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Trial census an eye-opener for us-NPC Commissioner

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The National Population Commission [NPC] in its eagerness to fine tune the process leading to the 2023 national head count recently conducted a trial census in selected areas of the country including the Federal Capital Territory. In this exclusive interview with Cyril Mbah in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory [FCT] Commissioner of the National Population Commission, Mr. Joseph Shazin spoke about the challenges encountered by field staff, the success and the likely outcome of the main census. Excerpts.

We congratulate you on the successful conclusion of the trial census. Kindly share with Nigerians the results and challenges encountered during the process.

With God all things are possible. We are happy that God has helped us to finish the trial census. The essence of a trial census is to test-run the machines, the electronic equipment, the personnel, the questionnaire and the methodologies adopted. It also involves the testing of the payment and monitoring systems, the administrative system and everything that will be used for the main census. We who are involved in the administration process, we saw things that needed improvement and also noted areas of success.

As a way forward, it is left for us to put those discoveries on the table and discuss them thoroughly with relevant stakeholders and apply our experience to the main census.

So, can you tell us the challenges encountered during the trial census?

The major challenges revolved around moving staff from one place to the other. Moving staff to and from areas of assignment on a daily basis especially in places where hotel accommodation was lacking. It was very taxing but with proper planning I am sure we would overcome it. Accommodation itself is a major problem in remote communities. Some community leaders, chiefs and district heads were approached to assist us in this area and many of them responded positively in places like Yagba, Bwari, Gwagwalada and Kuje among others. Government must think out how to solve the accommodation problems of field staff before the main census because the functionaries need to be at the point of work as early as 6am and retire at about 6pm each day due to insecurity. Generally about 70% of the targeted households were accessible.

What about the cooperation of the people? Would you say it was okay?

In the FCT, the residents cooperated fully with our officials. We did not encounter any problems anywhere in that area because of the huge advocacy carried out before the exercise. We even rounded up the advocacy programme with road shows. So, the people were well informed and it was not a surprise to them again when they saw our officials.

Bearing in mind what you have seen in the trail head count, what assurances are you giving about the likely success of the main census when it comes up?

Well, there is no doubt that the challenges are there and might also crop up in future but having completed the trial census, a picture has been created about what the main census will look like and what we should anticipate in 2023. We expect the main census to be smooth and successful because most of the functionaries are familiar with the process through past experience. Those we engaged are population staff and only about ten percent are adhoc staff, who have been trained for the job at hand, were recruited.

Are you comfortable with the performance of the entire staff especially the casual ones?

So far, so good. The performance of the general staff especially at the trial census is commendable and we are satisfied with it since they achieved results.

It was not like the previous exercise when we encountered many problems with staff performance. FCT cut down on adhoc staff this time around bearing in mind what happened in previous exercise.

What advise will you give to the commission on how to enhance its performance based on what was observed on the ground during the trial census?

In my capacity as commissioner, I would advise that the staff of the commission need to offer full cooperation to enable the census to succeed. If the staff perform their assigned tasks shabbily, it will not be good. So, we need their cooperation.

Can you forecast the acceptance level of the results of the upcoming census by Nigerians in terms of percentage?

It is difficult to do that for now. We cannot predict for sure what will happen because the Nigerian population today is more educated, more aware and more exposed and more critical than before. The nature of people now has changed and democracy has also had its influence on how people think and look at things. What I will only say is that the people have the freedom to state their satisfaction or dis-satisfaction after the census. Many issues have even cropped up already before the planned head count such as why census should be held the same year as the national general election. People are also asking why we should hold a census during a period of insecurity and why the NPC questionnaire should contain issues about religion, among others.

There is no ambiguity about the contents of the questionnaire and nobody will ask about your religion or tribe but one can be asked what state or local government or geo-political zone one comes from because these are the type of details required for planning, for resource allocation and budgeting processes. We did lots of explanations on these concerns expressed by the people and I can state that preparation, advocacy, publicity and so on form the bulk of the census work and that requires large layout of funding.

Within the short period that we engaged in sensitization and town hall meetings with the people in the FCT, we spent more than N3million and we did not even do a detailed sensitization activity the way it ought to be done. We tried to be on air every day, we went round the communities for road shows and we engaged in publicity among others. So, with what we have seen, we want to advise that the Federal Government should drastically increase the NPC budget for public sensitisation programme because it will play a major role in deciding the attitude of the people to the exercise.

The National Orientation Agency [NOA] should also come in and play its assigned role as the agency in charge of propagating government programmes. When the NPC and NOA collaborate effectively for the census, the reach would be wider and the success rate better.



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