Who Is Afraid of Numbers?
culled from Guardian, August 31, 2005
The national census for any country provides a very important and indeed
indispensable data source for planning, for research, for making bold and not so
bold statements on important and not so important national issues. Organising a
dependable and successful census is always a massive exercise that consumes
enormous amount of resources. Getting data costs money and in no exercise is
this made more manifest than in organising a good national census.
What data are collected? Data may in theory be collected on just about
anything, any activity or any condition in the country; from the number of
persons by sex and location, to the number of left-handed men and women, to the
number of vegetarians, the number and location of persons with specified
disabilities. The list of possibilities goes on and on. What becomes part of the
data menu of a census depends on what the main thrust of the exercise, how much
money, time and other resources are available for the exercise. No data
collected in a census are useless. Planners, statisticians, researchers,
politicians, sociologists, economists and just about any serious enquirer will
find need for data provided in a census at one time or the other.
Preparing for a national census is an exhaustive and exhausting exercise.
Sensitisation of the people is planned and prudently executed. All who will
participate as enumerators, supervisors, computer experts, analysts and so on
must be thoroughly trained. They must be patriotic as well as men and women of
integrity and with a high sense of responsibility. They must not just know their
job but must understand the key role they play in the overall planning and
development of the country. Good training and proper orientation are
indisputable to collecting dependable census data. Usually no stone is left
unturned in ensuring that enumerators and supervisors are well prepared. The
expectation is that they will be as good and as dedicated in the field as they
were charged to be in the training sessions.
Too much rain or too much sunshine, difficult terrain and tough operating
environment must not goad an enumerator into cutting corners. This is not
allowed and the book says so; that planned development which we all clamour for
demands it. An enumerator in the field must be patriotic, always aware of the
burden on his or her shoulders. There will be pressures on him or her by
ill-informed kinsmen and some politicians, hordes of interest groups that know
too much about what a census and development mean. An enumerator must stand his
or her ground and carry out his or her assignment as instructed by the
Population Commission no matter what. No matter what? In Nigeria? Yes no matter
what in Nigeria.
Data must truly refer to the area from which they are collected. Faulty or
adulterated data misrepresent an area. There is so much information that can be
extracted from data. Consequently, if data for an area are unrepresentative
because they have been doctored or adulterated all the enormous amount of
information eventually analysed out of them will be misleading and indeed
injurious not only to the area in particular but also to the entire population
in general. The National Population Commission (NPC) trains its officers in such
a manner that the census exercise is carried out in the best tradition of this
serious endeavour. Nigerians expect that NPC will give the nation a true and
rancour-free census result. They expect NPC to make a difference; to break the
jinx of failure in the data collection effort of our nation - be it census or
When Nigerians reflect on their participation and input into the census
exercise, I believe that most of them are thinking of what they can do to help
the NPC conduct a successful census. Everybody is aware that between the mouth
and the tea cup there can be many a slip. But this is not why we cannot ab
initio be positive in our reflections and in our readiness to help achieve the
census result of our dream. In spite of possible slips we should continually
think of, look forward to and work for reliable census data.
We must not allow our wrong perceptions and our prejudices, our fears or
whatever makes us jump to conclusions about impending failure. The jinx! We look
forward to a census where all actors play their part and where true data
eventually emerge. If this is so, who then is or can be afraid of true or
correct data? To be afraid of true data is to wallow in self-deception. Why
should anybody not want to have published true, pure and in offensive data? Why
must anybody overtly or covertly fight against correct information? Does that
not amount to our deceiving ourselves? Who is fooling who in this country of
NPC should be assisted by Nigerians not only in carrying out the exercise but
also in suggesting relevant matter for which data must be obtained in a census.
If there is enough money and time why can NPC not get information on Nigerians
who weigh more than 80kg, or are left handed, or have red eyes, or are pagans,
Yorubas or Fulanis or are Ijaws, or are Igbos, etc. What is harmful in true and
pure data? Who is afraid of true data? Or do we have in mind that the data will
in the end not be reliable? Or do we intend to meddle with the data? If data
must be presented as obtained, who is afraid of it? When I see somebody spending
sleepless nights scheming out the availability of needed and reliable data, I
get worried. If this scheming of needless is against true data of national
importance, I got doubly worried.
There is so much talk or shall I say politics about the inclusion or
non-inclusion of tribe and religion on the census questionnaire. Ask, if we
truly believe in the coming census, if we have nothing against true data, if we
have no secret agenda, why can we not include as many items on the census
questionnaire as possible? Ethnicity and religion are important in the life of
the country. Unfortunately, some of us have made monsters out of them so much so
that many would want them only mentioned in whispers. How sad! That we have a
diversity of ethnic groups and a multiplicity of religions need not keep us
always on the edge. The true Nigeria we look forward to should and can
accommodate these diversities and indeed turn them into strength. I assert that
only a befogged mind is afraid of the truth in truthful data.
I belong to the group, which believes strongly that ethnicity and religion
must have a place on the NPC census questionnaire. Just the other day, I heard a
forceful claim that 75 per cent of Nigerians are Christians. Before then I had
heard from another Nigerian categorically claim that 70 per cent of us are
Muslims. So Christians and Muslims comprise 145 per cent of Nigeria. Nigerians,
spoilers and all, make strong capital out of these claims.
As far as estimates go, each of these Nigerians is entitled to his own claim.
Such claims hold good for their owners until they are scientifically disproved.
Do we still wonder why religion and ethnicity among others must be in the census
questionnaire? Sincere, unbiased and academic researchers and planners, the
Nigerian Statistical Association, the Nigerian Economic Society, etc, should not
keep quiet when matters of data collection at the highest level are being
bastardised. For NPC it is not too late to do the right thing! Who the hell is
afraid of authentic data and why?