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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

140 million

Originally done by Chippla

For every French Person, there are two Nigerians

Eleven weeks ago, a colleague of mine asked me how many people there were in Nigeria. "No one knows," I replied to which everyone around laughed. "On a more serious note" I said, "estimates range from between 130 million to 150 million." "Wow," he said, "that's about twice the population of France." "O, yes. And not just that," I said, "it's still growing, and rapidly. And by the way, a census was conducted some months back, the results of which are being eagerly awaited."

About a year and a half ago, while working in the Nigerian capital city of Abuja, this blogger objected to the fact that the Nigerian government decided to leave out ethnicity and religious affiliation from a list of questions to be asked in a census that was (at that time) being planned. Statistics obtained on ethnic identity, it was argued, could go a long way in policy formulation vis-à-vis, providing better healthcare, understanding migration patterns, intermarriages, etc.

Good enough though, the Nigerian government stuck to its guns, despite opposition from certain quarters in the country. It left both religious affiliation and ethnicity out of the census questionnaire. And if the discussions in the Nigerian blogosphere (which is largely made up of middle to upper class, and well educated young men and women) over the census are anything to go by, Nigeria (unfortunately) currently sits on an ethnic keg, typified by deep mistrust amongst the various ethnic groups.

The Devil is in the Detail

In the third week of March 2006, people living in Nigeria (citizens and foreigners) were given a couple of days off to sit at home to be counted. The BBC reported that the perpetually busy and clogged streets of Lagos resonated with an eerie silence. The Nigerian Civil Liberties Organization deployed tens of thousands of monitors to oversee the 'government organized' census, according to the BBC, with about one million enumerators going around, counting people and collecting data on people's occupation, educational background, income, dwelling and access to clean water and electricity.

In early January 2007, the census results were released. The official population was put at 140,003,542 or 140 million for short (as obtained from the website of the Nigerian National Population Commission). Few appeared surprised by this. After all, it correlated quite well with previous estimates both by the Nigerian government and the Untied Nations. But the devil truly lay in the detail, for the moment the breakdown of the census figures was released, hell was let loose both in mainstream Nigerian media and in the blogosphere.

There happened to be two main bones of contention: (1) the fact that there were slightly more males than females in the country and (2) the fact that states in the North appeared more populated than those of the South, with the North having a higher overall population figure. Key was the fact that Lagos State (in the South) appeared to have a meager 9,013,534 people compared to Kano's (in the North) 9,383,682. This happened to be the second census in a row in which the population of Kano State ended up being higher than that of Lagos State, albeit by a small margin. What this blogger cannot do is provide any hard evidence whatsoever for or against these claims by the Nigerian Population Commission. But what he can do is provide a few thoughts, leaving you the reader to draw your own conclusions.

North and South

As a point of note, this blogger does not recognize the existence in Nigeria of a monolithic North and a monolithic South. Rather, he subscribes to three major zones in Nigeria: the North, the Middle Belt and the South. The South itself is deeply fragmented into a South West and a South East. In the eyes of most Nigerians, the Middle Belt is (unfortunately) seen as a part of the North. So, for the purpose of this discourse, and for it alone, we'll stick to the imaginary image of a monolithic North and a monolithic South.

Analysis: What Others Think

Just before the census, it was well known that several Nigerians traveled to their hometowns, against the advice of the Federal Government. In the opinion of Akin, a Nigerian-British blogger, there was likely greater mobility in the South than in the North. He writes:

"This can seriously skew the [census] numbers [of Lagos State] since non-indigenes probably make up the majority of the residents of Lagos State. There might be other reasons why the fertility rate and population demographic presents a higher figure in the North than in the South; however, exploring those ideas can be too subjective for appropriate discourse."
The blog Chxta's World, authored by a Nigerian, while rejecting the official census figure (its author believes that the real figure should have been close to 200 million people, given that several inhabitants weren't counted), poses a thought-provoking question to Nigerians who come from the South of the country:
"Suppose it is true that the North is really more populated than the South? Let's at least give it a thought. I think most of us are so prejudiced that once things do not agree with our expectations, we look for all sorts of ways to discredit them."
Chxta's World's author also personally attests to the fact that parts of Lagos State were emptied before the census, as their residents left for their hometowns, probably to boost the numbers there. It also poses loads of other arguments one of which is the fact that Lagos State is still much more densely populated than Kano State, going by the census figures.

The blog Just Thots By A Naijaman focuses on the higher population figure of Kano in comparison to Lagos, referring to the Kano figure as "wuruwuru," a Pidgin English word which could be translated as 'immense deception.' However, its author gets it all wrong when he states:
"Since 1991, Jigawa state has been carved out of the old Kano state…[which means that Kano State has had an]… amazing growth rate of 143.83% in less than 15 years."

Jigawa State was created on August, 27, 1991 (having been carved out of Kano State). The 1991 census was held for three days in November 1991—three months after Jigawa State was created—according to C. Haub, writing in the journal Population Today1. The annual growth rate for Kano State, according to the Nigerian National Population Commission is 3.3%, which is very consistent with the national average. Thus, the arguments presented by the author of Just Thots By A Naijaman on the population growth rate of Kano State are inaccurate.

Analysis: What this Blogger Thinks

To begin with, it must be stated that this blogger has no expertise whatsoever in demography. Thus, what is presented here are logical arguments based on data available and known facts. First of all, the argument that lots of people left Lagos before the census seems quite credible. Estimates for the population of Lagos State range from between 10 million and 15 million—the United Nations put the year 2000 population of Lagos at 13.4 million. Thus, the census likely underestimated the population of Lagos, not deliberately, but because hundreds of thousands, and possibly a couple of million people left the city to their hometowns.

With regard to Kano State, it is nothing short of preposterous for people (both in the mainstream media and blogosphere) to argue that it is a sparsely populated state, without providing any evidence other than ethnic sentiments. Population estimates—both by the Nigerian government and National Geographic—have consistently shown that the Kano axis is the most densely populated in the North of the country. Despite the fact that the census figures reveal a similar absolute population value for both Kano and Lagos, Kano State is still much less densely populated than Lagos and some states in the South East of Nigeria.

In the figure below, the population density is plotted for each of the 36 states in Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory (popularly called Abuja) based on the 2006 census data. Population density is defined as the number of people per square kilometer. This blogger chooses to call it 'population perception' because it is what one perceives the population of a given place to be when on the ground.

Population Perception 2006 Nigerian Census

Observe that Lagos dwarfs every other state, with almost 2700 people per square kilometer. States of the South East come next (Anambra and Imo States having almost 900 and 800 people per square kilometer, respectively). Kano State has a population density the same as that of Rivers State—470 people per square kilometer. And to no one's surprise, the states of the North of Nigeria have the least population density with just 42 people per square kilometer in Taraba State and 88 people per square kilometer in Kebbi State.

While some people (both in the mainstream media and the blogosphere) have argued that the North of Nigeria cannot be more populated than the South, few have bothered to rationalize the population perception figure. It confirms that the North is sparsely populated, but due to its larger land area, it has a higher absolute population figure. While I am not arguing that the census figures are immaculately correct, I dare to say that they cannot be dismissed as utter rubbish.

From a pictorial point of view, the images below show what population density (population perception) would look like for a select number of states using computer-generated aerial images of settlements. Each house represents 20 people, and each plane, a square kilometer. Observe how the population perception increases tremendously from Taraba State to Lagos State using this pictorial representation.

Population Perception 2006 Nigerian Census: CG Aerial Image

The so-called North makes up 79% of Nigeria's landmass, 21% being considered South. And according to the 2006 population figure, the North accounts for 53.6% of all people in Nigeria, while the South accounts for 46.4%. If one plays around with the figures, one sees that the census results reveal that, on average, for every 10 people found per square kilometer in the North, there would be 33 such people in the South.

Analysis: The 1991 Census

Like the 2006 Nigerian census, the 1991 census was also controversial. That time around though, the population of Nigeria was much smaller than expected—88.9 million. Yet, the population densities (or population perception) of the states tally quite well with the results obtained from the 2006 census, when a uniform national growth rate is taken into account. The Federal Capital Territory (Abuja) experienced the greatest growth rate of any state between 1991 and 2006—9.3% according to the Nigerian National Population Commission. This can largely be explained by mass migration. At the time of the 1991 census, Abuja was still a giant construction project, a month away from being declared the official capital of Nigeria.

Population Perception 1991 Nigerian Census

Note that six additional states were created between 1991 (after the census) and 2006: Ebonyi, carved out of Enugu; Bayelsa, from Rivers; Ekiti, from Ondo; Zamfara, from Sokoto; Nassarawa, from Plateau and Gombe from Bauchi. Thus, the 1991 and 2006 figures can't simply be compared directly.


According to the Nigerian National Population Commission, the country's population is growing at an annual rate of 3.2%. The mainstream Nigerian media and the blogosphere have either largely overlooked this (save for a statement from the Nigerian president telling people that high population growth rates are detrimental to economic growth), or some have been so busy settling never-ending ethnic scores that they fail to see the disastrous consequence of such a growth rate.

All societies and nation states need to maintain a certain population growth rate (or at least keep their current population figures stable). In parts of Western Europe and in Japan, populations are (unfortunately) shrinking. Places like Germany and Italy will have noticeably fewer people half a century from now. In much of Africa though, population figures are rising.

While a growing population assures the older generation of the presence of young people to look after them and meet their needs, truth be told that Nigeria cannot afford a growth rate of 3.2% per annum. It is simply too high!

The blog Demography Matters puts this in clear perspective when it states that this shows:

"...clearly what an important problem continuing high fertility is. It is far from clear what is going to happen to Nigeria during the next few years, but one thing is sure, it won't be serious economic growth and development, however good the policy mix that is deployed (and the political instability that is almost inevitable makes good policy hard to expect). The preponderance of children will ensure that."

While Nigerians argue over whether Kano State does have more residents than Lagos State, they miss a vital and key issue: exceedingly high population growth, which literally wipes off the effect of any form of economic development. This is something all Nigerians need to think about and if the government is really serious about making life better for most people, it must fight not just corruption, but this unsustainable and potentially disastrous growth rate.

The shift from agrarian to manufacturing and service based societies should compel people (especially those in cities) to have fewer children. Agrarian societies of the past were largely dependent on the availability of manual labor. Thus, people needed to have as many kids as possible. Not in cities or towns of today, where people keep having lots of children, a large number of whom they cannot care for. At the current annual growth rate of 3.2%, Nigeria's population would double to 280 million in just 22 years time!

1 C. Haub, Nigerian Census Surprises Experts, Population Today, Volume 20, Issue 6, June 1992, Page 3.

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