Academic journal article
By Okolo, Abraham
The American Statistician , Vol. 53, No. 4
Census-taking is a very sensitive issue that has remained intractable in Nigeria. A series of censuses makes it possible to appraise the past, accurately describe the present, and estimate the future. In this article, we give an exposition of census-taking in Nigeria for the period 1866-1992. It is my contention that political and economic factors played the more decisive role in influencing the success of the census exercise. I offer some suggestions that may be useful in solving Nigeria's census problems.
KEY WORDS: Data; Federal government; Population.
A census of a population is the whole process of "collecting, compiling and publishing demographic economic and social data pertaining, at the specified time [ldots] to all persons in a country or delimited territory" (Shryock and Siegel 1973, p. 15). Therefore, a well-conducted census must have the following four major characteristics:
1. individual enumeration;
2. universality within a defined territory;
3. simultaneity; and
4. defined periodicity.
A census is conducted by a national government. This is because only a national government (in the case of Nigeria, the Federal Government) has the funds, personnel, and other resources to support the vast organization and large expenditures of a full-scale census. It is often the only authority mandated to conduct population censuses in a country.
A national census requires a vast amount of preparatory work. Six of the major preliminary activities that must precede a census are:
1. geographic work which involves preparing maps and lists of places;
2. proper publicity for the census;
3. designing the census questionnaires;
4. selecting and training of census personnel;
5. pretesting the questionnaires; and
6. deciding on the method of collecting data.
Generally speaking, it can be said that Nigeria is going through a demographic transition phase of a rising birth rate and declining death rate, leading to a potentially high rate of population growth. Per capita income level is, by world standard, still low. The youth-dependency ratio is quite high; so is the rate of urbanization.
But how many Nigerians are there? Nobody knows for certain because accurate census data are not available. We believe that the development of a coordinated, systematic, and responsive database is essential if the government is to make informed decisions for policy and planning, to assess the impact of these decisions, and to operate its programs effectively. According to Hauser (1975), the need for hard data is a function of an emerging modern society.
In fact, the needs for the information available from a census extend beyond the federal government to state and local governments, private providers, and third-party payers. Each one needs reliable, timely, and comparable data and analyses which describe the ethnic composition, literacy levels, number of children ever born, number of children living, occupation, sex, age, presence and durability of disability, and so on. The lack of such statistics severely limits government capacity to plan, manage, and evaluate the tremendous investment in its economic and social programs.
The purpose of this article is to appraise both the pre-independence and post-independence censuses in Nigeria, and identify the factors that have contributed to the failure of--and distrustful public attitude toward--the census exercise. In addition, suggestions will be made about how to overcome the problems pertaining to census-taking in Nigeria.
2. CENSUS EXPERIENCE IN NIGERIA
Makinwa (1985) documented that the first census took place in 1866 and covered only the Lagos area. The next was in 1871 and marked the beginning of decennial censuses in the country. Following the British tradition of taking censuses in years ending with "one," other censuses of the Lagos colony and its surrounding areas followed in 1881, 1891, and 1901. …