Religion and ethnicity will, for the first time, be included in the parameters used in Nigeria’s 2016 census, officially bringing to the fore the two variables believed to be at the core of disunity in Africa’s most populous country.
"If you don’t describe Nigerians in relation to ethnicity and religion and other parameters, then you are not describing them because we are proud of ethnicity and religion even if that is at a low level," Festus Odimegwu, the chairman of the National Population Commission (NPC), told reporters.
Nigeria last had a population census in 2006, putting the population at 140 million, a figure now being discredited even by Odimegwu, a leading businessman with notoriety for having worked with former president Olusegun Obasanjo to manipulate the constitution to give the latter a third term.
The decision to include religion and ethnicity is the first in Nigeria’s 53 years of political independence as previous population counts avoided the two sensitive issues, which many fear could worsen ethno-religious profiling.
All classifications of Nigerians along ethno-religious lines were not done by the government but by agencies gathering independent data.
The country is currently gripped by anger and debate over the decision of the government in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, to "deport" some persons of Igbo origin to their native Anambra State, unwittingly provoking tribal sentiments nationwide.
Igbo is one of Nigeria’s three major tribes.
The other two are Yoruba, in Southwest, and Hausa-Fulani in the North.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, has up to 250 ethnic groupings and languages.
Muslims reportedly make up half the population of Nigeria and are concentrated in the north, while Christians constitute the majority in the south.
Good for Planning
Odimegwu said the decision to include religion and ethnicity in the census will help government to better plan.
"You need those data to plan for building mosque, churches, cathedrals, planning pilgrimages, planning nomadic education and if you don’t have those data you can never plan those things well," he maintained.
"These things will be sources of stealing money, they will put a wrong figure there, and when you put money they will embezzle it."
Odimegwu said such data would be good for business.
"If you are going to market border with something with pork and you don’t make a jurisdiction of Muslims in the 200,000 localities, you will commit a marketing blunder to go and launch it where Muslims are and maybe they eat it by mistake without knowing that there is pork," he noted.
"When they find out it is pork, do you know what they are going to do? They will quarrel with your company but if you have the data, you don’t go where there are high Muslim populations, you go where there are high Christian populations so they can have their pork and you can develop a new product for this."
- Rifaat al-Assad, Syria's vice president in the 1980s, has also been accused of embezzlement
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