Friday, March 24, 2006

Census chaos

The first census in Nigeria in 15 years is currently in its fourth day and it has brought the country to a halt. Given what's a stake in this massively corrupt and ethnically divided country, this is not surprising.

African News Dimenion writes (and I need to quote somewhat extensively given that the link will go behind a subscription firewall shortly):
Cities and towns across the west African giant fell silent as Nigeria's population -- estimated between 120 and 150 million citizens -- observed a national holiday coupled with a stay-at-home order to be counted.


President Olusegun Obasanjo has made counting the citizenry a priority and the five-day exercise is due to end on Saturday, but those involved want more time.

Obasanjo has insisted an accurate census is a vital tool in any development strategy for a nation where most people live in abject poverty despite the state's vast oil revenues.

But the exercise has led to street violence of a kind of clashes that has already seen 20,000 killed over the past seven years when its religious and ethnic fissures became very divisive.

Nine people -- three policemen and six vigilantes -- were killed in a shootout Monday in the southern market town of Nnewi when security forces tried to search a house for suspected 'Biafran' separatists, according to police.

A senior officer in nearby Onitsha blamed the clash on market vigilantes, but Information Minister Frank Nweke linked it to a campaign against the census by a separatist group seeking to recreate the breakaway "Republic of Biafra".

A secessionist attempt by ethnic Igbos in southeast to form a Republic of Biafra in 1967 plunged the nation into a 30-month long civil war in which more than one million people died.

Suspected separatists were also fingered for hacking a young census officer to death with machetes in the nearby market city of Onitsha and wounding five others by spraying them with acid.

In a separate incident Friday five people were injured after a boundry dispute on the borders of southwestern Edo and Ondo states while a census official was attacked, apparently by a disturbed man in Ondo state capital Akure.

Despite positive assessments by National Population Commission chief Samu'ila Danko Makama, in many places census officials are yet to get going.

The mammoth exercise has been hampered by the anti-census attacks, a lack of paperwork, census officials protesting over salaries and general logistical hiccups.


"I don't think we can finish this job by Saturday because there are a lot of areas we are yet to cover," census counter Abdulazeez Ahmed told AFP.

"I believe we will need at least three more days to count everyone," he said.

So much for Archbishop Akinola's call for a two-day period of mourning for the Christians who died in February's violence. (See here for Living Church article on the two-day mourning.)

Further stories on the census: here, here, and here.

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