Clement Idoko and Adelowo Oladipo
THERE was rowdy session at the plenary of the ongoing national conference, when a delegate from Edo State, Chris Agbonwanegbe, questioned the authenticity of census figure of states in the Northern Nigeria.
Agbonwanegbe said census figures were inflated in favour of some states in the North, saying this accounted for more number of local government areas created in the region.
He said this while making his contribution to the debate on the report of the conference’s Committee on Political Restructuring and Forms of Government. He stirred the hornet’s nest when he challenged previous census figures that had been bandied around since the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Nigeria.
He called on delegates to address the injustice which led to the creation of more states and local government areas in the North, as against what was obtainable in the South.
Specifically, Agbonwanegbe made reference to the disparity in the number of local governments in Kano and Lagos states. He said while Lagos with the highest number of people in Nigeria had only 20 local government areas, Kano State on the other hand, with a population close to that of Lagos, has 44 local government areas.
The Edo delegate, who refused to be intimated by uproars from northern delegates, who made futile efforts to shout him down, concluded that Nigerians did not have the capacity to conduct a free and credible census.
Agbonwanegbe advocated that the United Nations should step in and conduct Nigeria’s census, in order to give the country credible results that would finally put the long years of population disparity to rest.
His submission did not go down well with many delegates from the North, who almost tried to stampede him to keep quiet proved abortive, as the chairman of the conference, Justice Idris Kutigi, ignored them.
A Kano State delegate and former Assistant Inspector-General of Police (AIG), Ibrahim Baba Ahmed, who could not hold back his anger, flouted the rule of the House and screamed: “Arrest him! Arrest him now!”
He was still on his feet when the House was divided along northern and southern lines. The loud noise was yet to abate when Junaid Mohammed, another Kano State delegate led Agbonwanegbe out of the conference hall.
Other northern delegates who shouted “point of order” in an apparent move to counter the position of the fearless Edo delegate were ignored by Kutigi.
The position of the Agbonwanegbe was re-echoed by former governor of Ogun State, Segun Osoba. He advocated that the current injustice regarding the number of local government areas in certain parts of the country be addressed.
He made a similar reference to Lagos State, which he said contributes more than 80 per cent to the nation’s Value Added Tax (VAT), yet did not have the required number of local government areas.
In a related development, chairman, Nigeria Northern Governors’ Forum (NSGF) and the Niger State governor, Dr Muazu Babangida Aliyu, has told his colleagues and the local government chairmen in the Northern parts of the country, including other stakeholders, to commence immediate preparation for the 2016 national census for a successful enumeration exercise.
Dr Aliyu made the call on Wednesday, when he received the report of the National Population Commission (NPC) at the Government House, Minna, the state capital, which was presented by the state’s National Commissioner, Alhaji Aliyu Datti.
Governor Aliyu said timely preparation for the census though President Goodluck Jonathan had not made any pronouncement on the matter would not allow the North to be caught unawares when the announcement was made.
He noted that because of the largeness of the region and its huge population, it was necessary that adequate arrangement and timely preparation was made to ensure that virtually everybody was counted during the head count.
“I want to use this opportunity to call on all the Northern states governors to give the National Population Commission (NPC) the needed support for the 2016 census to be successful,” he said.
Governor Aliyu, however, warned against politicisation of the census exercise, saying previous head counts failed to achieve desired results because Nigerians preferred to see census as a means of getting higher returns from the national purse, instead of seeing it as a way to effectively plan for the development of the country.
“We need to know the population distribution of the country, the whole idea is to plan purposely and properly; but we have politicised census for too long and this should stop,” he said.
Governor Aliyu also stressed the need to properly train the enumerators that would be involved in the head count, saying some of those who handled the last census did not add value to the programme.
Governor Aliyu immediately set up a high powered committee, headed by the deputy governor Alhaji Ahmed Musa Ibeto, to mobilise traditional rulers, select commissioners and members of the media and other stakeholders as members to mobilise the populace ahead the 2016 headcount.
Submitting the 15 page Report the National Commissioner, Alhaji Aliyu Datti, said the NPC was set to conduct a credible and acceptable census in 2016, working in partnership with all the states of the federation and the 774 local governments.
Alhaji Datti disclosed that the NPC would use the biometric capturing system for the conduct of the census, which would discourage multiple counting, adding that there would also be restriction of movement during the period of the head count.