2022 Population Census As An Economic Empowerment Program

The question of whether the Nigerian economy is in a current position to afford the cost of a national census has been a recurring topic in debate on the 2022 Population and Housing Census. Some analysts have argued that the census in this period of economic recession is an avoidable burden on the national economy positing that the fund earmarked for the census be diverted to provision of employment, education and infrastructure for the Nigerian citizens. The Federal Government had proposed the sum of N178 billion for the national census in the 2022 budget while the National Assembly slightly jerked the budget to N182 billion in the Appropriation bill signed by President Muhammadu Buhari on 31st December 2021.
However, the limitation of the current national discourse on the cost of the 2022 Census is the excessive and narrow focus on the economic costs without a corresponding appreciation of its far reaching economic and social gains. No doubt, the primary role of census is to provide demographic data for planning for sustainable development. However, a census is also an economic empowerment tool that will directly transfer resources to over a million of Nigerians and indirectly to hundreds of thousands of local service providers across the length and breadth of the country. This empowerment potential of the census, which is often overlooked, will reflate the economy with multiplier effects on the economy thereby alleviating poverty. Indeed, the increased level of unemployment and poverty rather than being a disincentive for the conduct of the next census should in fact be the raison d’etre for its conduct in 2022. It provides the very productive platform for the injection of billions of Naira into the economy.
Unlike most national projects of this magnitude, census is a substantially national affair. Personnel and infrastructures to be deployed for the census and for which resources are to be expended are to be locally sourced with only a fraction of foreign input. The type of mass participation provided by a census is second to none such that it is hard to imagine that there will be any community no matter how remote that will not contribute personnel to the conduct of the census or provide one service or the other.
For the conduct of the 2022 census, the Commission plans to recruit, train and deploy over 1.2 million personnel consisting of supervisors and enumerators to be drawn from outside the Commission. These personnel are to be engaged for about three weeks and paid the sum of monies ranging from N100,000 to N150,000 per person for the exercise. This average stipend is more than two months salaries of a fresh graduate in most states of the federation. For the payment of functionaries for the main enumeration, the Commission plans to expend about 145 billion on Enumerators and about N16.5 billion for Supervisors. Similarly, local monitors and guides will receive over N2 billion Naira.
To be engaged for the exercise are low income working class such as teachers and youth corpers as well as unemployed Nigerians. It is noteworthy that these personnel will be drawn from every part of the country and evenly spread as enumerators will be recruited from the local communities. The total emolument the Commission will transfer in form of allowances to field workers for the trial census, the main census and the post enumeration survey is in excess of 250 billion Naira which constitutes over 50% of the entire census budget.
The economic empowerment gains of the census are not limited to the census period. As part of preparatory activities, the Commission carried out the Enumeration Area Demarcation which is the division of the entire land area of Nigeria into small unit areas that can be covered by a pair of enumerators during the census period. The Commission has so far demarcated 772 Local Government Areas as at December 2021. Given the scope of manpower required, the Commission had to source personnel from outside the Commission bringing on board thousands of young Nigerians who consistently earned about N150,000 during the EAD period. To majority of these appreciative Nigerians, the EAD was the only steady income they ever earned in their lives.
It should be noted that census takings and other related activities will boost the income of thousands of local service providers. Being the biggest peacetime activity and next to war in terms of mobilization of men and resources, huge logistics will be required for the deployment of personnel and materials during the census. Due to the high cost of vehicles, the Commission will be compelled to rely on the services of local transporters and Okada Riders during the census. For the 2022 Census, the Commission plans to hire about 56,000 vehicles for movement of personnel and materials, translating into billions Naira of income for the transport operators across the country.
As part of preparatory activities for the census, meetings, workshops and trainings will be organized across the nation. This will be a boost for hotel owners who will provide venues and accommodation for these activities. For food vendors and petty traders in communities where the enumerators will work, there will be boost in sales and profit.
Beyond these economic gains, the nation stands to derive enduring capacity building benefits from the next census. The Commission plans to conduct a digital census involving the use of Personal Data Assistants (PDAs) for capturing data during the census. About 800,000 Electronic PDAs will be procured for use during the census period. The enduring benefits of this census methodology are two folds. First, the training of over a million people in basic computer skills and application, majority of who are young persons will lead to a transformation of the National IT sector by ensuring that more people are computer literate. This will save the nation billions of Naira to be expended on similar trainings for surveys and future censuses. Second, the number of devices to be procured is quite substantial to meet the needs of the nation for the conduct of surveys by other agencies thereby reducing the cost of carrying out such activities at the national and state levels. The items could also be donated to schools and universities for learning purposes. Even with our huge population, the availability of over 800,000 devices will transform national familiarity with IT devices and revolutionize the national IT sector.
For an economy in which the people are already marginalized, the focus of discourse on the budget of the 2022 Census should shift from economic costs to its economic and social gains which are quite significant in ensuring that the people are empowered and given the resources to lead a fulfilled live. The main feature of the economic hardship being experienced by Nigerians is the shortage of cash which has virtually put productive activities into comatose. Any project that will transfer resources directly to the grassroots no matter the cost is a wise economic decision that will yield dividends to the people. The times are hard and government needs all the resources to carry out programmes that will improve the living standard of the people. The conduct of the 2022 Census even with its perceived huge cost does not fall into the category of avoidable burden and there is no better time to conduct the next census than now.
Indeed, the direction of the economic debate should be whether enough resources have been allocated to the census and if additional resources should not be channelled to multiply its economic empowerment potential to the nation. Compared to the total national budget of N17 trillion as contained in the 2022 Appropriation Act, the N182 billion allocated to the census is a meagre 1.07% of the total expenditure. This proportion can definitely not be too exorbitant for Nigeria to count its citizens after 16 years since the last census. The request of the Commission to have the budget for the 2022 Census revised to about N420 billion, which will still be about 2% of the national budget could not have been more justified.
Chioma Mezue is an Assistant Chief Public Affairs Officers at the Headquarters of the National Population Commission, Abuja.


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