Former NPC Boss, Duruihuoma Speaks On Govt’s Roles In Failed 2016, 2023 Censuses
Eze Duruihuoma, a former Chairman of National Population Commission, (NPC) and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, (SAN), says
political considerations often becloud Census exercises hence the ineluctable need to be separated from electioneering seasons.
The prominent Legal practitioner said the federal government of Nigeria had decided to postpone the recent headcount exercise otherwise known as Census, which was slated for this year, consequent on an envisaged interference that could have emanated from the just concluded 2023 general election.
In this exclusive interview with Charity Uwakwe, Duruihuoma who had served as a former Local Government Chairman between the year 1991-1993, described the headcount exercise as the most engaging national activity next to war, saying it calls for the mobilization of so many resources to be successfully actualised.
Here are the excerpts:
Q. Sir, you were a former Chairman of National Population commission, (NPC), of Nigeria and obviously have held some other political positions. Could you tell us briefly about your political life.
Resp. I have been a former Local Government Chairman. So, politically, I started as a local government chairman between the year 1991-1993. Then, I went on to hold other political postions. I was Chairman of Imo State PDP between 2011-2014, which was a position I left for the national assignment, as a Chairman of National Population Commission, wherein I served between 2014-2019 that is five(5) years tenure.
The position under the law is a five (5) year span and the five (5) years ended January 23 of 2019.
Q. Alright, sir, during your tenure was, there anytime the usual headcount was cancelled or perhaps postponed for whatever reason?
Resp. (Sighs…) Well, not cancelled, the true postion is National Population Commission just like INEC has the main business of conducting headcount census. There are other things it does like the core vital registration of births, deaths and all. It does that on a regular basis but the main business is headcount. And headcount by it’s very nature is a very massive exercise. In fact, it is often said that next to war is headcount (census) is the most engaging national activity; next to war because it calls for the mobilization of so many many resources just the same or the kind of resources that are mobilized for a war so that is what census looks like.
The last census in the country by the time I arrived was in 2006 and by tradition, by custom, unwritten custom anyway, censuses are supposed to hold every ten(10) years and of course you ought to understand that the exercise is an opportunity to gather data, wide ranging issues from housing to even the human factor that is the headcount which people often think is synonymous with census is just one item in a long list of items which census takes care of. So, just one item. There are so many other things; to discover how people live the facilities available to them; such as health facilities, education facilities and so on and so forth. And this are things meant for development, meant for progress.
Therefore, in order for a country or a nation to plan on these areas, you must have the necessary data; before you talk about establishing a school you must be sure the population of people around that area where you want to site a school; so these things make census important, imperative. So, by 2014 when I arrived there, the last census took place in 2006. That was the eighth year from the last time it was conducted, remaining just two years to make it ten years to hold another census (2016).
It was proposed, preparatory activities were undertaken and, in fact, there was a presidential directive to us to put everything that’s needed for a Census in place. And we did exactly that. Unfortunately, the president then, Goodluck Jonathan lost his reelection bid in 2015 and that dealt a very serious blow on the project.
Now, of course, we submitted a proposal to the incoming administration of President Mohammadu Buhari, and we were promised that it would be looked into. So, thereafter, we had hopes that the issue of Census would receive a favourable consideration from president Buhari in his first year.
It was supposed to hold in 2016 and from there, we moved it to 2017. But, in planning all these, we were conscious of one fact and that is; because of the nature of Census, we needed to separate it from the political season, if you know what I mean by political season. You know according to the political calendar, the next election is going to be in the next four years and the next four years for an election is not exactly four years on the dot but a year or two to the anniversary of the last election so that is when political activities come up. So, we wanted to make sure that the Census didn’t fall in within the political season because we knew it would interfere with it.
Q: How would that have happened, sir?
Resp. I’ll tell you how it would happen and in telling you that, I’ll relate it to what had happened this last political season. One: it There is this recurring effort to politicise Census. And that is why we often have problems accepting Census results in this country because often times, people read politics into them and forget the real benefits of Census, and look at the political side of it. So, we were doing everything possible to extricate political considerations.
If you fix Census as they tried to do the other time, during an election year or a political season, it will take the shine out of it.
Q: How does that happen, sir?
Resp. I’ll tell you how it happens. Earlier, I had told you that one major problem we have in this country is isolating politics from Census. Like I said, political considerations becloud Census exercises so there was need something to separate it.
Q: So, sir, in a nutshell, are you trying to say that this last Census was cancelled in order to prevent interferences from the elections?
Resp. Well, direct or indirect interferences; direct interference you can interpret; indirect interference- the last time although you had earlier asked that so let me attempt an answer. The last time I cannot speak for them because I was not on ground so I don’t know what happened, but as an on looker, as a stakeholder, I felt that fixing a Census at the time they did was not a good judgement.
This i say because the elections had just taken place and there was going to be a transition from one government to another, are considering how sensitive Census and these results are, I don’t think it was a smart thing to do. It was not a wise judgement because, election took place in February and March and they were fixing a Census immediately after an election.
So, the indirect interference here refers to the interference from political actors in their minds, because there was an election and there was an outcome of an election and, of course, you very well know that the last election became controversial and if immediately after the election, you’re embarking on another sensitive exercise, it wouldn’t augur well. One, there’s the issue of trust, there’s distrust; who knows what they have in mind and these are little, little things we want to make sure they don’t affect our Census. We want to make sure that Census is conducted in an environment, in an atmosphere where the outcome is at least, if not generally accepted but at least accepted by majority of the people. So, to get this type of result, you must make sure those things that create doubt are eradicated. That I think the planners, I know them, they had wonderful intentions; they were sincere, but that timing thing, even though I know, because I tried interact with them on this and they were so optimistic and then, again, Census doesn’t just end with the counting, after the Census, that’s the actual counting, the figures are collected just like election results.
So, just as we collect election results, what we do is to collect data and analyse. It is through the analysis that you are able to know that there are more women than men, there are more boys than girls. So, these things take time and the results of a census does not become official until the President acting with the National Council of States will say yes, we accept this results. So, this was a situation that arose. President Mohammadu Buhari was leaving office and they proposed to conduct this Census two weeks before he leaves office.
So, he won’t be there to proclaim the results, it is the new man who will and it will be difficult, it will be very very difficult for the new person, no matter how free mind he is, how unsuspecting, not withstanding all that; it will be difficult for him to say yes I agree.
Q: Sir, overtime, there have been reports that underaged persons are being captured by INEC during elections. So, is there not a possibility of the federal government putting an end to such through the NPC, hence they have the true data of every citizen?
Resp. Well, there is no way no relationship. INEC is independent , National Population Commission in its own area is also independent.
INEC does a register of voters they register voters so it has nothing to do with what National Population does by way of census. Census counts everybody, every Nigerian.
Q: During the counting, the Commission, of course, takes the data of every Nigerian, so does it mean this error can’t be corrected?
Resp. The point I made earlier on; INEC register voters and register their bio data including their ages. Are you following?
And you can be sure that those children, those underaged children who voted were registered as under aged children but because the system is corrupt somewhere, it enables them to do what ever they are doing so there is nothing any census can do to correct, because it has to do with the attitude of the people. If the general attitude is dishonesty, census cannot make a dishonest people honest. Census goes out there into the field collects data; for instance, what’s your name? My name is charity, your age, and if you go out and claim a name that is not your own .what can census do..?
Q: Alright sir, we know despite you have left office, you still are relevant in the system, so could you tell us what plans are ongoing probably behind closed doors as regards what date or perhaps year, has been slated for the exercise to hold.
Resp. Okay! Well, let me correct an impression, I’m just a stakeholder, I don’t have access to that kind of information, I’m not part of the planning nor am I part of the execution but I have good will and through my good will, I can get information.
Again, another point I want to correct is, the exercise was not cancelled.
They used the word and I’m sure they used that word deliberately “POSTPONED”. So, the question is to “POSTPONED” to when?
That is the question. In fact, I have heard some people even from the Commission ask when do you think these things can happen
Knowing the way government functions, I don’t see the current administration that is just beginning, still trying to stand on its feet to embark on conducting Census this year.
Maybe I have to cover the field. There are curtains things that must be taken in back in planning a census. One of them must be weather, the weather must be clement, even though with technological advantage, the period of the Census has been reduced. In the past when most things were manual, it used to take weeks, but this time around because of technological advancement, and other factors coming from them, the period has reduced.
So, the advanced technology they are deploying reduces the amount of time that will be spent on it. That could be spent on it.