Why 2016 Census Must Have Provision For State Of Origin By Azuka Onwuka
Ours is a nation that loves injustice, inequality, oppression, and suppression. Whatever favours us or our people is right, no matter how unfair it is to others. We will go to great lengths to justify and rationalise it. The strong oppress the weak; the rich oppress the poor; the majorities oppress the minorities. Even the well-read and well-travelled, as well as the seemingly religious, all justify such acts of injustice loudly or by deafening silence. The only policy most of us support is that which favours “our people”, no matter how unfair it is to other people.
That was the genesis of “state of origin” in all Federal Government forms filled by citizens, except in the national census form. Because it was discovered that if appointments were done based on merit (that is, through success in examination and performance), some parts of Nigeria would have the upper hand in federal institutions, the Federal Character Commission was created in 1954 to ensure that there is a “balance”. On the surface, it is a good idea. Even the United States of America has the Affirmative Action policy which ensures that under-represented groups such as Blacks and women get some “unfair advantage” in employment, education, and business, to compensate for the years of disadvantage and discrimination.
However, in Nigeria, justice is not blind: She pulls down her blindfold regularly to study things. Let’s look at this example. The population of states was allegedly used to determine the number of local government areas each state got. The population of states as well as the number of local government areas is used to determine the amount of money each state receives every month in terms of federal allocation. For this reason, state governors spend some good money on publicity, urging the settlers not to return to their state of origin during census. So, those who are “indigenes” and those who are “settlers” help to determine the amount of money a state receives by the fact of its population.
During elections too, the indigenes and settlers also determine those who get elected into offices. State governors also mount campaigns for people not to return to their state of origin during voter registration and election.
However, that is where that campaign ends. The state of origin is used in every form to remind the settler that he does not fully belong to his state of residence, even if he was born there. When it comes to having “state of origin” in the census form, it becomes a crime because it does not favour the ethnic majorities and states with large population of non-indigenes. The settler is good to be used to get high population figures and high federal allocation as well as electoral victories, but is not good to get his full rights as a Nigerian. What a pity!
Why has the “state of origin” never been part of our census forms? Simple. It will help the settler population in every state to know its strength and maybe demand its rights. This is a threat to many states in Nigerians where the settler population is high. Secondly, it will help us to have a fair idea of the population of the different ethnic groups in Nigeria, instead of the unverifiable figures that we bandy around to suit our political and ethnic interests. So, what is the crime of knowing how many Ijaw or Igbo or Tiv or Yoruba or Kanuri or Hausa we have in Nigeria? How will that knowledge harm our nation? If you ask an American, he will tell you how many Nigerian-Americans or Indian-Americans or African-Americans there are in the United States. During the last election in the US, Obama and Mitt Romney knew which community had a majority of White voters, or Black voters, or Hispanic voters, or middle class Whites, and so on. They were not guessing or bandying figures around. They had actual statistics. President Goodluck Jonathan said recently that President Obama told him that there are 25,000 Nigerian medical doctors in the US. Can Jonathan tell Obama the same thing about Americans? No. Why not? Who is afraid of us knowing our true demographics? What is he afraid of?
We rejoice when a minority like an Obama wins the American presidency, but we do everything possible to ensure that someone from the minorities does not win the Nigerian presidency or that a “settler” does not win an election in his state of residence. Jonathan was a child of circumstance: a President who emerged by happenstance and then used his power of incumbency to win an election. If he did not contest the Presidency as an incumbent President, he would not have got up to half a million votes, for even his kinsmen would not have voted for him on the excuse that it would be a waste of their votes.
We jubilate when a Chuka Umunna or Rotimi Adebari wins an election in the UK or Ireland. But we threaten fire and brimstone if a “non son of the soil” as much as indicates that he wants to contest a local government election in “our state.” We tell him to go back to “his state”. It does not matter that he pays his tax to “our state” and has a company that employs even “our” people. It does not matter that he was born in “our state”. It does not matter that he speaks “our” language more than his own language. It does not matter that he is an honest man with a track record of success. It does not matter that he has given scholarships to our children or provided pipe-borne water in our community. We don’t even want to hear any argument or reasoning on it. We simply close our ears and suspend our conscience for the moment.
There is no need arguing that Nigeria’s past census exercises were contrived. That was why it was tactless for the erstwhile chairman of the National Population Commission, Mr. Festus Odimegwu, to have made such comments. Whether he had solid evidence before making such comments was irrelevant. The nation’s census figure would not be determined by Odimegwu’s words. Not even the words of President Jonathan would determine the true population of Nigeria. What would determine it is a census. Whatever anomalies he found out, he should have concentrated on correcting such, adding things like biometrics that would have made the census more believable. Like Tuco of the The Good, the Bad and the Ugly would say: “When you have to shoot, shoot; don’t talk.” Odimegwu preferred to talk rather than shoot. Given the politics in Nigeria’s census, if he had continued as the boss of NPC till the 2016 census, the result would have been contested.
Fortunately, the National Identity Management Commission has kicked off the new national identity card registration, which is meant to end by December 2014. I have done mine and my experience was good. The NIMC people were professional and fast, with an office as comfortable as a banking hall. There were columns for state of residence, state of origin, languages spoken, etc. Even though it is only for people who are up to 18 years, at the end of the exercise, it will give the nation a fair idea of our population, if the figures will be allowed to be made public. For example, if a state like Ondo has two million registered national identity cards holders, and Osun State has one million, it will be difficult for us to believe in 2016 if Osun State suddenly produces a census figure higher than Ondo State.
Therefore, whoever will be the next chairman of the NPC should be a man of action, not words: a person who would not waste Nigeria’s time and resources by giving us a census that cannot be verified. He must be a person that will make us have real figures that can be quoted. When planning an advertising campaign for Lagos, I should be able to say with certainty that there are a million Hausa people in the state who are of XYZ age, and that if I produce a commercial in Hausa language and run it on a TV station in Lagos, I should be able to reach XYZ number of people. If I want to know the population of indigenes of Mkpat Enin Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom resident in Niger State, I should get it without breaking a sweat. We should stop engaging in voodoo demographics as if we are native doctors that shroud their practices in mystery. Only those who love deceit love secrecy. And only the unjust love oppression.
But if we think that it is not necessary to have columns for state of origin and local government of origin in the next census because it is divisive or whatever, we should expunge “state of origin” from all Nigerian documents, and adopt the use of “state of residence” like all countries that love integration and justice do. We cannot be picking and choosing depending on what favours our ethnic group. Like a cliché goes, we can’t have our cake and eat it. Anybody who does that must have stolen someone else’s cake!
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