The Nigerian Bureau of Statistics has released a report that estimates Nigeria’s population to be 193, 392, 517, ahead of a proposed National Population Census in Nigeria later this year. This data was gathered by Nigeria’s National Population Commission. The number, which is Nigeria’s population for 2016, is about 6 million people more than United Nations’ estimate of 186,988,000.

The population estimate has thrown up interesting numbers, even as the National Population Commission prepares itself for a N272 billion (Yes!) nationwide census, first in the country since 2006. The population of Nigeria after the 2006 census stood at 140, 431, 790, meaning Nigeria has had an almost 40 percent population growth rate since then, with an almost 3 percent annual growth rate.

Interesting facts in the report include the gender population in the country; 98,630,184 males with 94,762,333 females. The country also has a majority of its population (106,257,431 people) between the ages of 15 and 64. However, the controversial aspect of the report is the population of people in the states.

Population growth in Nigeria’s North Eastern states

According to the report, the beleaguered North Eastern states of Nigeria have seen a lot of population growth in the past few years. Despite the Boko Haram insurgency, and the subsequent displacement of people from their homes in Northern Nigeria, the report estimates an average 100,000 increase in population per year since 2012, especially the epicenter of the insurgency in Borno state.

Ventures Africa spoke with a Public Health Researcher in Abuja, who wishes to remain anonymous, to shed some light on the issue. According to him, it is possible to have population increase in areas of conflict.

A population increase can occur if “the birth rate is more than the death rate, and there are significant levels of immigration. So it could be a case of one person dies and is replaced by new births, new people in town etc,” he said.

Borno state has some of the highest indices for birthrate in the country; the birth rate for Borno is 6.1 ( Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey report released last year). For comparison, the birthrate is higher than the country’s overall birthrate of 5.8, a very high number by normal standards. As a result of the Boko Haram insurgency, there was also immigration from some of the villages surrounding the Chad basin and the border between Cameroon and Nigeria. Some of these people are in IDP camps in the North Eastern states, with news of 3ooo births in 6 months in these camps emerging last year.

“You have to look at indices such as the use of contraceptives (low in the north), fertility intention (high) and what actually is the proportion of people that have been lost to conflict compared to the total population.”

“The deaths [caused by conflicts in that region] are not substantial enough to reduce the population. You still have high rates of births, and even if they want to use family planning and all that, conflicts make health service delivery difficult,” he concluded.

The most densely populated states in Nigeria

Also courting controversy in the report are the Nigerian states with the large populations. The report indicated that the state with the largest population in Nigeria is Kano state, with more than 13 million people. This is especially surprising since many Nigerians have always thought the country’s commercial capital, Lagos state, had the most people in Nigeria, and also in West Africa as a whole. Even the Lagos state government and the United Nations believe Lagos is the most populated state in Nigeria. The Lagos state government put the population of Lagos at 24 million in 2016. However, the National Population Commission puts it at about 12 million, a vast difference.

Hence, there were some elements of doubt about the numbers, and some of them were expressed by Dr Yemi Kale (Statistician General of the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics), who, despite heading the government agency that released the report to the public, still expressed some reservations about it.

“I’ll be [very very very very] careful how we choose to make any conclusions/analysis/interpretations on this our population numbers” he tweeted this morning, “I’ve said repeatedly I don’t think they are correct.”

He also posited in 2016 while being interviewed by the Guardian Nigeria, that he does not believe Nigeria’s population is 170 million (now 190 million +).

“..You cannot say accurately that Nigeria’s population is 170 million or more. Certain cultures, like early marriage, which used to be the norm, are now changing. Women are now embracing western education more than they did years ago. That is also a factor to consider. What used to happen is that some people gave the wrong census of their population, in order to create the impression that they are more in number? So these contributed to the higher number bandied around often. So, with this, you can see that the nation’s population cannot have reached 170 million in the real sense,” he said during the interview.

The Census conundrum

He further claimed only a valid census will put a rest to speculations and projections about Nigeria’s real population. Unfortunately, even a census can be manipulated in Nigeria. In a country where there are economic and political motivations for conducting censuses, numbers tend to be inflated or understated, depending on the mood.

Population Census in Nigeria allegedly helps to give voting advantages to the more populous communities and is also used for national planning and resource allocation. That is why there is some form of scepticism around this year’s potential census exercise. Nigeria’s presidential and gubernatorial elections are next year; there is more possibility that a census can be manipulated to favour the ruling government’s voters base this close to election year than at any other year.

“There have been suggestions that figures are doctored… even when we go to field to work, stakeholders criticize the household data available etc.. Personally, the math for projections is always close to the real thing, and that’s the best option we have in grand scheme of things.” the Abuja-based researcher said. “For [population] projections, there are standard formulas and all that; the math for projections is always close to the real thing.  I will take it over a census done by the government. That’s the best option we have in the grand scheme of things.”

For Nigeria, projecting about the population could be better than the actual census exercise.

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