The scandal of census figures – Nigeria


A COUPLE of years ago, I was trying to look for a link between population figures in Nigeria and the monthly allocations from the Federation Account to the states and our local councils. At the time I had just discovered the Federal Ministry of Finance’s website which published the monthly breakdowns in fairly reasonable detail albeit a few months late.

The National Population Commission also had the 2006 census figures on its website broken down to local council level as well as the 1991 census figures broken down to state level. I thought I would find something of a correlation between the sharing of money and population figures fairly easily but I quickly abandoned this task, as it was a nightmare to understand the formula behind the allocations. There are too many different components to the sharing and the only one that is fairly easy to understand is the 13 per cent derivation formula; all of the rest like population, education and even ecology were all over the place. So I moved on.

But the trouble was it had taken me three solid days to extract the census data from the NPC website because the information was in downloadable PDFs that were also ‘security locked’ i.e. I couldn’t copy the data to an excel spreadsheet to make it easier to manipulate. The Internet came to my rescue as I found software to unlock the PDFs and get the data onto a spreadsheet.

Yet again, the data didn’t tell me anything particularly useful. To be clear, there is a link between population and revenue allocation in Nigeria (which explains why our census figures are so contentious) but without some help from people who know, it is hard to work it out. After a few days of staring at the data in frustration, I was speaking to a friend and discussing Nigeria in general when I managed to steer the conversation to census figures. I told him how I had managed to extract the information and how I couldn’t find what I was looking for. He laughed and said ‘every census in Nigeria follows the formula of the one in 1963. The total figure might be correct, but the allocation of numbers follows that formula’. He said it with that Nigerian air of ‘knowingness’ where people are convinced of what they are saying even though they haven’t looked at the data.

So I went back home and tried to test his conspiracy theory. The slight wrinkle in the data was that in 1991, Nigeria had 31 states and by 2006 an additional five states (Nasarawa, Bayelsa, Ekiti, Ebonyi, and Zamfara) had been created. To solve this problem and make sure I was comparing like with like, I simply added the numbers of the five new states to the states from where they had been carved out. So Nasarawa numbers went back into Plateau, Bayelsa went back into Rivers, Ekiti went into Ondo, Ebonyi went back into Enugu (this was a bit tricky as a small part of Ebonyi was created from Abia state but it’s not statistically relevant to affect the comparison here) and finally Zamfara went back into Sokoto.

What I found caused me to rub my eyes in disbelief. My friend was right; the figures followed a formula. There wasn’t even an attempt to hide the formula – it looks as if someone just put a formula in an excel spreadsheet and came up with the numbers.

In 1991, Lagos had a population of 5,725,116 out of a total of 88,992,220 for a percentage share of six per cent. By 2006, Lagos had 9,113,605 out of a total of 140,431,790, again for a percentage of six per cent. Kano

In 1991 had a population of 5,810,470 representing seven per cent of the total. By 2006 there were 9,401,288 people in Kano, again representing 7 per cent of the total. Every single state followed this pattern.

How about the combined states? In 1991 Ondo had a population of 3,785,338 representing four per cent of the total. By 2006 Ondo had 3,460,877 people while Ekiti (carved out in 1996) had 2,398,957 people. Adding these two states together gives a total of 5,859,834 which again comes back to four per cent of the total. This is the same for Rivers – five per cent in 1991 and Bayelsa + Rivers also 5 per cent in 2006.

Pick a random state and the results are the same. Benue had a population of 2,753,077 in 1991 representing 3 per cent of the total and then 4,253,641 in 2006, also three per cent of the total. Akwa Ibom was 2,409,613 in 1991; three per cent of the total and 3,902,051 in 2006, again three per cent  of the total. You are getting bored by now so I will stop. I am sure you get the gist. Again I stress – these percentages are exactly the same from 1991 to 2006. The only difference is the FCT Abuja which obviously did not exist in 1991 but had a population of 1,406,239 in 2006 for exactly one per cent of the share of the total. This is effectively a rounding error in the total and so it does not affect the ‘formula’.

The census figures are now six years old and I did shout myself hoarse at the time about what is a truly scandalous set of figures. I do not know how it is possible to have census figures that grow exactly the same over 15 years. How does Lagos for instance continue to maintain its share of the population when the place is a magnet for people migrating from other parts of the country? We can also conclude that, for the numbers to have been so shamelessly and crudely fudged in this manner, there must be a lot riding on them when it comes to the allocation of scarce resources.

I spoke to some people about this afterwards and they said it is very likely the overall figure of 140,431,790 for 2006 was a very good estimate of the real population of Nigeria given that the EU was heavily involved in the counting and collating process and there was a lot of international help given to Nigeria to conduct the census. But it does seem as if, as soon as the foreigners left, we simply went back to our old ways and allocated the numbers as we have always done.

How do you build a nation on a lie such as this? What exactly is true about Nigeria? Because people who will lie about census figures in this manner will probably lie about unemployment figures and budget spending.

It is never too late to revisit this matter because in a few short years, Nigeria will once again embark on another census exercise. The least we can do is ensure that such a scandal like this is not repeated. This does not mean the 2006 figures should not be subject to a full inquiry; we are a democracy (at least in theory) so whether or not the numbers are six years old, they remain in play for serious debate.

For once we should try to tell the truth to ourselves as a nation.


All the figures I have used were obtained from the website of the National Population Commission which existed in2010. The website has been spruced up and is at

However, the 1991 census figures seem to have disappeared from the site. Thankfully I kept a copy from 2010.

Source: The Guardian


2 thoughts on “The scandal of census figures – Nigeria

  1. Wow that’s crazy. You should make video of this. The news would make people faint. The state govenors and Assembly will be enraged or carry on. 1991 figures might be available on the waybackmachine.


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