March 23, 2006

Nigerian separatists attack census staff with acid

By Chukwujama Eze

ENUGU, Nigeria (Reuters) - Nigerian separatists have
attacked census officials with acid and machetes in a violent
campaign for the southeastern region to boycott the headcount,
human rights campaigners said on Thursday.

Members of the Movement for the Actualization of a
Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) attacked at least seven
officials in the market town of Onitsha in Anambra state on
Wednesday, the second day of the census in Africa's most
populous country.

"I counted at least seven enumerators who came to report at
the police station yesterday that they were attacked with
acid," said Uzor A. Uzor of the Civil Liberties Organization.

One of the victims, Felicia Nwachukwu, said three MASSOB
members on a motorbike sprayed acid onto her back and attacked
a colleague with machetes before speeding off.

"We were numbering houses when they came and poured acid on
me and slashed my colleague's hand," she said.

In the neighboring state of Enugu, five census takers were
beaten or macheted and one car burned by MASSOB members trying
to stop people from being counted, police and victims said.

"Four of us were going out for the census when a group
descended on us and started attacking us with machetes and
other weapons," said Emeka Aniowo, whose head and arms were in
bandages, from his hospital bed in Enugu.

There were reports of intimidation of census officials and
residents by members of the group in other southeastern states.

MASSOB is campaigning for the southeast, dominated by the
Ibo tribe, to become an independent state under the name
Biafra. The group says the Ibo, Nigeria's third biggest ethnic
group, should not be counted in the census because they are

At least six MASSOB activists were killed in a clash with
police on Tuesday after they tried to stop people from being
counted in the town of Nnewi in Anambra state.

Elsewhere, the five-day census, which runs until Saturday,
was being hampered mostly by logistical problems.

The count, Nigeria's first in 15 years, did not start on
time in many parts of the country because census takers
complained they had not been paid or had not received
sufficient materials.

The problems were ironed out by day two in Lagos, the
biggest city, but in some other areas there were still reports
of delays and arguments on day three.

The logistical difficulties increased the pressure on
organizers who also have to contend with political tensions
that have derailed several previous headcounts.

Censuses are fraught in Nigeria because rival ethnic and
religious groups have tried to use them to assert their
numerical superiority and claim a larger chunk of oil revenues
and political representation.

Five people were killed in southwestern Ondo state last
weekend in fighting linked to the census between two ethnic
groups over ownership of a village.

(Additional reporting by Tume Ahemba in Lagos)