By Adamou Sinbad Saleh
JWhether or not to conduct the 2022 Population and Housing Census took center stage during the Senate’s 2022 budget defense session. The media reported rigorous legislative questioning and the expression of dissenting views emanating from the debates. While some senators were of the view that 16 years after the last census, the conduct of another census was long overdue, others opposed the conduct of the census at this time, citing among other reasons the situation of Tense security across the country, arguing that the conduct of the census will further complicate the situation. Concerns about the security implications of the upcoming census as expressed on the Senate floor were not an isolated voice, as similar views were voiced by other commentators. It will be recalled that a member of the House of Representatives of the State of Niger had previously called for the postponement of the census as early as 2020.
In the context of the multiple security threats facing the nation, expressed through banditry in the North-West, insurgency in the North-East, clashes between herders and farmers in the Center-North and other parts of the country as well as the secessionist agitations in the Southeast, the case of an indefinite postponement of the census seems plausible when considered at face value. The census is essentially a field operation involving a massive deployment of personnel and equipment across the lengths and breadths of the country and therefore requires relative peace for this activity to be implemented smoothly.
However, there are more compelling reasons for the nation to take the census now, even amid growing security concerns. First, the importance of demographic data for national development and the improvement of people’s living conditions remains extremely constant at all times. Yes, Nigeria faces myriad problems but this reinforces the importance of population data in the development process.
Since 2006, when the last census was taken, governments at all levels have spent billions of naira to build and maintain social infrastructure and invest in human capital. Security challenges have not put an end to all these development efforts. Conducting a census 16 years later is a mandatory governance exercise to assess, among other things, how successful the development efforts of the past 15 years are delivering results and to chart the best way forward to address, among other things, the root causes of insecurity.
Second, there is a general consensus that tackling Nigeria’s security challenges requires a delicate blend of kinetic and non-kinetic approaches, with the latter emphasizing the importance of improving the living conditions of the population as necessary step towards lasting peace. Given the potential of the census to contribute to the formulation of evidence-based socio-economic interventions, the census should be part of the non-kinetic approach to solving security problems.
Third, the bulk of the foot soldiers responsible for insecurity across the country are people between the ages of 15 and 24 who were either unborn or toddlers when the last census was taken. Demographically, this age cohort is “unknown,” especially in terms of size, distribution, and socioeconomic characteristics that will deepen understanding of the predisposing socioeconomic conditions that make them susceptible to recruitment. as tools of precariousness. A new census that will capture this age group in terms of education level, living conditions and other characteristics is long overdue.
In the current discourse on the security dimension of the upcoming census, there seems to be an underestimation and even less recognition of the ability of Nigerian security agencies to appropriately manage security challenges related to sensitive national missions through coordinated operational responses, as demonstrated in previous general elections and the census. At the height of the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East, when the sect controlled around 20 local government areas in Borno State, Nigerian security forces valiantly ensured the 2015 general elections. This feat was repeated in 2019 even though Boko Haram had been “technically defeated” but was still strong enough to pose a threat and amid other emerging security issues such as armed banditry and clashes between herders and farmers. Security forces ensured that the election took place in all regions of the country. The peaceful conduct of the November 6, 2019 gubernatorial election, against all odds and amid disruptive trends of secessionist unrest, violence and killings by “unknown gunmen” is another example that builds confidence that the Nigerian security will be able to provide the peaceful atmosphere needed to conduct the 2022 census.
It must be emphasized that if the nation has been able to organize successively and without any postponement, at least three general elections and several off-cycle elections and partial elections since 2009 when the security situation collapsed, there is no reason why the conduct of the census either be impossible from a security point of view. While elections and censuses are generally considered volatile and sensitive, the census is lighter in terms of sensitivity and therefore less prone to violence than elections. Unlike the census, elections in Nigeria are fueled by cutthroat competition among candidates for various political offices, resulting in the construction and operation of a violent architecture that promotes disruption of the voting process, violence, assassination and arson. These are not expected security breaches in a census because there is no direct competition for political power. Indeed, there is an expressed community of interest and consensus among stakeholders on the need to count their respective constituents.
In all the preparations for the census so far, the Commission’s experience is one of the enthusiasm and strong cooperation and support of the general population and the communities covered who have taken additional steps not only to ensure the well-being of people but also their safety. It is therefore not surprising that the Commission has so far carried out the demarcation of enumeration areas in the 772 local government areas with extensive field operations across the country and without any loss of life and property. or any reported security breaches.
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Saleh is Deputy Director of Public Affairs, National Population Commission, Abuja