Over a year ago this blog questioned whether population figures coming out of Nigeria could be trusted. In particular, we asked whether the population was really at 180 million people and whether fertility rates were as high as was claimed and were not falling. We noted that:

“some academics believe that the population of some of the northern states were inflated by about a quarter and some of the southern areas were reduced due to political pressure.”

Population determines resources and political power, so regions have an interest in “fiddling” the population books.

Today these questions are being raised again by the editors of the Guardian Nigeria. The editors noted that the Director-General of the National Population Commission has announced that the country’s population is now 182 million people (and is thus the seventh most populous nation in the world). This figure was based upon the last census figure of 140 million gathered in 2006 and a growth rate of 3.5 per cent and includes other factors such as declining infant mortality rate and rising life expectancy. However, “most Nigerians” still “find it difficult to believe the figures” since they form the basis for sharing the country’s resources among the federated states. As the editors say, it is hard to see how there is a growing youth bulge (with 40 per cent of the population under the age of 14) when the NPC itself claims that “this growth is happening at a time the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) is shrinking amid biting recession”.

Basing the figure of 182 million upon the 2006 census is problematic, since that earlier figure of 140 million was itself disputed by some of Nigeria’s states, such as Lagos State. Similarly, the growth rate of 3.5 per cent is much higher than that estimated by the World Bank in 2013 (2.8 per cent) and that estimated by Index Mundi this year (2.44 per cent). Indeed, a former Chairman of the NPC, Dr Festus Odimegwu, claimed that Nigeria has not “had any credible census since 1816”! Further, the 2018 census has been estimated by the current NPC head as going to cost 222 billion Nigerian naira (USD 710 million), a large amount of money to spend if the results are not going to be trusted. As the editors conclude, perhaps the answer is to change the devolution of powers under the federation:

“Above all, the country should stop using population as basis for revenue sharing. As we proclaim so often here, restructuring of the federation is the solution. If powers and responsibilities are devolved in a federation, different federating units will be free to determine the true population they should plan for and develop.”

Either way, it is a good reminder not to take official figures as certain. Especially in countries with large populations, violence and/or poor infrastructure.

Marcus Roberts

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...