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Nigerian Census Result Avoids Controversy

Nigeria has confirmed its status as the most populous country on the African continent, announcing its population has exceeded 140 million. Gilbert da Costa reports the announcement sought to avoid some of the more controversial details ahead of crucial polls next year.

The population figure announced was largely within previous estimates and may not suffer from credibility problems.

Censuses are controversial in Nigeria with each of its 250 ethnic groups trying to assert their numerical advantage and claim a larger share of oil revenues and political representation.

Details such as the population size of states and communities are to be published next year, months after elections in April. Such a move would avoid complicating preparations for the landmark poll.

Hameed Ojo, a political science professor at the University of Abuja, says the census figures could provide a basis to assess the credibility of the vote in a country with a history of electoral fraud and violence.

He said, "Let me give you a hypothetical example. The total number of voters registered in a particular state should be a certain proportion of the people."

"These are international standards. For example if you have a population of 50 million in a country, obviously those who are eligible to vote should not be more than a certain percentage of the total number of voters, so if there is a radical inflation, you can know it," he added.

The release of census figures could have wider implications for elections in Nigeria. Ojo says time constraints may not allow Nigeria to fully utilize the census report for next year's ballot.

He said, "The actual elections, we are talking in terms of four months now, at most, and even the local government election we are expecting it to come early, January or so. So, there is no time. By now, all the logistic arrangements should have been put in place."

"In fact the greatest problem we are having is that the inability of INEC [Independent National Electoral Commission] to produce a voter register is likely to produce a lot of problems," he added.

The figures show that population growth in Nigeria is currently running at 3.3 percent and the overall population figure has nearly doubled since the last count in 1991.