Cablegate: Many Southerners Are Unhappy About the National

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

291412Z Aug 05




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: With barely three months until the
scheduled national census, several southern Nigerian groups
have threatened to boycott the exercise to protest the
exclusion of information on religious affiliation and
ethnicity from the census process. Many Southerners (mostly
Christian) want these categories to be included in the data
collection because they believe that Northerners
(predominantly Moslem) have arrogated more than their fair
share of political power and government patronage based on
inflated population numbers to the detriment of the South.
GON continues to stand firm on excluding these data from the
process. However there now appears to be some GON waffling on
the scheduling of the census. A Southern boycott of the
census would erode the credibility of the exercise. End

2. (U) On November 29 and 30, the GON Population Commission
(NPC) is scheduled to conduct a long-awaited census to
determine Nigeria's population. The Commission said it was
determined to conduct a census truly reflective of Nigerian
population distribution. Commission Chairman Samu,ila Makama
announced new guidelines that he said would effectively
address the criticism generated by the last census.
Specifically, he announced that information on ethnicity and
religion, the inclusion of which was a source of friction
during the previous census, would not be collected in the
2005 process. He said such data constitutes a threat to peace
and unity, as rival religious and ethnic groups compete for
numerical superiority. &It is safer to ignore religion and
ethnicity since there would be the temptation by each group
to explore ways to have an edge over the other,8 Makama

3. (SBU) Rather than assuage feelings, the new approach has
aggravated some Southern religious and ethnic groups. Several
southern groups rejected the new guidelines and vowed not to
participate in the exercise, arguing that a national census
that omits data on ethnicity and religious affiliation will
be meaningless. A true census, they insist, must reflect the
multi-cultural nature of a country.

4. (SBU) Ohaneze Ndigbo, the most influential of the pan-Igbo
social-political groups, has threatened to lead Igbos out of
the exercise unless the census forms include state of origin,
language group, religious affiliation, ethnic group, gender,
and age. Igbos consider themselves as Nigeria's primary
entrepreneurs and traders. In many areas Igbos claim to be
the second or third largest ethnic group, although not
indigenous to their communities. Thus, Igbos feel a census
that ignores ethnicity will significantly undercount them
since so many Igbos live outside their traditional
southeastern homeland. They see this as an attempt to
continue to short change them; political offices and
government revenues are parceled out to regions and states,
in large measure, based on their population. Afenifere, a
similar group representing the Yoruba viewpoint, also warned
that its members might boycott the census if demographic data
are not included. Yinka Odumakin, Afenifere,s General
Secretary, told PolSpec the huge financial resources

committed to the census would amount to a waste if vital
issues like ethnicity and religion are not included.

5. (U) Religious groups have also been speaking out. In
April, the Methodist Church of Nigeria issued a statement
opposing the exclusion of religion and ethnicity from the
census process. Likewise, the Christian Association of
Nigeria (CAN) threatened to boycott the census if religion
and ethnicity were excluded. CAN General Secretary Saidu
Dogo told journalists in Lagos that both variables were vital
to development and unity in any country, including Nigeria.

6. (SBU) The new approach has also generated controversy in
government circles. On January 15, governors from the
Southeastern zone issued a resolution criticizing the
exclusion of the two variables. The governors vowed to
mobilize against the exercise if the issues of ethnicity and
religion were not addressed. They argued that since many
major national issues are adjudicated on the basis of
ethnicity and religion, the census must include these
factors. However, on August 13 these same Southeast governors
did a volte-face, expressing their "total support" for the
head count and advising citizens of the Southeast to
participate in the exercise. (Comment: Pressure from the
ruling PDP, to which all five governors belong, probably
caused the gubernatorial change of heart. End comment.)

7. (SBU) COMMENT: A population census in any representative
democracy is always electrified. In Nigeria it has a few
added and highly charged dimensions. Historically, Northern
Nigeria has dominated national politics. Part of the
rationale justifying this arrangement was that the North had
more people. An ancillary maxim was that Muslims outnumbered
Christians. Many Southerners and Christians dispute these
claims. They want to use the census to prove themselves
right. In the Nigerian political culture, whichever group or
region can claim numerical majority also has superior claim
on political leadership. In a nutshell, that is what this
census is about. That is why Nigeria has never had a
crisis-free census. Previous exercises have always been
followed with criticisms by groups that felt &cheated.8
This exercise, currently scheduled for November, is not
likely to be different. But this time the Southerners believe
they have the numbers to tip the balance in their favor. End

© Scoop Media

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