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Nigeria Extends Census Deadline

  • Gilbert da Costa

The census in Nigeria, due to end on Saturday, has been extended by two more days. Several prominent figures had called for an extension after logistic problems, shortage of materials and violence caused long delays.

President Olusegun Obasanjo announced the two-day extension in a radio and television broadcast on Saturday. He said the decision would allow everyone to be counted.

"The National Population Commission (NPC) requested a two-day extension to enable it and its officials get to the rural and remote areas not yet counted as well as to address some lingering problems," said Mr. Obasanjo. "The overall objective is to ensure that all Nigerians and all resident in Nigeria are counted. Accordingly, Sunday and Monday, 26 and 27 March 2006 are hereby declared national census days to allow for the satisfactory completion of exercise."

The count has been hampered by attacks on census workers, a lack of forms, census officials protesting over salaries and general logistical problems.

Mr. Obasanjo said Monday would be a work-free day for only those that are yet to be counted. He appealed to Nigerians to avoid acts that could compromise the integrity of the count.

More than 10 people have been killed in census-related violence.

In the broadcast, President Obasanjo also warned that the police and security forces have been ordered to crackdown on those behind the violence.

"The police and security forces will remain fair, but very firm against anyone that attempts to disrupt or undermine the census process," he added.

Nigeria's normally busy streets and highways were deserted Saturday as people obeyed the order to stay at home for the count. The restricted movement measures are part of the strategy to ensure a credible census results after past fiascos.

Many fear the credibility of the census is under threat, because of power struggles ahead of elections next year.

Censuses are controversial in Nigeria because rival groups have tried to use them to assert their numerical advantage and claim a larger share of oil revenues and political representation.

Estimates of Nigeria's population range from 120 to 150 million.

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