted to a break-up of the regions) in 1967 and he had to cajole the support of the region by marketing the policy as one that will result in the appropriation of more national resources to its coffers; that more states means more money’.

Falsification of population figures has proven a critical component to the perpetration and sustenance of corruption in Nigeria in a manner that is not readily discernable. If the population of Nigeria is significantly lower (as it is in reality) than the paraded official figure-on which planning and expenditure are predicated, it means Nigeria has persistently over provided for the citizens in its annual budget estimates-resulting in a hidden surplus that routinely disappears and leaks from the public accounting and expenditure system. In other words, it is a surplus that is not captured in the revenue and expenditure profile of Nigeria. The potential black hole into which the unaccountable money disappears is best imagined including the deep pockets of whoever belongs in the community of corrupt public and private sector players; and the notorious penchant of the Nigerian economy for leakages, waste and profligacy.

If (for instance) N200 billion is available to spend on 50 million Nigerians rather than an advertised figure of 100 million citizens, then there is an excess corresponding to what should have been spent on the non-existent 50 million Nigerians. The question then arises as to the wherewithal of the N100 billion net balance. In effect, in terms of the population to resources ratio, Nigeria is richer than the book balance. This has had the contradictory effect of cushioning the effect of corruption and fuelling it. If the advertised census figure of Nigeria is correct, there will be far greater citizen pressure on the resources available.

Beyond the resultant national development dysfunction of garbage in, garbage out-(rooted on falsified population figure), there is equally the international dimension-from where we get more than we deserve. Think of the prestige and resources accruable to Nigeria on account of its purported large population. In the light of its factual population, Nigeria should, to that extent, attract lesser international recognition and patronage. For starters, Nigerians should lose the recognition of being cited as one in every five blacks.

The 2019 general election illustrate the extent to which Nigeria is held in thrall to the numbers game and specifically in the vulnerability of the elections to state sponsored manipulation and electoral theft. To begin with, the fraudulence of the voter register can be extrapolated from the preceding inherently fraudulent general census. In order to sustain an original lie, you will need to keep telling subsequent lies in a manner that is consistent with the logic of the first lie. A state (Lagos or Kano) that is attributed with the highest census will then have to be necessarily credited with the highest voting population regardless of whether this is the case in reality. The latest accretion to the Nigerian universe of electoral subversion is the programmed suppression of the votes in the opposition stronghold reinforced by a complementary ballooning of votes cast in the stronghold of the incumbent President. Where such manipulations are not proving fast and furious enough, recourse is then made to the outright alteration and falsification of the result tabulation. Hereunder is a more detached perspective on the last general election by The Guardian newspaper in London:

‘Voter registration documents seen by The Guardian in the United Kingdom on eve of election raise fears of mass rigging. The number of new voters registered in Nigeria since January 2018 has increased by almost exactly the same percentage in each of its states, according to documents seen and analysed by The Guardian, raising fears that the results of Saturday’s presidential election could be open to mass rigging. Since the last presidential election in 2015, many more people have become eligible to vote, and many others have registered to take part in the polls for the first time, according to a report by the UK Guardian’.

‘About 10 million new voters signed up between January 2018 and early 2019 – according to data released by the Independent National Electoral Commission– twice the number that signed up in the first nine months of registration, between April 2017 and January 2018. But analysis of the data for each of the country’s 36 states and its capital shows that INEC has increased the number of new registered voters by almost exactly the same percentage across all states. The correlation is a “statistical impossibility” and does not reflect Nigeria’s demographic changes, according to data analysts working with The Guardian. Additional data seen by The Guardian also shows irregularities in registration for the 2015 election, until now considered to have been free and fair. On average, voter registration in each state increased by 2.2% between April 2017 and January 2018, and by 7.7 per cent for the whole registration period ahead of Saturday’s election. Plotted on a scatter line graph, there is a 0.99 correlation across all the states, without a single outlier. According to three separate data analysts, the parity cannot be a coincidence. “Only God works that closely,” one analyst said’.