Nigeria's population in 2020 is estimated at 210 million by the National Population Commission (NPC) of Nigeria and estimated at 208 million by the UN. These estimates are extrapolations from a 2006 census that put the figure at 140 million. The first census, done in 1952 put the population at 31.6 million. The next in 1962 was cancelled when sections of the South brought forward figures that showed an increase of 200% over the census of 1952. Another one was done in 1963 which put the figure at 55.6 million. This figure was accepted because it maintained the existing demographic distribution. No census was held again until 1991 where the NPC came up with a figure of 87.5 million, much less than the World Bank estimate of 120 million. One of the things that made the credibility of the censuses doubtful is that each region maintained its share of the population based on the original 1952 census.
With the exception of the 1952 census, all other ones have been disputed by southern Nigerians who argue that it is impossible for the North to be more populated since (according to them) the North is a desert and the South is lush forest. They also argue that since the South is more populous, then it is more probable that the Christian population is larger than the Muslim one since the south is majority Christian. The reason for these disputations is simple - since we practice a democracy, which implies majority rule, then a larger Southern, Christian populace would control Nigeria's politics and thus its wealth. This is because in Nigeria, religion in the north and tribe in the south are the bases for political power. One cannot even contest for the lowest political office if one is not (in the North) first a Muslim (or Christian, depending on which part of the North it is), then be from the dominant tribe in the area. In the Southeast and South-South, where Muslims are less than 5% of the population, tribe is more important. In the Southwest, the land of the Yoruba, there is a more even split between the 2 religions with Islam probably having a slight majority. Thus, they are indifferent to religious affiliation and since they are basically all the same tribe, the sectionalism eventually gets down to other more trivial causes of division.
As I said earlier, political office is the surest route to wealth in Nigeria and that is why the question of demographic composition is bitterly fought. Nigeria has 36 states (thus 36 state governors) and a president. The president is basically the ruler of the country and the governors the rulers of their respective states. However, the constitution has spelled out the spheres of influence of each office. Even though the president is more powerful than any governor, he is not more powerful than all the governors (if they can get their act together) combined. Further, the power a governor has within his state is more absolute than what the president has over the country. So where a governor is absolute despot in his fief, the president is basically a feudal king. This power matters because of public money. Sale of crude oil accounts for about 80% of the country's public revenue. The federal government receives all this revenue and shares it to the states using a formula that uses population & land area to determine what each state gets. The revenue sharing is done in a monthly meeting called FAAC (Federal Accounts Allocation Committee). Each state gets a FAAC allocation which ought to augment its internally generated revenue (IGR). However, for most states, it is the IGR which augments the FAAC because most states do not generate any or much revenue internally. The reason why is beyond the scope of this piece. A governor can do whatever he wants with his monthly FAAC money and nobody can do much about it. But the Federal FAAC even though under the control of the president has to be disbursed with (at least a semblance of) equity.
I never really paid attention to the arguments about which section is more populous. I suppose being a Northern Muslim, who is (or is supposed to be) favored by the status quo would account for my indifference. However, I recently had to think about the claims of the South being more populous. And since I think I am reasonably well read, I decided to examine the claim and see if I could reason out which section was more populous. If the North is, it is not something we should be proud of, for reasons which I will explain later.
Thus, having pondered the matter, I think Northern Nigeria is more populous for the following reasons:
1. Census of 1952: this was done during the colonial period. While there is credible evidence that the British liked Northerners more than Southerners, I would think they would conduct an accurate census for the simple reason of self-interest. They were in Nigeria to extract our wealth. An accurate enumeration would enable more effective plunder. Thus, that census can be accepted as accurate. Further, given that the colonial government was descended from that of William the Bastard who conducted an accurate census of England after 1066, which in turn was descended from Rome, an entity that 2000 years ago was conducting censuses across a region much much larger than Nigeria, then it can be accepted that that census was a reasonably accurate one conducted by a technically proficient bureaucracy. This would give a larger starting base for the north.
2. Geography: all over the world, plains support larger numbers of large animals. it is in the plains of East Africa that herds of gazelles, wildebeest, antelope, zebra, elephants etc. numbering in the millions are found. It is in the plains of North America that herds of bison and pronghorn exist. This means that plains are more supportive of life than forests. Since humans are animals, it stands to reason that the conditions that are conducive for large mammals would benefit us as well. The plains in Nigeria, are in the North, which by way, is not a desert.
In addition to the above, the forests of the South are home to mosquitoes transmitting malaria which has been one of the biggest killers of humans ever and that would mean lower population and higher mortality. The forests are also home to the tsetse fly which is deadly to large domestic animals thus depriving them of an important source of protein, thereby reducing nutrition, vigor and reducing life span. Absence of large animals also means less power to process food, like mills to grind grains for bread and thus provide additional nutrition. All these factors favor the North.
3. History: related to geography, virtually all of the largest political entities in history (Chinese in the plains of the Huang He & Yangtze, English in the plains of England, Mesopotamian empires, Egypt on the Nile, the plains of Italy and France, the Gangetic plain in India ) have been on plains, plateaus or valleys. Very few were in the forests. Thus, given that the north of West Africa (which includes Northern Nigeria) has had more empires and kingdoms than the south, it stands to reason that the north is more populated. Northern Nigeria has had Kanem-Bornu, 7 concurrent Hausa city-states (each of which was probably larger and more populous than any southern polity), Nupe, Jukun Empire and Sokoto Empire. In the south, there have only been Benin and Oyo. Large, complex political entities only emerge in places that have a large, dense population .
Another aspect of history in favor of the North is the slave trade. For almost 300 years, Southern Nigeria was one of the prime sources of slaves for the Atlantic slave trade. The effect of that slave trade has been well documented. It led to warfare and societal collapse. It stands to reason that a society which has suffered war and continuous exportation of a significant proportion of its populace would be smaller than one which did not suffer the same.
4. Culture: in the past 60 years, one of the countries with the largest population growths has been Niger Republic, Nigeria's northern neighbor. Women there on average have at least 6 kids each. The people in Southern Niger and Northern Nigeria are the same, speaking the same languages (Hausa, Kanuri, Fulani) and having the same religion (mostly Islam). Thus, the only division among them is an arbitrary one created about 100 years ago. Since culture only changes slowly, it is not unreasonable to expect that northern Nigeria would have the same child breeding practices. Speaking of religion, Islam encourages polygamy and since it is the dominant religion in the north, that would be another factor encouraging population growth.
A cultural practice in the South that would argue against them being more populous is their westernization. The South is more educated and richer than the North. Further, their education does not discriminate between the sexes. In fact, girls are more likely than boys to pursue higher education. Given that education makes women to have fewer kids, and since the South has been more educated for longer, this would mean that their population has been growing more slowly for a long time. Further, in a middle class or urban setting, a child is a liability because of school fees. In a rural setting, a child is an asset because of its labor value. The south is more urban than the North.
5. Politics: this point is about whether Muslims or Christians are more in number. Nigeria's sectional politics means that it would be difficult for a person from a religious or tribal minority in a state to become that state's governor. The fact that there are more Muslim governors than Christian can be taken as a proxy for that issue since more Muslim governors means more Muslim states.
The above are not definitive arguments. But even if they were, and they could be used to prove that the North is more populous, that population is not something the North should be proud of. Our large population is a liability to us. It is a poor, uneducated, backwards mass of people. I am simultaneously proud of being a northern Fulani, and ashamed of it. It is shameful that we, who were the most advanced when the white man came, who were given political control of the country, who have benefited most from the country's oil wealth are the most backward. Anytime a Nigerian is celebrated outside Nigeria, it would turn out to be a southerner. When the US says Nigerians are the most educated immigrants, it is southern Nigerians that are being discussed. The only Nobel laureate from here is one of them, so is one of the most celebrated mathematicians. Another is a celebrated computer engineer. Another is a famous doctor who was portrayed by Will Smith in a movie. One of them is currently in the running to head the World Trade Organization. They produce the best musicians, authors, actors, bankers, lawyers and everything both inside and outside Nigeria. Conversely, it is southerners that have also given Nigeria a bad name. They are the drug peddlers, human traffickers, online scammers and illegal immigrants. This coin, one side fame, the other notoriety, is evidence of the dynamism of their culture. They strive for advancement even if it is via a negative route. I admire and envy them.
Every country has something unique about it. Nigeria has many unique things about it. One of those things, which is both advantage and disadvantage is our demographic composition. I think Nigeria is the only country in the world that does not have a majority. By this, I mean no section has an overwhelming majority. Our religious composition is probably Islam 50%, Christian 49% and indigenous beliefs 1%. Thus, the 2 big religions are virtually at par. In tribal make-up, there are 3 big ones - Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo. Combined, these big 3 are not up to 50% of the country. Thus, the country is quite fragmented, making it difficult for one side to oppress the other (a good thing), but also making it difficult to agree on objectives and to focus on meeting them (a bad thing).
In my writeups, I frequently mention tribes. I know that tribe is often used in a derogatory manner to indicate that the politics of a place is primitive. However, tribal politics is alive and well all over the world. In the US, it is the tribe of Caucasian Christians versus blacks and Latinos and Muslims etc. In the UK, the Scottish tribe chafes at the control that the tribe of the English has over them. In Ireland, it is the tribe of Catholics versus that of Protestants which has led to the division of the island; just like in Iraq, the tribe of Sunni battles the Shia. The tribal politics of Muslim and Hindu led to the partition of India just like Muslim and Jewish tribal conflict led to the plight of the Palestinians. So, while tribe and religion are different, I think for the purposes of sectional analysis, a religion can be treated as a tribe.
Of all the countries in the world, Nigeria aspires to be most like the US. We often talk enviously about how George W. Bush was governor of Texas, while Jeb Bush was governor of Florida. We dream about a time when meritocracy would be the basis of government rather than the current nepotism and sectionalism. The good thing about democracy is that these sorts of things have a chance to happen. I hope it happens in Nigeria, where tribes would be groups of like-minded people, whose points of difference would be about political ideology and policy. Not language and religion.
Iron Noder 2020, 22/30