Hours after the National Council of State (NCS) ratified the appointment of a chairman and officials of the National Population Commission, controversy has trailed the name of the person appointed as chairman.
The NPC is responsible for conducting the national census in Nigeria, which last conducted a census in 2006.
A few minutes after the meeting presided by President Muhammadu Buhari, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, addressed State House reporters.
Mr Mustapha told the journalists that the council had ratified the list containing the chairman and the other officials of the commission. He did not list the names of those approved, this newspaper learnt.
However, State House reporters had sighted a list allegedly sent to the council by Mr Buhari.
In the document marked ‘SECRET’, dated August 12 and sent to the council members, Silas Agara was named as chairman.
The other six nominees were Muhammed Dottijo (Sokoto); Razaq Gidado (Kwara); Ibrahim Mohammed (Bauchi); Joseph Shazin (FCT); Bala Banya (Katsina); and Bimbola Salu-Hundeyin (Lagos).
Messrs Agara, Dottijo, Gidado, Mohammed and Shazin were nominated for a ‘first term of 5 years’ while Messrs Banya and Salu-Hundeyin were to enjoy a “‘renewal of term of 5 years.’
The journalists thus went to town with the story that Mr Agara had been confirmed as chairman and the others as members of the NPC.
However, hours after the story was published by several media including PREMIUM TIMES, presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, sent a brief message to reporters saying a different person was confirmed as chairman.
Mr Shehu in the message said Nasiru Kwarra was confirmed as chairman of the population commission and not Mr Agara.
He did not give any explanation for the change.
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted Mr Shehu, he simply said the earlier circulated name of Mr Agara was a mistake.
While the list relied on by the journalists contained seven names, a statement made by Senate President Ahmad Lawan, who also attended the NCS meeting, showed that a list of names, different from that seen by the journalists, was approved by the council for the NPC
Mr Lawan told journalists after the meeting that a list of 12 names was confirmed for the NPC.
“We have considered the appointment of the National Population Commission, the chairman and eleven others,” Mr Lawan said. “Two of them continuing and nine newly appointed to work on the National Population Commission of this country.”
Mr Lawan’s statement of the list containing 12 names tallies with that published by an online newspaper, Sahara Reporters, which published a story on Tuesday saying the list of seven names had been replaced with a list of 12 names with Mr Agara also removed as chairman and replaced by Mr Kwarra. The newspaper, however, attributed the change to religious reasons.
The newspaper, citing a presidency source, said some officials of the Buhari government were not comfortable with the NPC being headed by a Christian, thus leading to the change.
It published the August 12 circular as well as another dated August 21 to the NCS members that showed that Mr Agara had been nominated to only be a member of the NPC while Mr Kwarra was to be the chairman of the commission.
Both men are from Nasarawa State. Mr Agara, a former deputy governor of the state, is a Christian while Mr Kwarra is a Muslim.
Nigeria’s estimated 170 million population is largely made up of Christians and Muslims.
Thursday’s controversy is expected to further add to the allegations of bias against the Buhari administration which has been accused of both religious and ethnic bias, an allegation the president and his aides have repeatedly denied.