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Census by imagination

Census by imagination
May 01
08:42 2019
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Nobody knows the actual population of Nigeria today.  Not even the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) which intermittently releases figures knows. The foreigners, it seems, conduct censuses from their air-conditioned offices in New York.

In its 2019 State of the World Population report about to be released, UNFPA says our population has hit 201million. Of this 201million, it states, 88.44million (44%) are between the ages of 0 and 14, while 64.32million (32%) are within the ages of 10 and 24. UNFPA further tells us the fertility rate of our women has dropped from 6.4% in 1969 to 5.3% in 2019.

I don’t believe UNFPA one bit, even as it claims to be “the lead UN agency for delivering a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled”.  Nor do I listen to all other arm-chair population enumerators who seek to justify their pay by occasionally issuing statements. In recent times, I’ve not read figures associated with population controllers like Boko Haram, kidnappers, and politicians who make sure our roads are death-traps and the water we drink unclean.

Four years ago, we’re told Boko Haram terrorists had killed 20, 000 and displaced 2million Nigerians. Our own National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) doesn’t update us with information on the number killed on bad roads or by ill-health, malnutrition, kidnappers, cattle herders and terrorists. Nor does UNFPA or NBS consider that many Nigerians in their 40s and early 50s are not yet married because of the hard times. We know, however, that Nigerian families have been getting smaller – couples have fewer children because they listen to the economy rather than to those who preach “reproductive rights” or family planning.

The last census conducted in the country was in 2006. But both the census of that year and the one before it (conducted in 1988) were figments of the imagination. The one of 1988, in particular, exposed itself as a fraud by finding that there were more males than females in the country.

This is a country that lives a lie and tells itself a lie. And I speak with authority because I’ve seen it all. More elderly people I’ve interviewed also confirmed that dishonesty in the country’s affairs predates our flag independence in 1960.

Whenever it’s time to update the voter register or conduct a census, crooked politicians take charge. I remember when the enumerators came to our home in 1973. We were not more than five at the time, but they recorded 11 or 12 people. When they came again in 1988, some of us had left home but the enumerators found “64”! The situation got worse during voter registration. Trees and insects were given names and registered. When thumb-printing was introduced, palm-kernel shells were used – they have unique prints just like humans.

Lest some hypocrites begin to scoff, let me state that politicians in the part of Nigeria I come from were the least offenders. In most of the south-west, shrines, mountains, goats and chickens were baptised and registered. Unmarried girls transformed to grandmothers overnight with hundreds of children and grandchildren. All the ancestors were resurrected!

In riverine areas, fishes and other contents of rivers and oceans got enumerated too.  But the greatest offenders were in the north-east and north-west. Every nuclear family became a village with thousands of inhabitants. And these “villages” were hidden by mountains, forests and desert sand. Every cow and every goat was a male married to four wives from Fouta Djallon or Mali and blessed with 40 or 50 children. Grass names were registered as human.

I’ve been told such manipulations were encouraged by the British colonialists in 1953 when they wanted to deny educated people from the south leadership of the country they were about to leave behind. And so election rigging and census rigging have continued to this day. When the military brats seized power, they created states and local government areas based on the fraudulent census figures. Accordingly, many of today’s LGAs are composed of just a few families. If you visited their LG secretariat, you won’t find anyone until the day federal allocations shared in Abuja were brought home for sharing at the end of each month. Thereafter, everyone disappears. Sometime in 2000, we found that my LGA was more populated than two states in the same country put together.

What the politicians do at elections need no refresher here. Except in cities where television cameras could reach, there was nothing like election in almost 80% of polling stations. Beforehand, result sheets were seized or stolen or bought and completed in hotel rooms, government houses and evil forests. To match their records with the number of ballots cast, one person thumb-printed on thousands of ballot papers. Where an opposition party was strong, its agents were bribed or intimidated to keep quiet. Whether each signed the result sheet or not was unimportant – signatures were routinely forged. The electoral “umpire” almost always sided with the party in power.

The card reader was introduced to reduce such irregularities, at least at the accreditation stage. But the ruling politicians saw the “danger” and used the legislature to ensure it didn’t find acceptance in the electoral laws of 2006, 2010 and 2014. During polls, those caught with their fingers in the soup-pots were later freed by the courts because electronic voting was an anathema under Nigerian law. But it didn’t stop the allocators of public funds from setting aside hundreds of billions of naira for purchase of card readers and computers for transmission of results right from polling units.

In 2018, former ruling politicians found themselves in the opposition and wanted to give electronic voting the force of law. They were frustrated yet again: President Buhari refused to assent to the amended electoral act. With INEC well prepared – it received almost N250billion, much of it for purchase of card readers and other electronic equipment to stop rigging – we went into the elections. The incumbent ruling party already had its eyes on the 2019 polls. After the polls and election petition panels were to begin sitting, INEC chairman Mahmood, who had before and during the polls sworn to utilise computers and gadgets, told us the electronic things were never used. Together with the “winner” party, INEC hopes the courts will agree with it that electronic voting means election rigging – never mind the funds appropriated for the gadgets.

INEC registered 87million Nigerians to vote in 2019. Common sense tells me the figure is very close to the actual population of Nigeria. Infants and animals and foreigners were registered and issued with voter cards. Eventually, on Election Day, the manipulators couldn’t even make use of 30million of the cards, in spite of all the energies they expended to thumb-print and cook up figures.

Then, let’s look at the number of registered phone lines. Did they say the total is now 160 or 170million active lines? Whatever it is, note that, on average, each person uses about three lines. I have six lines, and all my children have theirs too. Old mamas and papas in villages have one or two. Only children aged below 8 probably do not own a phone line yet.

When he was appointed chairman of the National Population Commission, Mr Festus Odimegwu several times pointed out that the country’s population figures were orchestrated and swore to conduct a credible census.  Instantly, the manipulators moved against him – they pressured President Goodluck Jonathan to sack him or lose their support (in a future election).   Apparently for political expediency, the “ineffectual” Jonathan succumbed, leaving his country in the darkness it had always been in.

Whenever some hear “restructuring”, it sends chills down their spines because they don’t want to stop taking advantage of false population figures. In a future book meant to provide a solution to crimes like terrorism and robbery, I will recommend that every Nigerian aged 18 and above pay tax. If the proposal got accepted, we would know the actual population of Nigerians.

Who knows, our inability to know our population and other demographics is the reason we can’t plan well. There is even a ministry of national planning, but only God knows what they do there. Just as those who cheated with contrived population figures have not fared well, nobody should hope to live in comfort when the economy of this country finally collapses. The day of reckoning is not far ahead.

Nwamu, an entrepreneur, is the CEO of Eyeway.ng.

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