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Census risks postponement over funding, logistic problems

Chairman, National Population Commission, Nasir Kwarra

Twelve days to the commencement of the national population and housing census, uncertainties have continued to trail the planned headcount and there are indications that it may be shifted due to funding and other logistic challenges.

It was gathered on Friday that the National Population Commission might again postpone the census as it struggled to raise the required funds.

Earlier in March, the Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Clem Agba, disclosed that the Federal Government planned to establish a basket fund to collect donations for the 2023 population and housing census.

He made this disclosure at a high-level partners’ engagement to seek support for the census in Abuja.

Agba had noted that a total of N869bn was needed for the census, adding that the government committed N291.5bn to it with the need for an additional N327.2bn.

The minister had stated, “The total requirement for the census (including post-census activities) is N869bn ($1.88bn): census requirement – N626bn ($1.36bn), which is about $6 per capita (just slightly above the threshold of up to $5 per capita); post-census (up to 2025) is N243bn ($527m).

“So far, the government has committed N291.5bn ($632m) to the census, making it 46 per cent of the total funding for the census. An additional (immediate) sum of N327.2bn ($709.9m) is required to complete the census.”

Agba added that the census was to be conducted last year, but was rescheduled for March 2023, but there was a recommendation that it should be held in May.

He said, “The last census in Nigeria was conducted in 2006. In 2014, the previous government proposed another census for 2016 in line with the UN recommendation for decennial census.

“That administration, however, exited in 2015 without accomplishing the wish. From 2015 to 2016, the country slipped into recession due to the crash in oil price and production.

“In 2018/2019, the government recommitted to the conduct of the census. In 2020, COVID-19 disrupted plans for the exercise. The census was rescheduled for March 2023, but now recommended to hold in May 2023. In 2021/2022, funds were appropriated for the census. The census was initially planned for 2022, but was moved to 2023 after the elections.”

The census was eventually shifted to May 3 to May 5, 2023, meaning that it has been shifted twice under the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.)

Agba added that the basket fund would be managed by the United Nations Population Fund, which was also providing the NPC with technical and financial support.

The minister urged members of the private sector to either donate cash or offer to buy some of the materials needed for the census.

However, it appears the Federal Government and the agency may be struggling to raise the needed funds, Saturday PUNCH has learnt.

It was gathered on Friday that no new date had been fixed for the training of ad hoc workers at the local government level as the earlier scheduled programme was postponed last week.

The recent postponement of the Local Government level training of Supervisors and Enumerators scheduled for April 13 is also predicted to affect the likelihood of the census holding in May.

Saturday PUNCH could not confirm on Friday if the software requested by the NPC for the conduct of the census had been procured as officials of the commission refused to speak on the matter and other issues surrounding the headcount.

When contacted, the Director of Public Affairs, NPC, Isiaka Yahaya, said no date had been fixed for the training of the ad hoc workers at the local government level and bluntly refused to comment on other questions posed to him.

Similarly, the Special Assistant to the NPC Chairman, Azeez Olasunkanmi, declined to comment on the issues and instead referred our correspondent to Yahaya.

Yahaya had said last week, “The suspended training will commence very soon. We had to suspend it so that the enumerators could be properly trained. One of the reasons why it was suspended was that the Personal Digital Assistants were yet to be completely delivered at the LGAs where the training would take place. These devices need to be available so that the people can be properly trained. Very soon, the training will commence.

“Oh yes, all our PDAs have been procured and configured. The commission has deployed these devices in state capitals. Currently, they have been deployed in the local government areas.

“In terms of logistics, most of our ad hoc staff members do not need to move to other states as they reside in their locations.

“So far, no staff member of ours has been kidnapped and we have not recorded any casualty. The only time our staff members were kidnapped was in Borno State during the EAD; they were released immediately with the help of the community.”

Saturday PUNCH, however, gathered that the NPC Chairman, Nasir Kwarra, and the top management of the commission were reviewing the situation and might advise the President on the likely postponement of the census after the Sallah holidays.

A decision on whether to go ahead or postpone the census is expected mid next week after Buhari’s approval. However, it was gathered that any likely postponement might be for one or two weeks as the President sees the conduct of the census as one of his regime’s legacy projects and would want it done before he exits power on May 29.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, had said the Federal Executive Council approved N2.8bn for the NPC to procure some software for the conduct of the census.

He had stated, “There was a memo presented by the National Population Commission seeking some software to allow them to conduct the census in May this year.

“I believe that because of the rescheduling of the elections, they cannot commence the census as scheduled.

“They sought council’s approval for a contract to procure software for the census at the sum of N2.8bn.”

However, it could not be ascertained on Friday if the money was released to the commission and if the software was actually procured.

Sunday PUNCH had reported last week plans by the NPC to insure ad hoc workers, who will serve as enumerators for next month’s census amid the resurgence of insecurity in different parts of the country.

Credit: Punch online

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