Data and planning: The Nigerian experience

Like everyone else, the Nigerian government and her development partners need good data on basic development metrics. To be of value, such data must be accurate, timely, dis-aggregated and widely available. Unfortunately, this is not the case in this country.

Without mincing words, data (especially data of good quality), are essential for both government and institutions to accurately plan, fund and evaluate development activities.

Regrettably, most development strategies ever adopted for use in Nigeria have been the same, with slight differences in their objectives, they are just mere nomenclature, and that is why the problem of under-development has persisted.

We are often pursued with myriad of questions as to why Nigeria has remained on the same spot when nations that just recently came into international scene have already been able to sort themselves out by overcoming the challenge of underdevelopment.

But in spite of the huge endowment in Nigeria (natural and human) the develoment situation remains unresolved.

A case in point is the unemployment data meant to be released since February by the National Bureau of statistics (NBS). Till date the data are not available.

Meanwhile, NBS has continued to feed the World Bank and other agencies with inaccurate reports

It is incontestable that basic development indicators are essential for an accurate picture of a country’s development status. This includes a country’s progress towards specific development goals and improving its citizens’ socio-economic conditions. In fact, solutions to socio-economic problems are often inseparable from the statistics. Data so to say is very important for planning.

For instance, you cannot build schools without knowing how many children need to be enrolled. Private investors also need to know what resources are available in a given country before putting in their money. A country needs to know what it grows and where to prevent famine. Donors can only know whether their aid is changing lives if they have data.

In general, development programmes entail measurable results. Hence, development decisions should be informed by data. But more importantly this data must be turned into information that is easy to understand and useful to end users. We sometimes hear people say, “The data speak for themselves.” But more often than not, in Nigeria, they don’t.

Data are the first, crucial step. Then you need smart, objective analysis to make sense of the data to shape the narrative. Once the data supply side is up to par, the hope is that decision makers at all levels will increasingly demand relevant information to lay the foundation for policy making and budgeting.

Given the circumstances, one can imagine how difficult it is for the various levels of government in Nigeria to make data-driven decisions. This situation is often compounded by the lack of an entrenched culture of data use. More often than not it is difficult to ascertain existing programmes’ effectiveness or whether available resources are being allocated to address the most urgent and serious development issues.

We vividly remember how Nigeria became the biggest economy in Africa overnight in 2014. This happened simply on account of changing the method of calculating Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – the so-called re-basing. The review ought to have been carried out every three or five years. But in this case it wasn’t and hasn’t been done for decades.

This suggests that for years, decisions in one of Africa’s largest economies were based on data that were not credible or accurate or timely. This is the sad story of many countries in the continent. In 2015, 65 percent of the Millennium Development Goals’ indicators for countries in Central Africa were either estimates, derived from statistical models, or were last measured prior to 2010 – more than 10 years ago.

The truth is that data in Nigeria and some African countries are not produced on time, are not frequently produced, are of poor quality and are not accurate. This makes it difficult to make data-driven decisions.

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Actually, the paucity of accurate, reliable and timely data has been a recurring issue. It continues to be a major constraint to the effective monitoring and evaluation of interventions and development programmes across many of the states and local governments.

A case in point is the unemployment data meant to be released since February by the National Bureau of statistics (NBS). Till date the data are not available.

Meanwhile, NBS has continued to feed the World Bank and other agencies with inaccurate reports.

Estimates on health and other socio-economic outcomes are often uncertain and are not systematically produced. This makes it difficult to generate evidence about the effectiveness of existing policy.

Although there have been gains in the frequency and quality of censuses and household surveys over the past 50 years, the building blocks of national statistical systems remain weak.

The building blocks fundamental to the calculation of almost any major economic or social welfare indicator include data on: births and deaths, growth and poverty, taxes and trade, land and the environment, and sickness, schooling, and safety.

As of 2013, none of the 60 countries with complete vital registration is in Africa. This is an issue government at all tiers should address in order to drastically improve data systems and quality of data needed for development.

For example, increased domestic funding and allocation ensure predictable budget, and better experiment in pay-for-performance agreements with donor funding. Also, efforts should be made to enhance the autonomy of national statistical offices. Priority should also be given to the core attributes of data building blocks: accuracy, timeliness, relevance and availability.

To achieve this, authorities must build quality control mechanism, and open data accountability for improving data quality.

These changes must be initiated and led by government at the various levels. Donors and local civil society groups also have major roles to play.

In doing this, building synergy among the various stakeholders would definitely strengthen the relationship between and among donors, governments and the producers of statistics. They should work in harmony with the NBS and other relevant agencies for the good of the country as far as planning is concerned.

Definitely, we cannot afford to continue with business as usual. Data are crucial to development, therefore, it should be the nucleus of our planning efforts as we strive for development. Anything short of this only means that we are baying at the moon and therefore wasting our time.

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