It will be sagacious to start by accommodating the definition of census. Census is the official process of counting the number of people in a country, city, or town and collecting information about them. We can also call it a count of the population and a property evaluation in early Rome.

 Although numerous estimates of the Nigerian population were made during the colonial period, the first attempt at a nationwide census was during 1952-53.

This attempt yielded a total population figure of 31.6 million within the current boundaries of the country.

This census has usually been considered an undercount for a number of reasons: apprehension that the census was related to tax collection, political tension at the time in Eastern Nigeria, logistics difficulties in reaching many remote areas and inadequate training of enumerators in some areas.

The extent of undercounting has been estimated at 10 per cent or less, although accuracy probably varied among the regions.

Despite its difficulties, the 1952-53 census has generally been seen as less problematic than any of its successors.

Subsequent attempts to conduct a reliable post-independence census have been mired in controversy, and only one was officially accepted.

The first attempt, in mid-1962, was cancelled after much controversy and allegations of over-counting in many areas.

A second attempt in 1963, which was officially accepted, also was encumbered with charges of inaccuracy and manipulation for regional and local political purposes.

Indeed, the official 1963 figure of 55.6 million as the total national population is inconsistent with the census of a decade earlier because it implies a virtually impossible annual growth rate of 5.8 per cent.

In addition to likely inflation of the aggregate figure, significant intraregional anomalies emerge from a close comparison of the 1953 and 1963 figures.

In portions of the Southeast, for example, the two sets of data imply that some non-urban local government areas (LGAs) had increased at a rate of almost 13 per cent per year, while other neighbouring areas experienced a minute growth rate of 0.5% per year. Despite the controversy, the results of the 1963 census were eventually accepted.

 After the civil war of 1967-70, an attempt was made to hold a census in 1973, but the results were cancelled in the face of repeated controversy.

No subsequent nationwide census had been held as of 1990, although there have been various attempts to derive population estimates at a state or local level. Most official national population estimates are based on projections from the 1963 census.

The great improvements in transport and accessibility of most areas, in technological capability and in the level of education throughout the country, as well as the generalized acceptance of national coherence and legitimacy, favoured the success of the fall 1991 census.

It was to be conducted in about 250,000 enumeration areas by the National Population Commission, with offices in each of the country’s LGAs.

To reduce possible controversy, religious and ethnic identification would be excluded from the census forms and verification of state results would be handled by supervisors from outside the state.

Some analysts believe that effort to carry out a reliable census with perceived legitimacy might become an unexpectedly positive exercise, reinforcing a sense of shared nationhood and providing a model for the attempt to overcome regional and ethnic differences.


From 1911 to 1931 the census area was extended with a view to covering the whole country. However, because of logistics, economic and other problems, the census exercises were based on guess estimation.

 In 1911, estimates of the population of the provinces making up Nigeria were obtained by sampling except in the main parts where house enumeration took place.

From the estimates, the census returns gave the total population of the geographical area, later to be known as Nigeria, as 16.06 million made up of 8.12 million for the Northern province and 7.94 million for the Southern provinces.

In the 1921 exercise, the level of guess estimation was reduced by extending the scope of enumeration. At first, a township census was taken. Later the exercise was conducted in the provinces.

The result of the two-stage headcount put the population of Nigeria at 18.63 million. This figure was later revised upwards to 18.72 million made of 10 million for the Northern provinces and 8.16 million for the Southern provinces.

 The design for the 1931 headcount was aimed at the total coverage of the country. However, following some civil disturbances in the Onitsha, Owerri and Calabar provinces of Eastern Nigeria, by women who reckoned that the purpose of the exercise was to tax them and increase the taxes on men, an act which had a tremendously disruptive effect on the arrangement, the Governor ordered a modification of the census scheme to exclude Southern Provinces.

Actual enumeration was then conducted in Lagos, in five townships and also in 201 villages in Nigeria. For the majority of the population estimates of the figures were obtained from existing records.

The result of the exercise showed that Nigeria had a total of 19,928, 171 persons made up of 8,493,247 for the Southern provinces including the colony and 11,434,924 for the Northern provinces.

 The era between 1911 and 1931 is regarded as the population estimation era because the population figures were arrived at by sampling or inferential deductions from existing records 


In 1941, the Second World War was raging and consequently, no census was taken. This was the first time that the decennial (census taken every ten years) exercise was disrupted since 1871.


The first attempt at enumerating the entire country was made in time period 1950-1953. In 1950 enumeration took place in Lagos and 272,000 persons were counted. In May, June and July 1952 enumeration took place in Northern Nigeria with a figure of 10,840,000 persons.

In December 1952 and January 1953, enumeration took place in Western Nigeria and produced a figure of 6,087,000 persons.

The enumeration in Eastern Nigeria followed in May, June and August 1953 with the returns of 7,218,000 persons. Thus the recorded total population of Nigeria from these censuses was 30.42 million.


 From 13th to 27th May 1962, the population census was conducted and although the organization for it showed some marked improvement over the previous exercises, the results were cancelled after a prolonged and heated dispute concerning inflation figures.


Following the cancellation of the 1962 census result, another head count was ordered in 1963. It took place in November 1963, in a tense political atmosphere occasioned by the increased awareness that political representation control and revenue allocation were determined mainly by population.

The census recorded a total population of 55.6 million. Although the handling of the census was challenged in court, the Federal Supreme Court ruled that it had no jurisdiction over the administrative function of the Federal government.


          With determination, the Federal Ministry Government conducted another population census from 25th November to 1st December 1973 (extended for one or two days to 3rd December 1973 in many areas) under the control of a National Census Board and assisted by State Census Offices which themselves were advised by State Census Committees. The result of that exercise was cancelled.


          Despite the fact that the census taking back to the middle of the 20th century, the critical and strategic question “How many Nigerians remained hardly satisfactory sealed until the conduct of the 1991 population census.

The political and socio-economic imperative of moving the country forward and planning for national prosperity requires comprehensive data on the country’s human resources potentials ”.

 With the foregoing in mind and taking a cue from the practice in all modern societies, the Federal Military Government in 1998 decreed the conduct of a population census of Nigeria to facilitate the provision of requisite data for national and sectorial planning for now and the future.

 The population census of Nigeria was successfully conducted from 27th to 30th November 1991. The provisional figures from the census were accepted and released by the Federal government in March 1992, following which detailed processing commenced.

The total population of Nigeria as recorded in the 1991 population census was 88,992,220 of this figure 44,529,608 are males while 44,462,620 are females.

 The census showed a remarkably balanced distribution of males and females in Nigeria. There are only 66,996 more men than females. The census further revealed that for every 10,000 females, there are 10,015 males.

At the National level, sex distribution appears fairly balanced, but this cannot be said of the component states. At the state level, three cases are apparent and these are states with low, balanced and high sex ratios respectively.

The case of the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja), is clearly unique in terms of masculinity. In the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja) there are at least 123 males for every 100 females.

The 1952/53 census, conducted about 45 years ago has been commended as the best conducted in Nigeria before the 1991 census. The general criticism against the 1963 census is that the figures were grossly inflated.

The National Population Commission subscribes to this view and accordingly has serious reservations concerning using the 1963 census figures as a base for the estimation of the intercensal annual growth rate.

Using the 1952/53 census as a base the growth rate between 1952/53 and 1991 was estimated at 2.83 per cent per annum.

A point of clarification is however necessary with respect to other growth rates that have been estimated for the country and which have been canvased by some agencies.

The growth rates, which range between 3.2 and 3.1, were derived using the Nigeria fertility survey, 1981/82 and the demographic and health survey, 1989 respectively. There are periodic estimates from survey data.

The growth rate of 2.8% per annum was used to project the population in 1996, giving, and a mid-year population figure of 102.5 million in 1996.


 The headcount which was slated for 2005 was logistically shifted to 21st to 25th March 2006.

After the exercise, which was five years overdue, the National Population Commission (NPC) put the total population of Nigeria at 140,003,542 made up of 68,293,683 females and 71,769,859 males.

Nigeria’s population has passed from 88,992,220 to 140,003,542 in fifteen years, it will doubtless be up to a quarter of a billion by sometime in the foreseeable future if famine, pestilence and war do not decimate us.

Fifty-one million extra people precisely (51,011,222) have an extra problem and the problem of the whole country will grow more and more difficult with expanding population.

Fifty-one million extra people in fifteen years (1991-2006) relates to 9309 births per diem. Should the trends persist, it is feared the government might be forced to introduce a one-child system (Antinatalist policy).

Though modern equipment and methods were used in the conduct of the 2006 census the results were still greeted with criticism from many quarters. Since 1963 census results have been subject of controversy.

It is therefore high time, a lasting is found to it. It is on record that Nigeria is the most populous black nation in the world and also the world’s tenth most populous country.

The Thomas Maltus factor; the numbers of people double every 25 years (unless checked) thus population grows at a geometric rate (1,2,4,8,16,32 e.t.c.) while food production increases at just an arithmetic rate (1,2,3,4,5,6 e.t.c.).

It is therefore obvious that population will always outstrip food supply unless fertility is controlled (by late marriage or celibacy) famine, vice, disease and war must serve as natural population restrictions. For obvious reasons, the world population is hardly exact.

Population and poverty: population pressure is treated as (a law of nature) which makes poverty natural and inevitable. The root cause of pauperism is the excessive procreation of the lower classes.


          What the submissions above are directing our attention to is quite simple. Census in Nigeria has been a political game in since it commencement in the history of Nigeria.

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About the author

Afe Adedayo Emmanuel

Dr Afe Adedayo Emmanuel

AFE, Adedayo Emmanuel Ph.D., Senior Lecturer, Department of History and International Studies Adekunle Ajasin University Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State, Nigeria.

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