A nation in dire need of a central database

database, according to Wikipedia, is an organized collection of data. And a centralized database is a database located and maintained in one location, unlike a distributed database.

Since Nigeria’s independence in 1960, we have not been able to conduct a reliable and acceptable census and as a result of this, it has not been easy to have a central database that is accurate and comprehensive that can allow us as a nation to plan for the present and future.

In his book Building a Nation, Dennis C. Osadebay stressed that “There had always been doubts as to ascertain the population of the country. There had always been doubts as to the real population of Nigeria, even in the colonial days”.

To buttress what Osadebay pointed out in that book published in 1978, a certain chairman of Nigeria Population Census (NPC) once said, “No census has been credible in Nigeria since 1816. Even the one conducted in 2006 is not credible. I have the records and evidence produced by scholars and professors of repute. This is not my report. If the current laws are not amended, the planned 2016 census will not succeed.”

After making the above statement, the presidency through the office of Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) issued a query to Festus Odimegwu, the said NPC chairman, and eventually booted him out. But beyond the query and he eventual sack of the NPC boss, one had expected the Federal Government to ask for the records that Odimegwu was referring to and work towards a solution so as to give Nigerians a credible census come 2016.

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By merely looking at the year of Nigeria’s censuses so far (1952, 1963, 1991, 2006), one would easily decipher that there has not been a consistent frequency pattern or continuity in the way the country has conducted its censuses. Just calculate the gap between 1952 and 1963, 1963 and 1991, and between 1991 and 2006, and the picture becomes clearer. Internationally, a census is usually conducted within intervals of ten years.

However, beyond the population census issue, Nigeria needs a central database that will contain the necessary information about Nigerians and Nigeria, not multiple collections by many agencies for unknown or even untenable purposes.

Currently, the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) is working at installing a comprehensive data for the country through its National Identification Number (NIN) project. The country has also witnessed data capturing by different agencies like Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) through the telecommunication companies, and so on. It also appears the NPC is preparing for the 2016 census just as the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) is also giving the impression of a government agency at work. Yet none of these agencies (in the same country) can refer to one another to get single accurate information.

A typical example is the controversial Police Central Motor Registry (BCMR) which is unnecessary and untenable compared with data capturing that FRSC has also introduced. Citing legal backing in Section 3 (2-6) of Road Traffic Act, Cap 548, the police explained that the digital BCMR would operate on smart card and portable hand-held receiver – a device attaching vehicle owner’s unique traits and personal data to their vehicles for proper identification and protection. But the police authorities have failed to convince the public about the edge the new system would have over the database being built by the FRSC virtually for the same purpose.

Therefore, to build a reliable integrated database in Nigeria, all government agencies and parastatals that deal with collection of one data or the other must work together to complement one another and not to compete with one another. The Federal Ministry of Health, for instance, should be able to give the accurate records of the birth and death rate in the country by collaborating with the Ministries of Health in the 36 states of the federation. The ministry must also have the accurate number and location of all the hospitals and health centres (public and private) across the nation in addition to the number of doctors and other health workers in the country.

In the same vein, the Federal Ministry of Education should also provide detailed information regarding the education system in the country, e.g., number and location of schools, number of pupils, teachers, etc.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry must also follow suit by giving the accurate number of Nigerians in diaspora and their base country. Nigeria Immigration Service, on its part, should also have the correct records of all the aliens and refugees (legal and illegal) in the country, while Nigeria Customs should also have the complete records of the entire vehicles and other goods (legal and illegal) that are entering Nigerian shores.

Nigeria Directorate of Employment (NDE) must also have the accurate records of unemployed people across the country, just as other federal ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) are expected to have accurate records in their various domains. The above mentioned agencies like NCC, NBS, NIMC, etc must work together or some of them be merged (as recommended by the Oronsaye Committee) for the common good of Nigeria.

Ultimately, the Federal Ministry of Interior, which should necessarily have the ultimate repository of all data about Nigerians and Nigeria, must work closely with all the agencies that have to do with collection of data for proper integration and coordination. The ministry must also support and encourage NPC to conduct a credible and reliable census without sentiment come 2016 and make sure there is continuity and consistency every ten years. It is also the duty of the ministry to work with NPC, INEC and other agencies to upgrade their data by always deleting the names of the dead and registering the names of new-borns or those that are just attaining 18 years of age as stipulated by the Acts establishing each of agency.

One of the advantages of the centralized database is the ability to access all the information in one location, which will help the Nigeria Police and other security agencies to effectively fight crime because it will be easy to locate anyone that commits a crime if such a person’s data have been captured by one agency or the other. A centralized database will also help to reduce the burden of different levies on Nigerian masses by different agencies, because instead of an agency to embark on data capture, such an agency can easily refer to the Federal Ministry of Interior to get the needed information either on population, number of vehicles, schools, workers, retirees, birth rate, death rate, etc.

Lastly, a centralized database will help the three tiers of government to know what social amenities are lacking in different communities of Nigeria and how to provide them.

At 55, Nigeria should be aspiring to join the comity of developed and organized nations, and one way to achieve this is by having a centralized database so that we can plan today to have a better future.

John Tosin Ajiboye

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