The identity and data politics in Nigeria


Decision-makers employ high-frequency data to make judgments and deliver revolutionary leadership in this era of governance around the globe. Unfortunately, Nigeria has not followed this strategy since no one is aware of the population’s fundamental statistics. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other international organizations have instead been relied upon throughout time for their estimations and estimates.

Nigeria last performed a population census in March 2006, when there were reportedly 140 million people living there. There has been no official update on that number for the past 17 years, raising doubts about the validity of Nigerian censuses.

Nigeria has been in need of a national census since 2016 (in accordance with the UN guideline that one be conducted at least once every 10 years), but has not been able to conduct one owing to a lack of funding. It’s intriguing that finances haven’t been made available for a project of this magnitude and significance that has the potential to alter the nation’s blind political narrative.

The countrywide Population Commission (NPC) needed $17 billion in 2014 to carry out the 2016 census on a countrywide scale. The Commission predicted that the 2016 census would not be valid in 2015 due to inadequate fiscal allocation. Due to the change in administration and the economic downturn, the 2016 census was ultimately cancelled. The 2017 census was predicted to be successful, however it was unable to occur, and this was attributed to the economic slump that manifested as a result of a drop in oil prices.

The census was eventually set for 2018, with a projected cost of 272 billion, but the government could only afford to cover 51% of that amount and had to turn to donations for the other 49%. The projected 2018 population census was also requested to be delayed by the National Assembly, who argued that doing so so close to the 2019 general elections may result in turmoil.

In addition to economic difficulties, COVID-19 derailed preparations for the exercise in 2020, causing it to be shifted to 2022, then delayed until March 2023, and finally until after the 2023 elections. The census, which was originally scheduled to take place from May 3–7, 2023, has just been postponed indefinitely by the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration. I believe that the administration squandered a chance to make history and provide the groundwork for successful policymaking by the necessary parties, including the government, corporations, academic institutions, homes, and individuals. Additionally, census data can encourage all levels of government to invest in long-term infrastructure for data gathering and analytics.

There has been substantial progress, according to Nasir Kwarra, the current NPC Chairman, in preparation for the 2023 Population and Housing Census. The country’s Enumeration Area Demarcation and the administration of the first and second pre-tests were finished. He also noted the hiring and training of temporary employees, as well as the acquisition of PDAs and ICT infrastructure.

The census was given a budgetary allocation of 178 billion in Nigeria’s 2022 budget to fund enumeration efforts, training, and general preparations. As time goes on, it is anticipated that holding a census will get more expensive. For example, in 2023, no money was set aside for the census in the budget, but the NPC announced it had a budget of $869 billion.

The Federal Government does not actually have that much more money to spend on a project that is not a priority. More importantly, the nation is plagued by debts that recently needed to be restructured; yet, this would not have been much of an issue if not for the nation’s poor potential for income creation.

Citizens in Nigeria have developed a hate relationship with data as a result of the government’s posture over time; this narrative has to shift. The trust in data institutions is at an all-time low. For instance, many Nigerians disagree with the inflation statistics that the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) releases on a regular basis. This pervasive institutional mistrust has been fueled by the Nigerian government. Without comprehensive and reliable data, which is dependent on timely census results, trillions of naira have been lost on interventionist initiatives like fuel subsidies, social assistance, and empowerment programs.

The absence of precise data may have had a negative impact on the governments that came after Obasanjo’s. The narrative of turning to foreign organizations for what is believed to be “authentic Nigerian data” has to alter since the Nigerian government has been making choices that are mainly ignorant.

A national census must be prioritized by the incoming administration as soon as feasible since it would advance the economic objectives aimed at improving Nigerians’ standard of life.

In order to invest in infrastructure for data collecting and analytics that will steer national growth, the government must also provide financial assistance to statistical organizations at the federal, state, and municipal levels. As a result of this investment, businesses will perform better and attract more foreign investment since they will have the necessary information to make informed decisions.

Discussions regarding Nigeria’s federalism and economic policies should also be sparked by the problem of census data. Political representation or revenue sharing based on population should end. The Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) has previously expressed dissatisfaction with how states and local governments inflated their revenue shares. States will find creative ways to raise money once they realize that population estimates won’t be used as incentives.

Then, a fundamental fact is revealed: conducting a national census is not difficult in and of itself. The problem is how census numbers are used to affect economic and governmental choices.

Additionally, all necessary resources must be allocated to the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), which is responsible for managing the National Identity Number (NIN). Enrollments in the NIN were 98.7 million as of April 2023. Every Nigerian must have a NIN connected to every element of life, including banking, communications, jobs, healthcare, and education. This requires an integrated system.

A good identity management system will increase the impact of governance. Additionally, it will contribute to a successful tax system. Data and identity management must thus be given top priority by the incoming administration since they are the foundations for a population that is more productive.

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