- Title: NIGERIA: Nigeria's perilous census hits early snags
- Date: 23rd March 2006
- Summary: CLOSE OF CENSUS SLIP
- Embargoed: 7th April 2006 13:00
- Location: Nigeria
- Country: Nigeria
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA6X6JYEBWYIZTJEKS4M6SS85N8
- Story Text: Nigeria launched a census on Tuesday (March 22) but logistical hitches delayed counting in many places, increasing pressure on organisers who also have to contend with political tensions that have derailed previous headcounts.
Censuses are controversial in Nigeria because rival ethnic and religious groups have tried to use them to assert their numerical superiority and claim a larger share of oil revenues and political representation.
The census is the first for 15 years in Africa's most populous country and President Olusegun Obasanjo appealed to his countrymen to ensure its success by keeping politics out of it.
Nigeria's population is split about equally between Muslims in the north and Christians in the south, and among 300 ethnic groups. Ethnic and religious violence has killed at least 14,000 people in the past seven years.
Census organisers have excluded faith and ethnicity from the questionnaire as a way to avoid fighting over the results.
In an apparently isolated incident in Anambra state in the southeast, two people were killed in a clash between police and members of separatist group the Movement for the Actualisation of a Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), eyewitnesses said.
The clash started in the town of Nnewi after a group of MASSOB members tried to stop people from being counted. They torched five vehicles and a police station, residents said.
Elsewhere, trouble came from another quarter as many census takers refused to begin because they were not paid.
Reuters correspondents in northern Borno, Bauchi and Kano states, central Plateau, southeastern Anambra and Enugu and southern Rivers, all reported delays over unpaid wages.
But Census Co-ordinator in Lagos, Martine Makina, said many of the initial problems had now been sorted out.
"Yesterday enumerators were trying to form working teams, and in some places census materials were not supplied on time but we have tackled that now and everything is moving on smoothly," said Makina.
Rejection of the results is precisely what the government is desperate to avoid. The results of several censuses since independence from Britain in 1960 were scrapped because of disputes between competing interest groups.
Estimates of Nigeria's population range from 120 million to 150 million and the government says it needs more precise data.
In the commercial capital Lagos, businesses were closed and there was no public transport because the Lagos state government ordered a five-day shutdown to boost its chances of having its enormous population fully counted. In most other parts of the country, business carried on as usual.
"I think it will be better for the country, but if it's not properly done only God knows what will happen," said one resident Ugbonna Ucheoma.
"Am not sure they will count everybody. It's 2pm now and they are still on the second building in the street," she added.
Many fear the credibility of the census is under threat because of power struggles ahead of elections next year.
Obasanjo's supporters are pushing for a change to the constitution to allow him to stand for a third term, and the president has not said what he wants to do in 2007.
The uncertainty over his plans has riled groups hoping to get their own man into the top job and has been a factor in religious and political violence. Some observers said the census should have been put back until after the elections.
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