Chairman of the National Population Commission Mr. Festus Odimegwu stepped up his campaign to discredit previous censuses yesterday, saying the 2006 census figures were mostly cooked up.
Mr. Odimegwu, who was managing director of the Nigerian Breweries at the time, said officials forged figures for states and local governments in the census, which held during the regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Since his assumption of office, the population chief has waged a strident campaign to question the veracity of past census figures, once saying no previous census had been credible.
Speaking at a news conference in Abuja yesterday, he said: “There was no census. The governor of Niger wrote, that they were waiting for enumerators, they didn’t come, people left, that is why we have so many cases in the tribunal.”
He added that “mind you population forgery is done everywhere, is done in every states, every locality, every region, it’s not restricted in any particular region. It’s done everywhere because politicians want to manipulate it because they want to use it during politics.”
Odimegwu said during a review of the 2006 census in Minna, Niger State, he heard from an official named Inuwa Mohammed of how money was used to influence the process.
“Mohammed stood up and told the whole commissioners, all the former directors and new directors that were there for the meeting, how they shared 3 million Pounds and N90 million in a hotel room. The money of hiring and training of enumerators for the census, that there was no census,” he said.
“Somebody called me and said, ‘chairman you must hear this.’ I said put Mohammed on the phone and I said ‘Mohammed I love you, I wished all Nigerians are like you, you are the type of person if you are near me, I would have kissed you.’ And I appointed him my SA in charge of anti-corruption in the NPC.”
Odimegwu said because of his belief that the 2006 census was flawed, he had since asked the commission’s lawyers to stop defending cases filed by states and local governments in court challenging the results.
He gave an example of the instance when then-governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, disputed the figures for the state. He said Tinubu “conducted his census in Lagos and got 17.2 million people instead of (population commission chairman Samuila) Makama’s 9 million. We have so many issues against the commission. I have asked the lawyer to stop defending it because what the people are saying is truth; we have never done a census.”
He said, “If people stayed for enumerators to come count them and they didn’t come and after they see you publish a figure, they have the right to challenge you and most of those challenges are correct. So I told my people don’t defend it any more, since none of us will go to prison as individual.
“When they say it’s not correct, it’s not correct but I am already telling myself it’s not correct, why should I go to court and defend it? Because most of those legal challenges are correct.
“The governor of Minna told us people stayed for the whole time waiting for enumerators to come. Enumerators never came then suddenly you publish a figure for them, they will say there is no census. He had it in the address he read to us.”
Odimegwu had recently stirred debate when he said the commission needed N600 billion over the next five years, a figure that is way beyond what was spent on the 2006 census.
Defending the amount, he said the funds would be justified because his intent was to provide useful data that would serve the needs of other agencies thereby cutting the costs those agencies would have incurred in generating their own data.
He said, “When we went to do presentation at the Villa and we said the budget for running the population commission for five years is N576 billion, roughly N600bn, when we said it, one minister said ‘Ehh Festus is that not too much?’ The President said ‘how can it be too much for National Population to spend this for 5 years and establish data where everybody will plug in and play?’
“And the money that is being spend now doing biometric data within the MDAs is in trillions, everybody wants to do biometric data, INEC, NIMC, Federal Road Safety Corps, Police Commission. We have already spent billions. Trillions…
“If you think spending 600 billion for population commission to produce data for all federal agencies, all states agencies all the local government agencies, all organised private sector, all data users, if you think it’s expensive, see where your lack of data has put Nigeria. So it’s nothing. That six 600 billion is for what we will do for the whole five years not census alone.”
He said the funds would not be from the Federal Government alone but that states and local governments as well as donor agencies would also contribute.
Odimegwu also said part of his plan is to create 5 million jobs through the solar-panel kioks that would be set up for the enumeration work in 2016.
“To have a solar kiosk in the 200,000 localities and each of them will employ an average of 25 people, that is the 5 million jobs. The people that will do this for us while they are sending information to us, we would also use them as community enlightenment centre,” he said.
“The youth leader in that community may be running a provision shop there or doing a cyber café there in one of the solar kiosks. The woman community leader may be running provisions shop; you can have a bicycle repairer. You can have this.
“So in the day the solar panel will get energy from the sun, in the night when there is no electricity in most of these communities that will be the only place you will have light and people will gather there.”
On the controversial inclusion of religion and ethnicity in the 2016 census, Odimegwu said this would be necessary because characterisations are important in the country.
“If anybody is afraid of this, he should tell me why he is afraid and we have to call it ethnicity and religion because that is, if you don’t describe Nigerians in relation to ethnicity and religion and other parameters, then you are not describing them because we are proud of ethnicity and religion even if that is at a low level,” he said.
“If you are going to market border with something with pork and you don’t make a jurisdiction of Muslims in the 200,000 localities, you will commit a marketing blunder to go and launch it where Muslims are and maybe they eat it by mistake without knowing that there is pork,” he said.
“When they find out it is pork, do you know what they are going to do? They will quarrel with your company but if you have the data, you don’t go where there are high Muslim population, you go where there are high Christian population so they can have their pork and you can develop a new product for this.
“You need those data to plan for building mosque, churches, cathedrals, planning pilgrimages, planning nomadic education and if you don’t have those data you can never plan those things well. These things will be sources of stealing money, they will put a wrong figure there, and when you put money they will embezzle it.
“So you use data to plan. I am professional manager, a technocrat, one of the best from Corporate Nigeria, and anybody who said it is not true should come and give his debate. Truth is truth and it doesn’t recognise status and it is for the benefit of all Nigerians.”