By Chief (Sir) Don Ubani; KSC, JP

The Nigerian State came into existence in 1914 following the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates by the British Colonial Government on the advice of Lord Luggard. Since the Union was brought about by an external force, many Nigerians hold the view that the multi-ethnic nations that presently make up the Nigerian State were merely coerced to leave together. This feeling of coercion hasremained a major source of inter-ethnic suspicion amongst the nationalities of the Nigerian Federation.

Chief (Sir) Don Ubani; KSC, JP
Chief (Sir) Don Ubani; KSC, JP

Apart from the Christian/Islam divide of the country, the most sensitive and controversial issue that has constantly given a hard knock on the unity of the Nigerian Federation has always been population census.

Population enumeration in Nigeria predates the amalgamation of 1914 as a census had taken place in Lagos alone in 1886, while another took place in 1911 in both Northern and Southern Protectorates. In 1921, the first national census was conducted, seven years after the amalgamation of 1914.

Since then, population censuses have been conducted in 1931, 1952, 1953, 1962, 1963, 1973 and 2006.

Apart from the ones conducted before the amalgamation and probably those of 1921 and 1931, there had hardly been any population census in the country that did not become a subject of very turbulent controversy and disputation.

Sensitivity to census in Nigeria is so high that it had to lay the foundation for the political crisis in the defunct Western Region of Nigeria which eventually led to Nigeria?s first military coup d? etat by a group of soldiers led by late Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu. This coup d? etat was followed by a counter coup by northern military elements who later embarked on a pogrom against the people of the defunct Eastern Nigeria living outside their region and particularly in the Muslim North of Nigeria. The end result was the declaration, by compulsion, of the Republic of Biafra by the people of the then Eastern Region of Nigeria under the leadership of Colonel Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu.

It has to be recollected that the first post-independence census in Nigeria took place in 1962 under the leadership of the first and only Prime-Minister; Alhaji Tafa Balewa Abubakar. The census figure for Nigeria as per the 1962 enumeration was 45.26 million, out of which the North had 22.01 million while the South had 23.25 million people. As soon as these figure were announced, the first reaction of Prime-Minister Abubakar was to fire the British Representative who was in charge of the census; Mr. J.J. Warren. The next thing he did was to cancel the result of the census. According to him, there was no basis for the South to be more in population than the North.

Arising from the above, the Federal Government of SirAbubakar authorized the conduct of another national census in 1963. The result of the 1963 census was initially put at 60.5 million but was scaled down to 55.66 million. The North was ascribed 31 million while South surprisingly was said to be only 24 million. The South that was more than one million above the North in 1952 suddenly became seven million people less than the North in 1953, without any out-break of any epidemic, deluge or war.

Another instance that buttresses the extreme sensitivity of population census in Nigeria is the fall-out of the 1973 census which was conducted under the military leadership of General Yakubu Gowon. Gowon, though a Northerner, is a Christian and would not suffer from ethnic irredentism. His administration?s desire to give Nigeria a reliable census was vehemently frowned at by the Muslim North. It ignited an open altercation between Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Brigadier Murtala Mohammed in the Federal Executive Council. It was widely believed that the outcome of the 1973 census was one of the main reasons why the Muslim North, as symbolized by Murtala Mohammed, had to overthrow the government of General Yakubu Gowon in 1975.

Not too long ago, Chief Festus Odimegwu was compelled to resign as Chairman of National Population Commission on the grounds that he publicly expressed his doubt over accuracy of previous Nigerian censuses, including that of 2006. It is, therefore, certain that population census is, indeed, very sensitive and full of controversy in Nigeria.

When Prof. Attahiru Jega was appointed in June 2010 as the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission, many Nigerians expressed optimism that he would not allow himself to be encumbered by the deficiencies of ethnic jingoism, religious fanaticism and pursuit for materialism. To be fair to the former Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University, he has tried as much as possible to be principled and transparent in the discharge of his responsibilities as the helms-man of the Electoral body.

But the recent release of newly created thirty thousand polling units (P.Us) strongly appears to be portraying another or even real colour of the main; Jega. On what basis should the Electoral Commission allocate more than twenty-one thousand polling units, out of thirty thousand, to the North and leaving the South with just little above eight thousand? What indices were used to arrive at the North-West alone being allotted nine thousand, nine hundred and six polling units and, by so doing, making North-West to have more polling units than the whole of the South? How would it be explained that the very troubled and almost deserted North-East of Nigeria should be given five thousand, two hundred and one polling units as against the ever-population-increasing South-Westthat got a mere four thousand, one hundred and sixty polling units? Can INEC be justified for allotting only one thousand, one hundred and sixty-six polling units to the whole of South-East when the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja alone was given one thousand and two hundred polling units.

The truth of the matter is that the Muslim North has been unrelenting in expressing her bitterness over her loss of power to the Christian-dominated South. Her political and religious leaders are firing from all known cylinders to make sure that the Muslim North ?re-captures? power in 2015. The recent distribution of additional thirty thousand polling units by the Electoral Commission, headed by one of her own, is surely a major strategy, even though crude, controversial and disputable, aimed at restoring power to the North. If this unwieldy and unacceptable distribution pattern is not timely addressed and transparently corrected, the palpable fears of the people of the South would cast a shadow that may make a mess of every effort towards having a free and fairPresidential election in 2015.

Source: Chief (Sir) Don Ubani; KSC, JP

(Okwubunka of Asa)

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