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The Census Crisis: 1963–64

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The 1962 national census was not the first in Nigeria to become embroiled in suspicion and controversy. Previous attempts to count the Nigerian population had met with popular distrust and resistance, accusations of regional bias and favouritism, and widespread suspicion of the results. These had all been sharply reflected in the most recent and professional census to date, that conducted in 1952 and 1953. Widely suspected as a plot to increase the tax burden or to spy on families and their property, the 1952–53 census was avoided by many Nigerians, and became engulfed in political controversy when the results, showing a majority of Nigerians in the Northern Region, were used to justify the assignment of half the seats in the Federal legislature to the North. Southern politicians alleged that the British administrators had inflated the Northern population figures ‘to ensure that political power in the country remained with the northern politicians’ (Aluko, 1965: 372–6).


  • Prime Minister
  • Population Figure
  • Federal Election
  • Political Class
  • Census Figure

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‘Since the mere publication of the census figures precludes a leader of a major political party from aspiring to the leadership of the nation, something must be wrong with the set-up in Nigeria when one can already know that he has won and his opponent lost a general election on the basis of census figures.’-Dr Michael Okpara, National President, NCNC, and Premier, Eastern Region, 9 March 1964 (quoted in Mackintosh, 1966: 556)

‘I have no doubt whatever … that the Northern People’s Congress has come to stay and to continue to stay and is going to rule the Federation of Nigeria for ever.’-Alhaji M. Kokori Abdul, Parliamentary Secretary, Northern House of Assembly, 4 March 1964 (quoted in Nwankwo and Ifejika, 1969: 54)

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© 1988 Larry Diamond

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Diamond, L. (1988). The Census Crisis: 1963–64. In: Class, Ethnicity and Democracy in Nigeria. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

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