Methodological seminar - Beatrice Touchelay

DSC 0162On the 2nd of May 2024, Beatrice Touchelay, History Professor at the University of Lille, presented a seminar on "What counting means. Gender and statistics in twentieth-century Nigeria". Beatrice currently leads a research project titled “Counting and classifying in French-speaking Africa from the origin to the XXIth century: Cameroon, Madagascar and Senegal, genesis of a continental network”, she also works in Nigeria. This methodological seminar was an opportunity to discover her methods and her work.

During her presentation, Beatrice Touchelay highlighted that the production of statistics give rise to tensions which manifest themselves through interviewer/respondent relationships, the definition of statistical categories and thresholds (young/old, active/inactive, rich/ poor but also mixed race…). Figures make it possible to collect taxes, to mobilize labor, in short to constrain. They scare. Pressure can be exerted on their production, they are sometimes propaganda and political tools (see the challenges of the results of demographic censuses: in Cameroon, which is the most populated city, Yaoundé or Dschang? What is the most populated region in Nigeria ?)

Figures can serve multiple interests: Employee Unions which mobilize the price index to demand wage increases, Governors who argue their funding requests based on demographic and medical statistics, etc. Statistics can also distort situations, introduce illusions...The “statistical gaze or gap”, give illusion to know and to govern, in a word, statistics are anything but neutral despite their apparent simplicity, their classifications and the hierarchies they introduce are even less so.

delving more in details into the history of statistics in Nigeria, Beatrice Touchelay gave a presentation of statistical works conducted in Nigeria since the colonial period. She noted that the post of Government statistician was created in Lagos to organize the 1929 experimental census and that Census was first, conducted in the area known today as Nigeria in the year 1866 by the British colonial government within the Colony of Lagos. There were also decennial censuses conducted only for Lagos Colony in the years 1871, 1881 and 1901 respectively. Ten years after in the year 1911, the census exercise covered the Southern Protectorate including Lagos.

The 1911 census-taking had a wider coverage as it involved the whole of Southern Nigeria. This was possible because in 1906, five years before the census, the Governor General of Nigeria merged the Lagos colony with the Southern Nigeria protectorate.

The amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Nigeria Protectorates in 1914 and the enactment of a Census Ordinance in 1917 brought remarkable changes to the conduct of censuses in Nigeria as it paved the way for the conduct of the first nationwide census in 1921. The enumeration was divided into two parts. The first part known as the Township census, counted the residents of the towns and cities, while the second part was the Provincial census which covered the whole country. The township census was conducted within one day and gave accurate results, particularly in comparison with the provincial censuses. The provincial census took more than two months and it was based on tax records of the residents. It suffered from inadequate staffing and the public boycotted it because they felt it would lead to higher taxes. In Southern Nigeria, the preliminary figures were adjusted upwards before the result of 8.4 million was published. The published figure for Northern Nigeria was 10.4 million.

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After describing the peculiarities of the different Nigerian censuses undertaken until now.

She concluded her presentation noting that it is extremely difficult to arrive at any accurate figure of population (p.350). Ex the pop figure for Lagos 60 221 and 85 607 for 1880 and 1891 respectively but in 1909 and 1911 they were reported as 60 716 and 72 703 respectively. Similarly inaccurate population figures were given for the other aeras of Nigeria: in 1904 the population of Northern Nigeria was given as 9 161 700 but in 1908-9 was given as 7 164 751. However, the first countrywide population estimate was made in 1900 when it was estimated at about 15 million people lived in Nigeria of which 9 million were in Northern Nigeria. In 1921 the population estimate was 18,9 million. However, in 1931 the first countrywide population census was held, and it showed that 19 555 000 people lived in Nigeria: 11 434 000 in the North, 4 266 000 in the East, 3 729 000 in the West and 126 000 in Lagos.

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