By Richard Oduma
In the Daily Trust White Paper Column of Monday, 17th April 2023, Suleiman A. Suleiman, took to mischief against the conduct of Nigeria’s forthcoming national population and housing census to unprecedented levels in his column titled, “BUHARI’S $2.6 BN SEVERANCE PACKAGE?” In the vexatious column, Suleiman questioned the desirability and credibility of the process that has been put in place, not only for the conduct of the exercise but also paints the entire exercise as a national jamboree and the national census budget as a parting gift by the Buhari administration to officials of the outgoing government. This is not the first time a noble objective is being attacked by people who once claimed to be its strong supporters. It is on this note that every good citizen of Nigeria must read Suleiman’s wild and long diatribe against the National Population Commission as well as the Buhari-led administration with eyes wide open as it is not only out to cast aspersion on the entire process but also have it truncated or, at least, dampened the high hopes Nigerians have expressed about the exercise. Suleiman’s claims of being supportive of the national population census exercise twelve months ago, therefore, are in doubt. If it is not so, why did he come out now when the Commission is only in its final stages of having the exercise conducted in May 2023.
The preparation for this year’s housing and national population census exercise predates this administration. Yet, Suleiman who claims to support the national population census exercise now views it as a mere conduit for siphoning government money. He does not see the merit of the timely conduct of the exercise any longer. He does not take into consideration the coincidence between the lifespan of the current government and the time the census is expected to be conducted as long as it is within the powers of the Commission to do so. Above all, he does not state why conducting the census by the officials of the Commission after the lifespan of the current administration would make it extremely high for them to siphon money earmarked for the exercise or not to siphon money when a new government is inaugurated . Because government must continue. Will census ever hold without such baseless innuendos? This is the perception and thinking of a typical dark mind who views everything negatively. As long as they are not the ones at the helm of affairs, they view everyone as unfit to lead.
Suleiman thinks very low of the Nigerian state and the effectiveness of its organs, institutions, and officials to execute their programmes and policies independently without the interference of the president and without comparison with other nations. Despite the openness and transparency with which the Commission carries out its census activities in the 774 local government areas across Nigeria, Suleiman still supports that the progress the Commission has made should be halted because they are on the verge of going home with “stolen money” since the organs of state under Buhari have gone on “hibernation” in readiness for the inauguration of the next president. As the Commission has repeatedly explained, the entire budget for the exercise is $1.89 covers pre-census and post-census activities. The pre-census activities, such as the recruitment and training of ad-hoc staff for Enumeration Area Demarcation, began in 2013. It was followed by massive campaigns and awareness across Nigeria. Sensitization workshops were organized for communities and groups. Over 500, 000 Personal Digital Assistants were procured and over one million ad-hoc workers were recruited and trained. It is therefore absurd for anyone to think that the census would be a single-day event in which the entire budget would be pilfered by officials of the Commission who have been working in the last thirteen years to ensure the success of the national census exercise.
The budget for the exercise is moderate compared to that of other smaller African countries, such as Swaziland, South Africa, Malawi which are ahead of Nigeria in the deployment of digital devices in the conduct of their censuses. The Commission should go ahead with the census because it will provide the incoming government with better data and statistics to develop policies and programmes that will benefit the people. The new government should not be overburdened with the inefficiency and laxity of some MDAs. All must therefore support the Commission to go ahead with the national census exercise. It will cost the Commission more if the exercise is put on hold. Some of the ad-hoc staff might not be available in the future if the census is not conducted now. Some of the digital devices, when kept too long, might develop technical hitches. As the economic situations across the globe seem to be deteriorating, it is better to conduct the census now to avoid any unforeseeable situation. A stitch in time saves nine! Delay, as they say, is dangerous!
Richard Oduma is a public affairs commentator and writes from Abuja.