“That census enumerators trek short or long distances to count people is a shame in the 21st century”
The essence of this write up will be to proffer an advice to the Nigerian Nation and the authorities who don’t seem to have learnt anything from the way the world has advanced in recent years. This is the 21st century and it is now possible to count how many people live within a defined geographical region anywhere in the world without much hullabaloo.
To count Nigerians is not a 5-day project. It is not even a 50 days project. Counting in every country should be a routine work based on how many people live in that country at a particular point in time. It should also involve close monitoring of the number of births or deaths that have been registered in a specific time frame.
It is the work of some people to keep track of population flow. The first step is to make an attainment to the technological level where you can make a click on the computer and enter a database where the appropriate authorities are keeping track of registration of all citizens within the country. Similarly, immigration and emigration of persons should be noted. Unless certain individuals have decided to live illegally within a country, we now know that in some countries, all the people living in that country are registered on a database system.
Taken simply in the Nigerian context, what we need in terms of knowing how many people make up Nigerians is a long term plan. It is a process that will start gradually, remain focused and eventually reach a stabile. Nigeria needs a system where her citizens are recognized by social security number (SSN) or what in some countries is known as personal numbers (PN). This number which is also indicated on your national ID or passport is a tag that does not change whatever happens! Everything that affects you (good or bad) is always recorded against this SSN on a computer database.
This SSN should be with every public institution under strict conditions of trust regarding the personnel that work in such offices. Some private institutions may have special access too depending on the nature of their assignments. It should not be possible for a person to have double SSN because fingerprints go along with it. However, that does not rule out that identities cannot be stolen but if the law catches up with the perpetrators, they should face the music. An individual’s SSN should be connected to records at the Hospital, Tax office, unemployment office, Insurance companies, Motor Vehicle Licensing office, Bank records, Statistics bureau, and so on and so forth.
Where do we start from in Nigeria? The problem in Nigeria is that counting is not done with sincerity of purpose. Politicians meddle with everything that is of National Interest for selfish gains and personal reasons. This is the debacle that must be removed. A public institution like the National Population Commission (NPC) has to be re-engineered to catch up with modern realities. The way we count ourselves must change.
Personally, I will suggest a 5-10 years plan to count all Nigerians coupled simultaneously with daily observations of changes from the start. This will make good planning possible. We should monitor daily population growth and periodic influx or out-flux. Where you reside in the country is not a factor, the point is that we should know that you exist and live within a certain region in the country. If you leave the country, it should be possible to detect that. We should also be aware when you return as long as you have taken the legal approaches to do these things. In crime situations, people can beat some of these checks but the essence of knowing the estimated number of people will remain.
A 5-10 years plan to determine our population is not a bad idea so that nobody is rushing or running to meet a deadline. There is no need to create chaos just because you want to meet a deadline. It is not necessary to count Nigerians in a hurry. It is also not a matter of life and death that a particular administration should be saddled with the task. Knowing the population is not a job for a particular regime, it is the reason that the NPC is in existence. This commission should be able to send out population figures at a click! Nigeria must look into the future; make solid plans for things that work forever, not temporarily.
What about the NPC registering every Nigerian at its local offices, giving out SSN and taking fingerprints? All the local office should be connected to a central computer network at the headquarters. State of the art technology must be in place to detect multiple fingerprints. Let us look at this scenario, a young man sought asylum in Greece and somehow surfaced in Sweden for the same purpose. He was told that his fingerprint has been previously recorded on the central European asylum seekers machine!
This is the stage that the world has reached. A person need to be identified with his name, SSN, address, occupation, marital status, children (or not) and so on. A change of address should be immediately reported so that the state or local government knows who has moved in or out. People moved for many reasons; to be with family, change of job and so on.
A 5-10 year period is more than enough to let people know how population flow is observed and what is expected of everyone concerning their registration on the database. Nobody would rush or engage in irrelevant travelling because they want to be counted. When a child is born, the hospital should have the means (either by the computer network) or otherwise to inform the NPC of a registration of birth. Obviously, the families of newborns know that they are obliged to get a SSN for their newborns. The local authorities would only need to see the baby and the information that they have received from the hospital about the sex, weight at birth, time of delivery, etc. The connection between the local authorities or local governments and the NPC should be paramount as the number of people in the locality has financial/economic implications.
In essence, what I am trying to say here is that with time, all Nigerians will be registered. The operations of the NPC must be completely computerized with appropriate backup. The registration of deaths should also be taken into account as much as that of births. How many foreigners live among us can also be noted. Foreigners should also have SSN that can be coded so that once they appear on the system, it becomes obvious that they are for foreigners and the exact country they come from appears. The nature of their businesses in Nigeria is also reveal by the same SSN.
It is unnecessary and a waste of time and resources to count people before, during and after elections. We should be able to click on the NPC database in the next 10 years and say there are maybe 150 million people in Nigeria. We should be able to say things like, 2,000 foreigners live in Ikeja and that 30, 000 Nigerians have emigrated to Europe in the last 2 years for example.
A statistician should be able to have a cup of coffee or tea by his side and still make a first check to find out the latest entry on the database network and a second click to give the total number of people living in Nigeria. If Nigeria is also truly the heartbeat of Africa, then we need to set the pace not only in population or census aspects but in other areas that affect the quality of our lives.
I hope that in 2016, NPC will find it easy to look in the digitalized system and tell us how many we are in Nigeria. By then it should be possible to stop counting cows, goats and sheep as humans. The 2006 census should be the last time we count ourselves using paper and biros. It should be the last time the government sent people to our homes. We deserve our privacy!