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Would Nigeria's National Census Divide Christians And Muslims?

A Nigerian Christian group reportedly may call for a boycott of the national census if it does not contain categories for religion or ethnicity.

The northern chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria says it wants to know the actual number of Christians, Muslims and those who practice other religions. It says the information is needed to build Christian schools and hospitals, and the information on ethnicity could help fight discrimination.

Among those reacting to the group’s position is the Anglican archbishop of Kaduna Province. Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon spoke to English to Africa’s Joe De Capua about the threat to boycott the national census.

He says, “My reaction is one of unease. I feel very uncomfortable about the whole idea of mobilizing people to boycott this census. Having said that, I do agree that we have never had any specific figure vis-à-vis the number of Christians and Muslims in this country. There is definitely a need to have some reliable figures.”

However, the archbishop has reservations about the project. “Now the question is, is this the right time for us as a nation. And this is where I differ from some of my elders within the northern Christian elders forum. I agree we need the figures, but personally I do not think, because of the divisive nature of religion and ethnicity in our country, this is the time for us to have that census.”

Archbishop Idowu-Fearon does not rule out a census in the long term. He says, “I would plead that we wait, continue to educate our people on the need to transcend ethnicity and religion. When people begin to understand that this country is the only country we have, whether you’re a Christian or a Muslim, we are bound to work together to preserve the unity of this nation. I think when we get to that stage I would now want to support the whole clamor for a census based on religion and ethnicity.”

The Anglican leader of Kaduna Province saysChristian and Muslim clergy have formed an NGO to try to bridge the gap between the religions in Kaduna. And he says Christians are beginning to take a greater interest in understanding Islam. He calls that a "big step." Archbishop Idowu-Fearon blames much of the divide between Christians and Muslims on political leaders exploiting their differences, especially past military dictators.