Population Census and Reasons for the Falsification of Population Figure in Nigeria for 2023

Population Census and Reasons for the Falsification of Population Figure in Nigeria for 2023


Before the Federal Republic of Nigeria established the National Population Commission (NPC) with the specific authority to conduct national censuses, the country. When censuses were conducted over the years, concerns about politicking, falsifying the results of the population count, religious conflict, and ethnic tension arose from various groups regarding the accuracy and manipulation of census figures to suit the desires of specific individuals.

The country’s southern and northern regions have both rejected, dismissed, and asked for corrections on it. On whether or not the data published are acceptable, Nigerians have had a variety of reactions. A series of censuses allow one to evaluate the past, precisely characterize the present, and predict the future. Yet, conducting censuses is a very delicate topic that has remained unresolved in Nigeria. This essay discusses the Nigerian population census, how current challenges relate to it, and its motivations. And the path forward for a future census that the general public would regard as trustworthy and accurate.


Odewumi (2000) while referring to the 1970 United Nations Draft Recommendation on population census defined census as ‘the total process of collecting, compiling, evaluating, analyzing and publishing or otherwise disseminating demographic, economic and social data pertaining at a specified time to all persons in a country or in a well-delimited part of a country’ (Odewumi, 2000).

Population census is a terminology now restricted to the complete enumeration of the human population legally conducted at regular intervals, often every 10 years. Enumeration of people is not a recent phenomenon. It dates back to antiquity and stands as the most important source of demographic data.


The National Population Commission was established as a federal and independent executive commission by Section (153 [1j]) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Executive President of Nigeria is constitutionally empowered to appoint the chairman and members of the National Population Commission but shall consult the Council of States whenever making such appointments which are to also be confirmed by the Nigerian Senate. The chairman and members are appointed for a tenure of five (5) years each and renewable once (maximum of two terms for ten years).

Administratively, the commission comprises of a Chairman and one member each from all 36 states and Abuja as (Commissioners) representing their states. The commission was mandated to carry out these functions: The Commission shall;

(a) Undertake the enumeration of the population of Nigeria periodically, through censuses, sample surveys or otherwise;

(b) Establish and maintain machinery for continuous and universal registration of births and deaths, throughout the Federation;

(c) Prepare and maintain a national framework, including locality list and house-numbering, for the delineation exercise for census and sample surveys in each local government area in Nigeria; [1991 No. 31.]

(d) collect, collate and publish data on migration statistics;

(e) Research and monitor the national population policy and set up a national population information data bank;

(j) Arrange for the appointment and training of enumerators and all other categories of staff of the Commission;

(g) Provide information and data on the population for purposes of facilitating national planning and economic development;

(h) Advise the President on population matters;

(i) Disseminate information and educate the general public about the functions of the Commission under this


(j) Do all such things as may be considered by the Commission to be necessary, desirable, expedient, supplementary or incidental to the performance of the functions or the exercise of the powers conferred on the

Commission under the Act

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As one of the factors responsible for the politicization of census in Nigeria, political strength and influence is visible historically. During the preparations for the election into the federal House of Representatives, the data from the 1952/53 census were used as the basis for allocating 50% representation to the North. This to a great extent indicates fundamentally the relationship between population counts and political strength and influence. Population issues precipitated the Constitutional Crisis in the country in 1962.

They played a major role in the crisis of the old Western Region of 1965 and were largely responsible for the military take-over in 1966. They also contributed greatly to the fall of Gowon‟s regime in 1975 and still loom large in the minds of many Nigerians with the incessant demand for the creation of more states soon after the return to civilian rule. It has been observed that out of several censuses conducted in Nigeria, the figures were irregular and controversial. It was only the 1963 and 1991 census figures that were accepted and used for general planning.

The 2006 population census was to a reasonable degree accepted, despite the fact that the exercise witnessed some controversies. For instance, the Lagos State government declared to the public that their population was underestimated by the National population commission. The 2006 Nigerian census is argued to be one of the most heated and politicized in the history of Nigerian census counts irrespective of the various preparations as well as huge sums of money that was provided for the exercise from international communities such as the European Union and the World Bank (Bamgbose, 2009).

The enumerators alleged that some powerful politicians in the state hijacked the recruitment of census officials, replacing trained officials with names of their favourites (Suleiman, 2006). The same scenario was found in Benin, Edo state. In Benin, the nonpayment of enumerators‟ allowances and substitution of names of trained officials with names of favourites of political leaders almost stopped the census exercise there, especially as the move was protested against, leading to a clash between enumerators and policemen. Powerful politicians hijacked the recruitment of census officials, replacing the names of trained officials with the names of their loyalists (Suleiman, 2006).


The controversy in relation to religion has a fundamental effect on issues of population census and serves as a threat to even nation-building. Conflicts over national censuses and religious rivalry that is the source of census controversy and this are so because the competition for political control is between Muslims and Christians rather than rival ethnic groups. Group’s actions are influenced by their religion. Religion provides standards and guidelines against which people’s conduct can be evaluated (Parsons cited in Haralambos and Holborn, 2004). Religion directs and shapes actions, beliefs, orientations, and behaviours.

The behaviours include fertility. Religion influences fertility behaviour. The fact that an average Nigerian is very religious was observed by some sources (Oluduro 2010; Ekundayo 2013). Religion plays a critical role in Nigerian society and has expressed itself as a potent force in the geopolitical development of the country. This force which has been used to unite Nigerians is the same force that has led to numerous conflicts in the country. Nigeria has been engulfed in numerous religious crises and/or conflicts between 1980 and 19941 (Warner 2012).

Nigeria last had a population census in 2006, putting the population at 140 million, a figure now being discredited. Even with the removal of the two complex variables militating against a credible census figure that is religion, the figures were still doctored in favour of the north which claims to greater population (Etete 2006).

Population census is always carried out in Nigeria in order to know the actual figure of Nigerian citizens to enable the government to equitably allocate resources. It is pertinent to note that religion is one of the factors that have contributed to the unsuccessful population census ever conducted in Nigeria. For instance, Muslims do not permit their women to be counted, reason is that their culture does not permit such, this accounts to overestimation resulting in the Northern figure becoming higher than any other ethnic group in Nigeria( 2016).


Ethnicity implies negative feelings directed against an ethnic group. It is ethnicity as the contextual discrimination by members of a cultural group against others on the basis of a differentiated system of sociocultural symbols (Obasanjo, 2006). Ethnic classification either externally imposed or intrinsically engendered, often defines people’s membership to a group.

Some of these ethnic groups go a long way in inflating the census figures in a bid to have a comparative advantage over other ethnic groups. And also in an attempt to secure more social amenities than others, engage in the inflation of census figures. These practices arise from the belief that such ethnic groups would be incapable of securing those social amenities distributed by the government to the various ethnic groups in the country.

The ethnic group with the highest population census figures uses it as a systemic institutional platform to discriminate and exercise dominance over the ethnic groups that have lower census figures. It is usually assumed that whichever ethnic group control the highest population controls the greater share of the national resources respective of the ethnic group that actually needs the resources at that time to foster development. This scenario clearly mirrors ethnic battle for dominance, especially between the three dominant ethnic groups as it relates to census figures in Nigeria. (Challenge National.208)

This is due to the fact that governmental decisions concerning the siting of industries, the building of roads and bridges, the award of scholarships, revenue allocation, and the allocation of parliamentary seats to constituencies of these ethnic groups are guided by population figures of the regions involved. It was gathered that most states worked to inflate their population. Multiple registrations and/ or double counting of citizens were one of the major tools used by states to actualize the drive up to their population. It was in some states/ ethnic leaders ventured into census inflation by unduly influencing census enumerators by promising them large sums of money if they cooperated with them


Governments in Nigeria are compelled by nationalities to fudge census data by inflating figures, double counting, or even including figures that do not exist. Despite the huge sums of money from the Central government and international organizations such as the European Union (EU), the United Nations (UN), and the Commonwealth of Nations for the 2006 census exercise, the exercise has not been entrusted to the hands of sufficient ad-hoc staff and field workers of the National Population Commission.

This is true even with the introduction of a computerized system for carrying out census exercises in Nigeria. No amount of adjustment to the figure can make it right. Tinubu, (2007) rejected the Lagos state figure and requested a recount since there was enough support funding from the United Nation and also the European Union. Falsification of figures was a do-or-die affair, in that states not only worked towards the inflation of their figures but also influenced enumerators and top census personnel towards deflation of figures of other states either through the publication of inaccurate figures or deliberative exclusion of some localities in the exercise (Bamgbose, 2009).

Also apart from this case of deliberate falsification, the authorities were also corrupt, because they are the ones who gingered the motion. The census committee in the 2006 population census in Nigeria were been rebuked by foreign agencies for introducing 20 strategies rather than a deceptive tactic of data falsification of the result.


There are various reasons for the falsification of population census results in Nigeria and below are some of the reasons;

  1. One is that a population census is carried out to determine revenue allocation among states. States and regions that have a high population get more funds and allocations from the federal government.
  2. Another reason is that the Nigerian census determines the distribution of wealth. Nigeria’s major source of revenue is via oil which is generated mainly from the east. However, the north gets the most allocation of funds because of the size of the population.
  3. Southern politicians seeking to end the north’s dominance of Nigerian politics decided that the only way to do it was through the census. Population figures at the time determined not only parliamentary representation but also revenue allocation and employee distribution in the civil service
  4. The ethnic group with the highest population census figures uses it as a systemic institutional platform to exercise dominance over the ethnic others. Since population figures are the yardstick with which national resources and political representation are shared, each ethnic group battles to inflate census figures in order to keep dominating the other ethnic groups with the advantages of socioeconomic and political resources.
  5. Another reason the census results stir up emotions is Nigerians’ history of arguing over resource allocation. Census numbers in Nigeria guide political redistricting for each of the country’s 36 states, the distribution of federal funds, and even civil service hiring.
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  1. Reverse the revenue allocation criteria to reflect more of even development of the various states
  2. Financial and constitutional autonomy should be granted to the National Population Commission
  3. Adequate financing is required for population census if the country must realize the goals of population enumeration. Adequate financing is required to cover the heavy demand for diverse activities involving, expenditure.
  4. Application of modern powerful Geographic Information Techniques such as remote sensing (high-resolution satellite imaginary and aerial photographs), Geographical Positioning System GPS), digital cartography, and Geographic Information System (GIS), should be used to facilitate the production of all base maps needed for the successful conduct of population censuses.
  5. Discouragement of politicization, falsification, religious rivalry, and ethnicity stimulation is population taxation. This means that each state will be made to pay a particular type of tax to the federation account based on its population number. So the more you claim numerical strength, the more the quantum of tax you will pay to the federal government.


Today, it is impossible to conduct a thorough and accurate population census in Nigeria. In a diverse nation like Nigeria, conducting censuses has been political. The elite in each of the federated states of Nigeria has come to believe that they must fudge census data in order to gain an advantage over others in terms of income sharing and political representation.

Nigerians have continued to be denied this idea, which led famous economist Professor Aluko to repeatedly inquire, “How many Nigerians…?” in 1965. (Aluko, 1965). Yet, it is important to downplay Nigeria’s previous population census experiences, which focused on using population as a benchmark for allocating government benefits. Rather, the government should ensure equitable distribution of resources. This will ensure a satisfactory living for all Nigerians and accurate population figures can be reached and falsification can be a thing of the past


Aluko SA (1965). How many Nigerians? An Analysis of Nigeria’s Census Problems, 1901-63 in Afri. Affairs 3(3): 371-392.

Bamgbose J (2000). Fundamentals of Nigerian. Nigeria. Lagos: Ijede Commercial Enterprises.

Odewumi S (2000). Problems of Census in Nigeria in Odumosu T, Atere W and Adewunmi F (eds), Social Problems and Planning Studies in Nigeria. Nigeria. Lagos: Centre for Planning Studies Lagos State University

Tinubu BA (2007). The falsification of Lagos Census figures being the test of a report by the Lagos State Government in the Punch (Lagos): February, 6: 3

Obasanjo, O., (2006), Politics: Census is Indispensable to the Nation‟s Quest of Sustainable Development (Text of a national broadcast by His Excellence President Olusegun Obasanjo on the conduct of 2006 population and housing census, March 2006). Guardian Newspapers.

Mr. Harrison

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