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Controversy over population of Nigerian Muslims: Pew Forum responds to Saturday Vanguard story

PEW Forum on Religion and Public Life, a Washington DC-based independent, non-partisan research organization which released its controversial October 2009 finding recently, saying that 50 per cent of Nigerians are Muslims, has responded to criticisms from the Christian fold in Nigeria.

The Christian Community, last week, voiced its opposition to the figures, saying that the research which says the population of Muslims in the country is about 78 million representing half of the population, lacked any empirical data since the last population census did not contain questions on religion.

The National President of PFN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor and the General Overseer of Total Gospel Bible Church, Lagos, Rev. Sunday Akingbelure had condemned the figures, saying the Forum must tell the world how they come up with such figures.

In a reaction to the story, the Pew Forum has attempted to explain the source of their figures and how the research is done, saying that the Forum is non-partisan.

A letter signed by one Brian Grim, a senior researcher at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and a lead author of “Mapping the Global Muslim Population: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Muslim Population,” states inter alia:

“I am writing in response to the October 10 article PFN Disagrees that 50% Nigerians are Muslims, in which Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, the national president of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, reacted to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life’s recent report titled “Mapping the Global Muslim Population.”

“First, I would like to point out that the Pew Forum estimates the total number of Muslims worldwide at 1.57 billion (see page 1 of the report), not the 1.8 billion figure cited in the article.

“In addition, I would like to explain how the Pew Forum estimated that Muslims make up approximately 50% of the Nigerian population. As was the case with about half of the countries in the world, Nigeria did not include questions on religious affiliation in its most recent census. In such instances, the Pew Forum relied on religious affiliation questions from other recent large-scale demographic surveys.

“In Nigeria’s case, we used the 2003 Nigerian Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), which is the third such survey conducted in Nigeria as part of this worldwide series of surveys (see page 50 of the report, under “Appendix C: Data Sources by Country”).

“The 2003 NDHS was designed to provide a nationally representative estimate of population and health indicators for women ages 15 to 49 and men ages 15 to 59, based on a sample of 7,864 households interviewed throughout all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.

“To ensure appropriate linguistic and cultural diversity, Nigeria’s National Population Commission recruited more than 100 people from all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory to serve as supervisors, field editors, male and female interviewers, quality_control personnel and reserve interviewers.

“The Pew Forum conducted secondary analysis of the NDHS data, but it was not involved in the administration or organization of the survey.

“The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life is an independent, non-partisan organization and does not take positions on policy debates. It studies public opinion, demographics and other important aspects of religion and public life in the United States and around the world.

“Based in Washington, D.C., the Pew Forum is a project of the Pew Research Center, a non-partisan “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. The Center is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, based in Philadelphia, Pa.

Feeling betrayed by the immediate past president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the Christian community alleged that they were cowed into acceding to the pleas of their Muslim counterparts who wanted the religious clause removed from the 2006 census data.
Speaking to our reporter, Rev. Akingbelure disagreed with the Pew Forum figures, saying they do not represent the realities on ground in the country. “I travel to almost all the states of the federation to preach and I can tell you that the population of Christians in this nation far, outnumber the population of Muslims,” he said, stressing “I might not be able to tell you the exact figure of Christians but I know that the number of Pentecostals is more than the population of Muslims.”


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