2022 Census And The Security Question

The desirability or otherwise of the conduct of the 2022 Population and Housing Census took the centre stage at the 2022 budget defence session of the Upper Legislative Chamber of the National Assembly. Media report indicated rigorous legislative interrogation and expression of divergent views emanating from the Senate. While some Senators were of the view that coming 16 years after the last census, the conduct of another census was long overdue. Others, however, kicked against the conduct of the census at this moment citing among other reasons the tense security situation across the country and positing that conducting the census will further complicate the already tense situation. Concerns over the security implications of the next census as expressed on the floor of the Senate was not a lone voice as similar views have been expressed by other commentators. It will be recalled that a member of the House of Representatives from Niger State had earlier called for the postponement of the census as far back as 2020.
Against the background of multiple security threats confronting the nation as expressed in banditry in the North West, insurgency in the North East, herders/farmers clashes in the North Central and other parts of the country as well as secessionist agitations in the South East, the case for an indefinite postponement of the census sounds plausible when considered on its face value. Census is basically a field based operation involving massive deployment of personnel and materials across every length and breadth 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 conduct the census now even within the context of escalating security challenges. First, the significance of population data to national development and improvement in the living of the people remains critically constant at all times. Yes, Nigeria is confronted with myriads of problems but this has not diminished but rather reinforced the importance of population data in development process. From 2006 when the last census was conducted, governments at all levels had expended trillions of Naira on building and maintaining social infrastructure and investment in human capital. Security challenges have not put a stop to all these development efforts. Conducting a census 16 years after is a mandatory governance exercise to assess among others how well the development efforts of the last 15 years are yielding results and chart the best way to go to address among other things the root causes of insecurity.
Secondly, there is a general consensus that combating Nigeria’s security challenges require a delicate mix of kinetic and non kinetic approaches with the latter emphasizing the significance of improving the living conditions of the people as a necessary step towards sustainable peace. Given the potential of census to contribute to the formulation of evidence based socio-economic interventions, the census should be part of the non kinetic approach to the solution of the security challenges.
Thirdly, the bulk of the foot soldiers in the perpetration of insecurity across the country are persons within the age bracket of 15-24 years who were either not yet born or were toddlers when the last census was conducted. Demographically speaking, this age cohort is ‘unknown’ especially in terms of their size, distribution and socio-economic characteristics that will deepen understanding of the predisposing socio-economic conditions that make them susceptible for recruitment as tools of insecurity. A new census that will capture this age bracket in terms of their level of education, living conditions and other characteristic is long overdue.
In the current discourse on the security dimension of the next census, there seems to be an under estimation and indeed lesser recognition of the capacity of the Nigerian security agencies to appropriately handle security challenges in relation to sensitive national assignments 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 was reported to be in control of about 20 Local Government Areas in Borno state, the Nigerian security forces gallantly secured the conduct of the 2015 general elections. This feat was repeated in the 2019 even though Boko Haram had been ‘technically defeated but was still potent enough to constitute a threat and in the midst of other emergent security challenges such as the armed banditry and the herders/farmers clashes. The Security forces ensured that the election took place in every part of the country. The peaceful conduct of the 6th November 2019 Governorship election, against all predictions and amidst the disruptive tendencies of secessionist agitations and violence and killings by ‘unknown gunmen’ is another case in point that reinforces the confidence that the Nigerian security will be able to provide the much- needed peaceful atmosphere for the conduct of the 2022 Census.
The point needs to be stressed that If the nation has been able to conduct successively and without any postponement, at least three general elections and several off cycle and bye elections since 2009 when the security situation nosedived, there is no reason why conducting the census should be an impossibility from the security perspective. While elections and censuses are generally regarded as volatile and sensitive. However, the census is lighter in terms of sensitivity and therefore less prone to violence than the elections. Unlike in the census, election in Nigeria thrives on the cut throat competition among contestants to various political offices resulting in the building and operation of a violence architecture that promotes disruption of voting process, thuggery, assassination and arson. These are not security breaches expected in a census because no direct competition for political power is involved. Indeed, there is an expressed commonality of interests and consensus among stakeholders on the need for their respective constituencies to be counted.
In all the preparations for the census so far, the experience of the Commission is that of enthusiasm and robust cooperation and support of the general populace and communities covered who took extra measures not only to ensure the welfare of the people but also their security. It is therefore not surprising that the Commission conducted the Enumeration Area Demarcation in the 772 Local Government Areas so far with extensive field operations across the country and with no single loss of lives and property or any reported security breach.
From the experience of the level of community ownership witnessed in the just concluded demarcation of the country and conduct of two pretests, it is to be expected that responsibility for securing the census process will not only be covered by the police or other security forces but also more strategically and effectively by the communities. This is not unexpected because while election promotes competition and sometimes violence among the people, census unites the people because of the commonality and convergence of interests among all stakeholders on the need to be counted. It is in this regard that the Commission has devised and implementing a comprehensive advocacy workplan that will strengthen the community ownership and acceptance of the 2022 Census.
Another issue that has not received adequate attention in the current discourse of the security implications of the census is the nature of methodology to be adopted for the exercise and its capacity to ameliorate the security challenges usually experienced in large scale statistical operations. The next Census will be a digital census and paper less in which the data will be captured through electronic devices and transmitted real time. The challenge of forward and reverse logistics involving movement of millions of tons of papers across the length and breadth of the country and the attendant security risks will be eliminated there by simplifying what would otherwise be complex security operations.
Coming 16 years after the last census, the case for the conduct of the 2022 Population and Housing Census is a compelling one that should not be derailed. It is a duty the Federal Government owes the present and future generations of Nigerians. While security of lives and properties is paramount but evidence suggests that conducting the census at this moment will not complicate the security situation but rather offers the chance of evidence-based data for sustainable peace building and development. Nigeria cannot run away from counting Nigerians. Census is an essential governance activity and no nation can afford to delete this important exercise from its development process because of the immense potential to facilitate the solution of present security situation and improve the living standard of our people.

Adamu Sinbad Saleh

Adamu Sinbad Saleh is an Assistant Chief Public Affairs Officers at the headquarters of the National Population Commission, Abuja

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *