By Kayode Ketefe
A 53-year-old man or woman should know the number of his or her children, should she not? What about a 53-year-old nation, should she not know the number of her citizens? As another annual ritual of Nigeria’s independence anniversary looms, many questions are bound to be asked by many writers and thinkers regarding the fulfillment or otherwise of the expectations of our founding fathers; whether or not the objectives of our union have been met and if so, to what degree or percentage?
It is not the intention of this writer to examine here the bigger, intertwined and convoluted issues of our failed or failing paradigm which spawned our multifarious problems. I would rather limit this piece to the scope of the opening interrogative to probe why we have failed even in the simplistic affair of counting ourselves – an area in which no serious nation should have failed.
When the results of the last population census conducted in 2006 were announced by the National Population Commission, not a few were disappointed. The figures were nothing but mere statistical updates of the traditional warped and incongruous figures we had shamelessly being bandied about for decades as our authentic population. The said 2006 census put Kano first as most populous state in the country with 9,401,288 million while the economic hub city of Lagos came second with 9,113,605.
The first population census in Nigeria was conducted in 1866 while the second but modern one was conducted between 1952-53. That was during the colonial era when the ethnic jingoism was at is its peak with some of the nationalities scheming to dominate the others in the emergent independent Nigeria. It was not difficult for the people to fathom the strategic importance of numerical advantage.
The population was going to be not only the basis of resources allocation from the federal treasury but also for elective representation. Then, falsehood and manipulation reigned with the North coming forward with the most unbelievable figures of the lots. These figures were nonetheless condoned and accepted by the colonial powers which had a long history of special affection for and unwritten bond with the humble, submissive North in preference to the “overeducated” and arrogant south.
Thus the myth was born and has been nurtured since then through nothing but deliberate population inflation – a cancerous vice which has made national planning and development a mirage.
The myth was resurrected and formed the basis of the 2006 demographic engineering, sorry, population census, which put Nigerian population at 140,003, 542 million with the Northern region being credited with more than half of this figure.
But, how can a landlocked, arid or semi arid expanse of land has more population than fertile areas with extended access to Continental Ocean? This negates almost everything we know about the social science of demography. But the proverbial Nigerian factor was a force so powerful that no demographical fact, no ratiocination or commonsense or truth dares stand in its path.
The Chairman of the National Population Commission Mr. Festus Odimegwu, recently ran into trouble for daring to discredit all the past censuses. In a rare display of courage, the erudite NPC boss went as far as saying that 2006 census figures were mostly cooked up and that ”Nigeria has not had a credible census since 1866”. The hullaballoo triggered off by this disclosure was so gargantuan that the national temperature soared with many vested interests calling for Odimegwu’s sack. He was promptly queried by his appointor for reckless utterances!
In spite of all the needles vituperation, what appears to be a validation of Odimegwu’s assertion came on the heels of his “bombshell” when the National Census Tribunal sitting in Abuja nullified the results of the 2006 National Census in 14 local governments in Lagos State on the grounds that the counting was illegal and not accurate. The Tribunal ordered fresh counts in all the 14 local governments. Mangana Yankare!
But why is the truth so disgusting? It is ironic that Nigerians are highly religious people, yet we cannot be honest in a matter of simple enumeration! The Holy Bible says in Proverbs 14: 34 that “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.”
Al-Quran Kareem, states, “O ye who believe! Be ye staunch in justice, witnesses for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or your parents or your kindred, whether the case be of a rich man or a poor man, for Allah is nearer unto both them ye are. So follow not passion lest ye lapse from truth and if ye lapse or fall away, then lo! Allah is ever informed of what ye do” ( Surah An-Nisa 4:135).
For those who are traditional worshipers, the recitations “Ogbe Ogunda” in the sacred Odu IfaCorpus enjoin adherents to be righteous and honest, when it reads in part, “The liar dies in a forest of fire. The wicked dies and dies on a sun-scorched savannah. But the righteous dies and dies peacefully! (Ogbe Ogunda 31: 4).
Overwhelming Nigerians belong to the one or the other of these religions, yet we find it difficult to tell truth in simple matters. Whence dishonesty came?
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