By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA
A thick and ominous cloud is hovering over the rescheduled 2023 Population and Housing Census exercise, Business Hallmark findings have revealed.
The National Population Commission (NPC), it would be recalled, had earlier fixed March 29, 2023, as kickoff date for the exercise.
However, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, announced the shift of the census exercise to May 3 at the end of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting held on Wednesday, March 15, 2023.
According to the minister, the shift in date was necessitated by the unexpected postponement of the governorship and houses of assembly elections from its earlier date of March 11 to March 18.
“I believe because of the rescheduling of the elections, they (NPC) cannot commence the census as scheduled”, Mohammed had explained.
However, BH findings revealed that the minister was economical with the truth as he failed to disclose to Nigerians other challenges that forced the government to postpone the exercise.
Owing largely to the myriads of obstacles on its paths which the minister failed to share with Nigerians, the census exercise may not start on May 3 as planned, reliable sources in government and NPC confided in our correspondent.
Some of the challenges presently bogging the exercise, the sources disclosed, include lack of funding; the decision of foreign technical partners to withdraw the much needed funding and expertise; opposition to the timing of the exercise by powerful forces from the southern part of the country and many others.
Expectedly, the major obstacle on the part of the exercise, BH gathered, is that of lack of funding.
Reliably sources in government disclosed that barring funding issues, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari would have conducted the exercise a long time ago.
“The present administration tried to conduct the census exercise four times, first in 2018 and later in 2020, 2022 and March 2023. But the efforts ended in failure.
“While economic recession of 2018/2019 stalled the first move, Covid-19 disrupted plans for the 2020 and 2022 exercise. The general elections upended the March 2023 exercise.
“It seems the Buhari government is not destined to give us a census. He had tried four times now (2018, 2020, 2022 and March 2023) and failed.
“There are even doubts over the possible outcome of the exercise if the present administration goes ahead to conduct it.
“I think it should be left to the incoming administration which has enough time and goodwill to conduct”, said a top public official who did not want his identity disclosed.
According to several official figures, the Nigerian Population Commission will require about N900 billion to conduct a successful census.
“The total requirement for the census (including post census activities) is N869 billion”, Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Clement Agba, had stated while speaking during a high level partners’ engagement on the 2023 population and housing census in Abuja on March 7, 2023.
Checks showed that while the census proper will gulp N626 billion, post-census activities that will last till 2025 will require additional N243billion.
However, out of the funds budgeted for the census exercise, only N294.3 billion had been released so far by the Federal Government as at March 15 by the government.
It was gathered that while the sum of N291.5 billion were released to the NPC in tranches between June 2022 and January 2023, another N2.8billion for the procurement of the software to be used for the conduct of the census was released after the FEC meeting of March 17, totalling N294.3 billion (about 47% of total funding).
Further breakdown of the figures indicate that out of the N626 billion (post census figures not included) needed for the conduct of the census proper, only N294.3 billion had been released, while the outstanding N325billion is yet to be released.
The releases are, however, a far cry from what is needed to conduct a successful census.
The lack of funds, sources in NPC claimed, stalled the planned training of ad-hoc personnel already shortlisted for the exercise.
The first set of trainees like enumerators and supervisors who had been trained already, but not yet paid their training allowances, had recently protested the non release of their stipends, prompting the NPC management to postpone further trainings.
Sources in the NPC informed BH that the funding challenge is exacerbated by the reluctance of ‘developmental partners’ like the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); United States Agency for International Development (USAID); British Council; International Monetary Fund (IMF); the European Union (EU) and others to release their own portion of the funds.
The ‘partners’, it was learnt, are foot-dragging on their commitment towards the census exercise over fears that the current administration will compromise its outcome.
“Our partners, particularly the Europeans and Americans, are not comfortable with the Buhari administration conducting the census exercise.
“The believe in many quarters is that the exercise had already being programmed and its outcome predetermined to favour a section of the country.
“So, the partners are not willing to be part of the charade. I know for sure that they have been putting pressure on the government to push the exercise to the next administration, but the government is insisting on forging ahead with it.
“Though we cannot say for sure, some of us believe that their (partners) decision to hold on to funds and materials earlier promised is their own way of stalling the exercise”, a commissioner in the NPC from one of the South West states confided in our correspondent.
This insinuation was inadvertently alluded to by the Minister of State for Budget and Planning, Clem Agba, during a meeting with development partners in Abuja on March 7 when he lamented that over 40 percent of funds needed for the census had been released, and that funding from development partners, which is still being awaited remained key.
While stating that one of the objectives of the meeting was to source for funds for the census exercise, the minister assured the partners that funds released by them will be managed in a transparent manner.
Agba listed areas where the country will need help to include the acquisition of 405,000 additional local content tablets and accessories, training of 885,000 personnel for house numbering, among many others.
The partners are, however, not bulging in their determination that the exercise is not conducted by the outgoing government.
According to a diplomatic source, the conduct of both the February 25 Presidential/National Assembly and March 18 Governorship/House of Assembly polls have confirmed their worst fears that the incumbent president could not be trusted with the census exercise.
While development partners are pushing for the postponement of the exercise till further notice until they are sure of a transparent and credible enumeration, some forces from the southern part of the country are said to be hell-bent on preventing the census exercise from holding as scheduled.
Their fears, BH learnt, is borne out of the outcome of past census exercises which they claimed were rigged in favour of the North.
“All the census figures we have had always put the North ahead of the South. Is this not an anomaly?
“Where else in the world do you have population in the savannah, arid or sahel regions surpass that of rain forests and coastal areas.
“Yes, towns and cities like Kano, Kaduna, Maiduguri and Zaria are hugely populated like their counterparts in the South, but that is where it stops.
“Remove these large cities and towns, the whole North are largely inhabitable. In fact, most states in the North are one or two city states after removing the state capitals.
“So, where are the people coming from? Is it from outer space? I don’t think we are going to get a realistic figure until a southern government gets into power to oversee the exercise.
“We have reached out to our political leaders to ensure that this current government does not conduct the exercise.
“We are also mobilizing traditional, cultural and religious institutions to throw their weight behind the movement like they did during the push for the return of presidency to the South.
“Apart from mobilizing against the holding of the census exercise as scheduled on May 3, we are also working for the deployment of modern technologies like BVAS used by INEC during the last general elections to fish out ghost citizens”, said Bashorun Tunji Ogunmola, a chieftain of Igbimo Omo Yoruba, a Yoruba socio-cultural group.
BH recalled that the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan had proposed a census exercise in 2016, exactly ten years after the much controversial census of 2006, which was the last enumeration conducted in the country.
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Jonathan’s embattled government was, however, unable to accomplish the task before leaving office in 2015 owing to several political and economic factors.