Data, Census and Developmental Policy

Data, Census and Developmental Policy

The Advocate

By Onikepo Braithwaite

Developmental Policy

So much has been happening in the country, and this has made most right thinking people start to think about how Nigeria can get out of the rut she presently finds herself in, and move forward. I noticed that all the emphasis is placed on the President/Federal Government, while State Governors face little or no scrutiny, or criticism for their own failures, nor are they held accountable for them. See Section 5(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended in 2023)(the Constitution). We mustn’t forget that the Governors/State Governments are also mandated to deliver on the goals set out in Chapter II of the Constitution, that is, the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, in relation to their States. See the case of Jegede & Anor v INEC & Ors (2021) LPELR-55481(SC) per Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili, JSC.

I have been having an ongoing debate with a friend of mine who resides in the UK, and a few days ago, she asked me a pertinent question – does Nigeria even have a developmental policy, like in the days of our Founding Fathers? Since the enactment of the Military Constitution, that is, the 1999 Constitution, the provisions of Chapter II of this document, have become the goals that must be achieved for Nigeria to evolve into a somewhat ideal society, while in simple terms, our developmental policy would be the road map that must be implemented in all the different areas, whether economic or political or social, to improve our general living conditions and realise these Chapter II objectives. See the case of  Olafisoye v FRN (2004) LPELR-2553 (SC) per Niki Tobi, JSC.

The ‘Stockholm Statement’ issued by 13 top Economists in 2016, gave 10 Principles to Guide Developmental Policy. The Statement made Government “indispensable in setting the rules of the game….”, that is, the game of developmental policy. This means that Government, be it the Legislature, Executive or Judiciary (see Sections 4, 5 & 6 of the Constitution) must be committed to  developmental policy, which include poverty eradication and the attainment of a decent standard of living for all in society, reduction of inequality within the society, and the achievement of sustainable development goals which are inclusive. 

The bedrock of any developmental policy, is the constant analysis of existing policy to ascertain the level of its efficiency, efficacy, success and so on, and also the need to design new policy based on the emergence of new trends or the failure of old policy. The question is, do we even have existing developmental policy, or do we just play things by ear? If we did have any developmental policy, it seems to have gone into reverse, as the rate of poverty has very much been on the rise for quite sometime now, so much so that we became the poverty capital of the world a few years ago, while the gap in equality has been widening for a decade or more. Millions of Nigerians who voted for President Bola Tinubu, therefore, put their hope in him to turn this negative narrative around. 

Fuel Subsidy Saga

Let me give a simple example, based on the reality of Nigerians today – the removal of the fuel subsidy. What is the objective of the removal of the subsidy? What has been done with the gains from the removal subsidy? Were the gains isolated, and used for capacity building? In 1994, during the government of General Sani Abacha, when the subsidies on the prices of petroleum products were removed, by virtue of Decree No. 25 of 1994, the Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund (PTF) was established to utilise the additional revenue derived from the subsidy removal for the rehabilitation of infrastructure. A clear developmental strategy. What is the developmental policy attached to the 2023 fuel subsidy removal?  

The fuel subsidy regime was first introduced in Nigeria around 1973, to cushion the effects of the oil price increase shock; and what could/should probably have been a temporary measure, became a permanent policy that lasted for 50 years! While subsidies may be beneficial to the people, the opportunity cost is loss of development and infrastructure, as funds that should be utilised for that purpose are diverted into sustaining the subsidy regime. To make matters worse, Nigeria has been bankrupted by a combination of factors including but not limited to bad governance, inconsistent or bad government policies, huge cost of governance, corruption, lack of knowledge, to mention but a few. 

President Bola Tinubu went ahead to immediately remove the fuel subsidy, which Nigeria was said to allegedly not be able to afford to fund any longer, unfortunately, without a foolproof plan that would ease the hardship that would inevitably be unleashed on Nigerians by its removal, a people that were already in deep anguish, the foundations which had already been laid down as a result of the actions of successive governments, but certainly became extremely apparent during the Buhari administration. Presently, instead of achieving the maximum welfare and happiness that is the desire of Section 16 of the Constitution (economic objectives), quite the opposite has occurred, as Nigerians have become maximally unhappy. Who would have been the worst hit from the subsidy removal? Farmers, students, workers – all those who make use of public transportation. For example, there should have been provision of CNG buses nationwide to reduce transportation costs, free shuttles for students nationwide, and other palliative measures in tandem with the new policy.

Re-examination of Fuel Subsidy Removal Policy

The removal of subsidy policy should be re-examined, for better application. One doesn’t have to be Einstein to figure out that NNPC/Government’s constant failure to provide accurate figures on the importation of fuel over the years till today, points to the fact that this opaque subsidy regime is fishy and corrupt. How much fuel was/is Nigeria really importing? Especially after the Covid-19 pandemic, when many no longer physically go to work on a daily basis, and work from home two or three times a week? Do we buy fuel everyday? No. Only the transporters may buy fuel more regularly, and they never fill up their tanks at once. How much funds were applied to the real subsidy, and how much was going to scam and corruption? 

The argument is that, if in actual fact, Nigeria was said to be importing 10 litres of fuel per month, but only actually requires 2 litres, while the subsidy for the other 8 litres was going into private pockets, in that those 8 litres were either never imported in the first place, or marketers would smuggle the 8 litres to neighbouring countries and sell it for more profit there since their prices are higher than ours; then, could it be that Nigeria can actually afford to subsidise the 2 litres, but accompanied by a sunset clause that the removal of fuel subsidy policy will kick in, when at least, a couple of our refineries are up and running? 

Of course, there is a school of thought that the fuel subsidy must never be returned on any condition, even if it is for the aforementioned 2 litres with a sunset clause attached. In that case, the Federal Government must ensure that the gains from the subsidy removal are better applied for the benefit of the people. Governors must not be given funds for palliatives, with a Carte Blanche to spend it however they please. There must be conditions attached to the funds. While Governor Soludo of Anambra State was said to have used Anambra’s fuel subsidy gain funds to purchase tractors for Farmers in his State – capacity building, medium to long term; we saw Borno State Governor, Babagana Zulum distributing provisions to his people – short term, while some other Governors are said to not be doing anything beneficial for the people with theirs. 

Developing Good and Effective Policy 

My friend laughed when I likened Nigerian governments, to a group of men who want to visit Paris on vacation. They are already talking about visiting the Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum, and all the other major sightseeing spots; yet, they have not secured their French visa or flight tickets; they haven’t decided if it will be a men’s only trip, or if they will take their spouses along (in which case, the spouses will also require visas and flight tickets), so that they can determine the size of vehicle they will hire during the trip to fit them all in, nor have they chosen which hotel they will be staying in which would depend on factors like their budget, proximity to maybe the city centre and such considerations. What is the road map for the trip, in order to get to Paris and make the trip a successful, enjoyable and memorable one?

My point? To design any reliable and effective developmental policy, there must be correct statistical data and planning. How can there be nation-building, without a credible census? How do you plan services, without knowing how many and who will be using the services? Guess work? How can we have a plan, when the most basic thing – the accurate number of our population is unknown? For good planning and development, accurate census and demographics is imperative. Knowledge of the numbers of people, each sex, age brackets, educational qualifications, employment, marital status, family size etc, is essential for urban planning, rural development, representation in the National Assembly etc. 

Need for a Credible Census

The  National Population Commission (NPC) was initially set up by the Government in 1988, and reconstituted in 2011. Section 153(j) of the Constitution provides for the establishment of the NPC, while its establishing statute is the National Population Commission Act 1988 (NPC Act) (an existing law). The functions of the NPC are stated in Section 6 of the NPC Act. Section 6(1)(a) of the NPC Act, particularly provides that the NPC shall conduct censuses periodically. This provision is vague, as ‘periodically’ is not given any timeframe. The UN however, recommends credible census being conducted in countries every 10 years. In Nigeria, our first census took place in 1886, while the last one was in 2006, 18 years ago, and before that, in 1991, 15 years earlier. Like most things these days, both the 1991 and 2006 census were denounced as fraudulent. 

It is time for a credible census, and this requires an unimpeachable blueprint. In 2017, I had written about the need for a census, and had stated that the first pillar of conducting a credible census in Nigeria is: “Disabusing the minds of the populace and our politicians, that census is not an ethnic or religious battle for supremacy and dominance, and orientating the people about the advantages of a credible census, its aims and objectives….”. For instance, the age long debate as to whether the population of Lagos is higher than that of Kano, would be needless in the face of a credible census. Based on the census, for example, the correct number of local governments could  be created in Lagos.


Of course, there are other important factors to be considered in developmental policies;  credible census being just one of them. Sometimes, the traditional approaches as we know them, do not work, so relying on the old principles or ancient policy guidelines may prove to be abortive. For example, Stagflation, that is, a mixture of slow economic growth, high unemployment and rising prices was once thought by Economists to be an impossible phenomenon. They have been proved wrong. Not only has it been occurring for decades, it has been  a constant in Nigeria for years. 

The third Principle of the Stockholm Statement is that: “Policy should help ensure that development is socially and economically inclusive, and does not leave behind groups of the population- whether identified by gender, ethnicity, or other social indicators”. The Statement concludes that, “Inclusive development is the only socially and economically sustainable form of development”. I concur.

For instance, what is the developmental policy for mass transportation in Nigeria? In UK while you have a rail system which takes you all over over England, London also has the underground rail system that takes you all over London – for example, the Central line is about 74km long and serves 49 Stations, while the Metropolitan line is 66.7km long and serves 34 Stations. There is good bus transportation as well; an Intermodal System of Transportation, so that many people don’t even own vehicles.

What about our Security Policy? I’m tired of regurgitating Section 14(2)(b) of the Constitution, which makes the security and welfare of the people the primary purpose of Government. Definitely our security policy hitherto, is one that is designed to fail, and is in need of immediate reform. The UN recommends a Police to Citizen ratio of 1:450, which means that Nigeria has not met this requirement. Again, at our estimated population of 200 million people (we don’t have the accurate figures), we would need at least about 450,000 Police Officers to meet the UN requirement. Presently, we only have about 370,000, out of which I’m sure a few thousand are attached to VIPs, Banks etc. The Inspector General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun, has stated we need 190,000 new Police Personnel. What is Government doing about this? What are we waiting for as far as new recruitment is concerned, in the face of the insecurity plaguing several parts of the country? 

The bottom line is that, unfortunately, as things stand today, in many cases, Nigerian policies, if any, are either incoherent or have not fared too well, as the majority of Nigerians have not only been left behind, but are experiencing incredible hardship. It is time for President Tinubu’s administration and the State Governors to do the needful, that is, start to design and implement thoughtful developmental policies based on clear, coherent and cohesive objectives, that will alleviate the suffering of the people, benefit and carry them along, and make for sustainable

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