Nigeria: Counting Heads or Counting Herds?

Nigeria: Counting Heads or Counting Herds

Penny Wisdom

By Emeka Uzoatu

I might never get to know why I’m often left feeling as though I am the only sensitive person in this country. True, being no solipsist, I’ve often had to shudder the thought away. Yet day after night I’m left in sheer wonderment at the things my compatriots keep overlooking with glee. As if this life can be lived without exuding even an infinitesimal iota of care.

I must confess here that the latest in this elongating train of thought has been too persistent to be ignored any longer. And it is how none other than me appears as bothered about how we have been playing with getting to know how many we are in this nation. 

Decade after decade population statutes are glossed over and we are left forever depending on estimates contrived from nothing. This, despite how aware we all are that no constructive development can take place sans verifiable figures.

Worse still, all past efforts at this have all resulted in stillbirths. Even the one organised pre-independence by our infallible colonial masters was laterly sent to the cleaners. Initially slated as a rumour, it was later upheld by one of their nationals who had participated in the heist.

Perhaps, it’s on that premise that even the ones organised by our post-independence governments turned out no better. Apathy apart, those who participated saw it like a contest. Regions took the exercise for an opportunity to inflate their numbers. Lest they came last in the only indices for the attraction of political dividends. 

Thus, even animals were rumoured to have been conjoined in the ensuing headcounts. This saw areas that hardly had enough populations to put out a mere house fire boasting the number to host local area councils. According to some observers of this strange development, this was the genesis of the citizens of the country paying more emphasis to the counting of animals than human beings. 

So what do you now find? Hardly can any household account for the number of births and deaths within its four walls upon a season.  Yet they can easily account for all the animals that have passed through their space in the same timespan in a second. 

Yes, before you feign ignorance of it, this was how the most prominent politicians in the land gained their integrity. Though they couldn’t tell how many children they had, most easily recollected the exact number of cows and goats that grazed in their ranches.

Well, recounting the amount in their bank balance is a different kettle of fish.

A herder and his herd.

Like was confirmed in Oba, a lowly town in Anambra State recently. The death of a celebrity’s mother has broken the unwritten record of the number of cows killed for a funeral the world over. In the blitz, a business partner of one of the woman’s sons had visited with a trailer load of forty-six cows. 

Wise guy that he was, he thought he had prevailed. Till the news filtered into his hometown. Poor guy is now bestriding the periphery of the dusty town as his kinsmen can’t let him set foot on the land without the forty-six goats that ought to have been given to him by his friend for each of the cows.

For starters, the culture of the Southeast of Nigeria where this came to pass, a goat is given in spiritual compensation for every cow presented at a funeral. At the time of this report, the poor guy was still at the border post as the celebrant had gone on a funeral ‘honeymoon’ with his other friends to the Maldives!

Any which way, though, it’s worthy of note that Nigeria is currently embroiled in another effort to count the heads of its citizens. Trust the country to keep to all its protocols ‘as and when do’. The problem, as always, remains making the most of them.

Most times, too, it’s never for not trying enough. Like the other time, the move was mostly scuttled in the Southeast by separatists who wanted a referendum first. Ostensibly, it was for the government to know whether they wanted to remain in the country in the first place. In their sagacity, however, they somehow forgot that it was a census that’ll first determine their number.

The hope, this time around, is that common sense will prevail. O yes, because only then shall we grow up to our responsibilities. At the very least, we’ll get to know that we can make no headway economically without knowing our population.

Like envisaged, only then can we get to know the actual number of us living above or below the poverty level, for instance. Or the quantity of us living in employment and it’s alter ego, for that matter. Or even the mere number of us occupying the various geopolitical zones, states and local government areas.

Emeka Uzoatu, a seasoned journalist and writer, is the editor of He writes the occasional column, Penny Wisdom.