Garbage in – garbage out, was the moral to the very engaging speech given by Dr Yemi Kale, the statistician general for the federation and CEO of Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). He gave the speech at the Chatham house London, titled RIGHT DATA, RIGHT POLICY? INNOVATIONS IN DATA COLLECTION AND DISSEMINATION IN NIGERIA.
The speech focused on the availability and accuracy of data in Nigeria and how it had become central to resolving multifaceted governance challenges in the country and it’s critical role to improving transparency and decision-making.
The 2014 rebasing of Nigeria’s GDP, an exercise chaired by Dr. Kale, saw Nigeria become the largest economy in Africa but also shed some light on the potential extent of gaps in data and understanding of policy contexts resulting from informal activity and challenges to data collection in Nigeria.
The key to Africa’s progress relies on policies informed by reliable and timely data, which is of paramount importance to assure good governance and accountability, and helps to inform decision-making and capital allocation within the private sector.
However, should the eventual data process be flawed either at the methodology design, collection or analysis phases, this would lead to faulty diagnosis of the issues and ultimately result in poor policy formulation. This is the view of Dr. Kale, who shared the efforts of the NBS, since he assumed office; taking data dissemination from expensive hard copies, which users were made to pay for, to prompt and free reports on the NBS website.
“I recall discovering when I assumed office that whatever little data was being produced wasn’t been disseminated. Data users were being made to part with unofficial fees to collect data. Limited resources were being used to produce hard copies of heavy pages of hundreds of pages of data.
“Firstly, they were very heavy. Secondly they were very expensive to produce so not enough copies were available. Thirdly, because they were so heavy, it was difficult to disseminate and expensive to produce and send across the country. By the time the big document was produced there wasn’t any money left to send it all over the place. This meant people had to come to the headquarters and were forced to part with unofficial fees to access the reports.
“The first thing I did was to convert the hard copies to electronic form, revamp the website and put it all up for free. That cut off the unofficial fees to the annoyance of some people. This also expanded dissemination and freed the resources used to produce the copies to produce more data.
He also spoke about the funding challenges the Bureau had to overcome over the years, saying, “When I assumed office about four years ago 95% of data being produced was funded by international development agencies. Dissemination of whatever was produced was accordingly restricted to making it available to the funder who would choose how it was disseminated if at all.”
He continued by saying “The power of the funder will also have an impact on the choice of methodology as the independence to dictate appropriate and unbiased methodology by the statistical office was diminished.
“Thus, one of the first actions I had to take when I resumed office was to weaken the influence the funders had on the choice of indicators and methodology despite their threat of pilling funding. I called their bluff and reminded them the data was of no use to us at the National Statistics Office so were free to withdraw funding to their detriment not ours.
“When the funding was pulled and I didn’t as much as call them or even acknowledge their action they came the next month back with the funding appealing to us to get the data for them in any way we felt was appropriate as the legal authoritative source and custodian of data and methodologies and processed.
He also opined that the nation’s vision informs it’s policies, now these policies are derived from an indepth understanding of it’s environment, which in-turn is derived or should be derived from credible data.
The ability to make effective decisions is crucial to an organization’s survival in today’s tumultuous business environment. In order for firms to evaluate alternatives and make informed choices they must have reliable and timely data upon which to make their decisions, and this makes the duties of the NBS very important to national development and growth.