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Fact Check: Umahi’s claim that 11.5 million Igbos live in Northern Nigeria is misleading

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CLAIM: Chairman of South-East Governors Forum and Governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi, claims 11.5million Igbos are living in northern Nigeria and that 3 million Igbo people of voting age reside in Lagos. 

Verdict: Misleading

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Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi, made this statement when South-East governors visited the governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike recently.

According to the Nation Newspaper that published this news update on November 10, 2020, it obtained an audio clip of Umahi saying “We have 11.5million Igbos living in the north. We have three million Igbos that are of voting age in Lagos State not to talk about other parts of this country. And somebody wants to start a war for us so that the Igbos will be slaughtered.”

He made this statement in the context of the crisis early in November in Oyigbo Port Harcourt, Rivers State while denouncing Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) as a false representation of the Igbos in Nigeria. 

The news article was widely circulated in fora like Nairaland garnering 1601 views as of 9 December, 2020.

CrowdTangle analysis shows that it was shared on Facebook by The Nation newspaper and StraightfromNaija, a Facebook page dedicated to sharing news from the country. These two pages combined have a total number of 1,806, 013 followers.

Crowdtangle

VERIFICATION

Dubawa reached out to Governor Umahi’s office to seek the source of the quoted data. He was yet to respond at press time.

Further, Dubawa conducted searches on the National Population Commission(NPC) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) portal, both harbouring demographic data on the country.

Dubawa accesses the website of the National Population Commission (NPC) through the Way Back Machine. The Commission is Nigeria’s agency for collecting, analysing and disseminating demographic data in the country. It shows the last census conducted by the agency was in 2006 with a population of over 140 million at the time. 

Looking further through a ten-year population projection published by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) covering the period of 2006-2016, the data shows a population aggregate for the 19 northern states as well as other states in the country. However, it does not delineate on ethnicity as Nigeria does not conduct census by ethnicity. 

For example, Borno State in the North-east had a projected population of 4,171,104 in 2006. This is the number of people within the boundaries of the state and does not take into account any tribal designation. 

Population Forecast: National Bureau of Statistics(NBS)

That is the case for all other states within the country. In narrowing the data (2006-2016) to these northern states, which for the purpose of this fact-check includes the North-East, North-West, and North-Central states, the estimated total population at the last census(2006) is 74 million, and by a ten-year (2016) population projection, it should stand at approximately 101 million. Of this 101 million it is  too difficult to determine the number of other ethnic groups living within these states, thus rendering any projected number of Igbos in the north, as the case may be, speculative.

Population Projection

Population projection is a “best-guess” calculation of the number of people expected to be alive within a given period. Such calculation is based on the condition that assumptions on population size, births, deaths and migration stay the same. These projections help in policymaking, planning and solutions.

For example, as the world considers the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines after its approval, Nigeria would have to figure out how to get this to the most at-risk group. Population projections help in planning distribution, especially in the absence of census data. 

CONCLUSION: Governor Umahi’s claim on the number of Igbos in the northern region or any Nigerian state is misleading. No current or specific data exist to support this claim. 

CLAIM 2: “We have three million Igbos that are of voting age in Lagos State not to talk about other parts of this country.” – Governor Umahi

VERIFICATION: 

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is Nigeria’s electoral agency responsible for voter registration and conducting federal and state elections. The agency supervised voter registration for the 2019 elections and state elections in 2020. 

In the process of registration, a voter’s state of registration, which considers the place of residence or the location where the citizen will be voting, takes precedence over the state of origin which focuses on ethnicity. 

According to INEC, a person qualifies to vote if they are Nigerian, of 18 years and above, and resident or work in the local government area (LGA), council or ward designated for registration by INEC. Article 10 of the Electoral Act, 2010, titled Continuous Registration, states that the requirements for a voter to register are birth or baptismal certificate, national passport identity card, or driver’s licence. 

There is no requirement under INEC regulations for voters to identify their ethnic identity,  although citizen’s are permitted to travel to their local government area or state of origin to register to allow them vote in their state. For this reason, it is unlikely to determine the actual number of voting Igbo residents in Lagos. 

Furthermore, a random google search on the “population of Igbos in Lagos” produces a figure that is only supported by an academic paper published in 1989 which projects the number of Igbos in Rivers, Bendel (now Edo), Lagos, and other states at 3.59million (approx. 31%) based on the 1973 census figures. However, the research article is not an authority for census data. 

CONCLUSION: INEC does not register eligible Nigerians according to ethnicity and without such data, it is misleading to cite the exact number of voters of any tribe in Nigeria.


The researcher produced this fact-check per the Dubawa 2020 Fellowship partnership with NewsWire NGR to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.

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