There is a new sheriff in town.
Last month, the Federal Government appointed Dr Simon Harry as the new Statistician-General of the country, taking over from Dr Yemi Kale as the head of the National Bureau of Statistics.
For many fans of his predecessor, Dr Harry has big shoes to fill going by how well Dr Kale ran the Bureau taking it from a largely opaque parastatal to one that has helped drive economic growth through timely release of data.
In comparison, Dr. Harry seems to have started on a wrong footing.
Local media in Nigeria who track the National Bureau of Statistics’ data got their first shocker when foreign media outlets first published Nigeria’s Foreign Trade data. Before now, the Bureau will publish a calendar that includes the date and time the data will be published, giving everyone, including the general public, equal access to Nigeria’s sovereign data. Rather, it appears someone in the Bureau gave the information to foreign media organizations ahead of the local media.
For those, who may have thought that was a blip, the bureau did it again on Wednesday, September 15, 2021, when Reuters first published Nigeria’s Inflation rate data. The data was not on the website of the NBS as was the usual norm and was only made public hours after Reuters had first reported it.
Just a month after Kale left the helm, Dr Harry seems to be upending a well-accepted and respected process for publishing Nigeria’s macroeconomic data.
Section 27, subsection 3 of the Statistics Act of 2007 requires the Bureau to publish in advance data to be produced together with the date for the release of the data and all data producing agencies including the Bureau will be required to have a data release policy, to be made publicly available. The Bureau under the leadership of Kale has largely complied with this provision, pushing timely calendars of days data will be published and making sure everyone gets it at the same time. This is also the industry global standard in national statistical reporting.
Government agencies also have a knack for releasing information to foreign media agencies at the expense of their local counterparts denying the local media an opportunity to compete for information even in one area where they should naturally be at an advantage. From granting interviews to giving exclusive information on matters of the economy and polity, foreign media seem to have a greater advantage over their local counterparts. The NBS is compounding this with the latest release of data as important as inflation to foreign media firms.
Apart, from the optics, the implications are bad for local businesses and investment firms who rely on data like this to make business and investment decisions. That a foreign media organization got this information before everyone else especially gives their premium subscribers an undue advantage over the local ones. Information they say is power, and those who have it first can always use it to their commercial advantage. Data like the inflation rate should never be issued to a select set of agencies before making it public. It is against the natural law of competition for sovereign data.
We hope that this is just a teething problem associated with the change of leadership and as such, we will return to equal dissemination of data by the National Bureau of Statistics.