Nigeria started a two-week exercise on Tuesday to register an estimated 60 million adults aged at least 18 years so as to give them national identity cards, officials said.
The exercise involves more than 240,000 officials at 60,000 registration centres nationwide who will take photographs and finger prints of every eligible adult. They will subsequently be issued with identity cards.
"We are going to use the national identity card scheme as a reliable comprehensive data base to plan for the present and future generations," Minister of Information Jerry Gana told reporters in the capital, Abuja, on Monday. "It will also be very useful in our fight against crimes and to detect aliens in our midst."
The identity card scheme was initiated in 1978, but failed to take off even though successive regimes spent hundreds of millions of dollars on controversial contracts amid allegations of corruption.
President Olusegun Obasanjo's government, elected in 1999, initially wanted the cards to be used to identify voters in coming general elections. However, the plan was shelved after vigourous opposition by influential pressure groups from the country's mainly Muslim north.
Some of the groups said the mostly illiterate masses of the region would be confused by the use of the identity cards to the advantage of the more literate and mainly Christian south. But critics of this argument contend that the plan's detractors were afraid the identity cards would unmask the inflation of population figures in the region during previous national censuses.
The 25-year delay suffered by the exercise was partly the result of tensions and mutual suspicions between north and south.
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