Development as a process is a goal for different economies globally. The development itself is assessed based on the past, the present, and an outlook for the future.
Investigation, analysis, and achievements are assessed based on statistics and the data sets available. Research, analysis, forecast, and economic predictions are impossible without available and accurate data over a specific area of interest. Nigeria since independence has had challenges in the areas of data availability. When they are available, they are mostly inaccurate.
Researchers, academia, private and government sectors have had reports, investigations, research, and publications premised on the wrong data sets. There has also been a challenge with institutions saddled with the responsibility of providing data being independent parastatals and devoid of political interference to ensure the authenticity of their data. All vital government agencies have research and statistics departments, but how efficient are they?
What method or approach do they use in collecting these data? Does the data conform with actual realities or are they doctored, assumed, and just replicated? These are major concerns to analysts, researchers, policymakers and planners, the private sector, government, and ordinary Nigerians.
Data when inaccurate make a mockery of research, forecast, or economic plans. Inaccurate data is equivalent to or as good as no data. Foreign institutions like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), United Nations, and a few others conduct training and programmes for researchers and statisticians in public and private sectors to improve on data collection techniques and modern methods in data publications. Despite these efforts, it remains to be seen whether these methods are strictly adhered to or implemented in real terms. Institutions like the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Ministry of Finance, Nigerian Population Commission (NPC), and a few others have struggled to get the right data that is a true reflection of current reality.
On some occasions, these agencies have published data that contradict themselves, foreign institutions, and the views of analysts even though researchers who must conduct studies or research are left with no option but to make do with what is available and provided even though they seem inaccurate sometimes. The statement of the minister of labour and employment , Chris Ngige accusing the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) of its data publication on unemployment in 2021 is a clear example that there is a battle for independence of these data between the government and its institutions who are supposed to be independent with no interference in their activities.
Some government agencies have been accused of adopting desk research from the comfort of their offices rather than market research in identifying the real status of issues in the economy. This approach affects the reliability and validity of the data. Some analysts have argued that the Nigerian population is not a true reflection of reality as population figures are awarded to states for political reasons. Why some scholars have argued that Nigeria’s population is far above the current estimated figure of 208 million people due to the manual method used during the census which failed to properly capture everyone, porous borders with no proper records for migration, a poor database for birth and death rate among other reasons, some have argued that Nigeria’s population is not even close to 200 million due to a total number of registered voters not being up to 85 million as at 2019 election, and the number of Nigerians who enrolled for National Identification Number and number of mobile SIM card users in Nigeria all showing a figure far lower than the current population figure. Why these are arguable, one must admit that Nigeria has a poor database and lacks modern techniques and technology used in data collection.
There are certain data that are not available in Nigeria, as they are either not considered necessary or there is a problem of conceptual disaggregation or they are embedded under other data intentionally or ignorantly. Government social intervention programme like N5,000 Conditional Cash Transfer exposes the problem of data as there are no accurate and verifiable statistics of who are the extremely poor Nigerians or who should be the beneficiaries. There is no comprehensiveness in data available or they are not even available. Government must improve its data collection techniques in Nigeria and ensure they are accurate and reflective of present-day reality devoid of political interference. Digitalisation of data collection methods must be a priority starting with the next population census, and the 2023 general election. There must be transparency in data collection and publication as data is a vital aspect in planning, developing, and policy implementation for a developing economy like Nigeria.
Alikor Victor is a development & health economist