Nigeria is about to embark on a controversial census, which many fear could reignite the country’s ethnic, regional and religious tensions. The plan has drawn fierce opposition from powerful vested interests, but President Olusegun Obasanjo is pressing ahead. Estimates of Nigeria’s current population range from 120 to 150 million. The census – the first since 1991 -- is scheduled to take place March 21st through 25th. The controversy surrounding the population count highlights the constant struggle for influence between the country’s three main ethnic groups -- the Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo. It also involves longstanding tensions between Muslims and Christians, who each make up about half of Nigeria’s population.
Chuks Osuji heads the Nigerian firm Opinion Research and Communication Consultants in Oweri, Imo State. He told English to Africa reporter Ashenafi Abedje Nigerians are following the upcoming census with keen interest. He credits the National Population Commission for doing an excellent job in sensitizing and creating awareness among Nigerians. Osuji says, “Christians, who previously opposed the census on grounds it excluded ethnicity and religion on the questionnaire, are now in support and ready to participate fully.”
The research analyst relates the discrepancies in Nigeria’s population estimates to previous censuses. He says, “The census exercises in 1953, 1963, 1973 and 1991 were all disputed because of tribal interests and ethnic configuration.” Osuji expects the coming census to be successful because of what he calls “a high level of preparedness.” He says its successful conclusion “will help government implement policies that benefit the socio-economic well-being of Nigerians.”