Lies, Damn Lies and Census Figures (Redux)
Feyi Fawehinmi

In 1974, there was a heated debate on 1973 (post civil war) census results which allocated approximately 65% of Nigeria’s population to the North. Awolowo gave a convocation speech at the then University of Ife which, in a nutshell, called for the adoption of 1963 results.

“ But after a careful study of all the available data and information on the subject, I have come to the conclusion that, of all the ugly and disputable census results with which Nigeria has had the misfortune to be afflicted from 1931 to 1973, the least ugly or, if you like, the least disputable of them all is the 1963 census result……………..

But, instead of embarking on another headcount as the civilians did in 1963, we should go back and stick to the 1963 figures; not because they are accurate — of course they are not; but because:

1) they represent a mutual compromise among the entire people of this country at the time they were produced or concocted;

2) they had stood us in good stead in the past; and can with necessary ex adjustments to take account of differing rates of growth in our States, and of the phenomenal population growth rate in the City of Lagos, continue to avail us in the future and

3) they are, as I have pointed out the least bad, the least ugly, and, therefore, the most acceptable of all our bad, ugly and disputable census results from 1931 to 1973.”

In 1975, Murtala Mohammed did what Yakubu Gowon refused to do. On assumption of power, he canceled the 1973 census results:

“ With due regard to the 1973 population census, it is now clear that whatever results are announced will not command general acceptance throughout the country. It has, therefore, been decided to cancel the 1973 population census. Accordingly, for planning purposes, the 1963 census figures shall continue to be used.”

It appears the raw figures from the 1991 and 2006 census takings were still so controversial that the 1963 formula was retained by some “wise men”, perhaps for national security purposes(?). I think the overall national population estimate might not be far from the truth, but there’s a dramatic sub-national redistribution which reflects the 1963 formula.

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