It is common knowledge that without reliable data onimportant socio-economic indices, a country's government cannot adequately or accurately plan for its citizens. For Nigeria, apart from corruptionthis is where the greatest challenge to development lies; the unavailability of reliable data which integrity is assured,that would enable policy makers plan and make important decisions.
This dearth of data, while generally not directly linked to Nigeria's inability to plan for development, is a disheartening embarrassment for the country, with international organisations refusing to rely on data generated by Nigerians in Nigeria, instead chose to undertake independent surveys. This is not surprising, because government agencies such as the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) that produce official statistics for the country, often present conflicting data.
We recall for example, that in 2011 the Minister of Finance NgoziOkonjo-Iweali and Minister of Trade and Investment OlusegunAganga had reportedly given conflicting figures on the unemployment rate in the country on the same day. While one had given the employment rate as 21%, the other had put it at between 14 and 16%. We recall Lagos state's grousewith the last census figures thatgave the state's population as 9 million.The 2012 dispute among government agencies regarding the actual bill for fuel subsidy in 2011 is still fresh in our minds.
The data problem does not stop at lack of reliability, and inter-agency conflict. Stakeholders have been complaining about lack of business and investment data. In January this year the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry had lamented that much needed business and investment statistics that would help in strategic planning for businesses and help with decision making for investors is lacking in the country. Other sectors are affected as well; from a lack of comprehensive data for the assessment of health care delivery in the country, to the neglect of other social areas such as social challenges of women and children, adequate data is lacking.
There is also the issue of the lack of timely information. Often, the only statistics available for the use of both the private and public sector decision makers is dated from between two and five years. This is unacceptable, and something needs to be done.We note that already, policy makers have begun acknowledging the problem. In arecently published journal article, the Deputy Governor, Economic Policy of the CBN, Mrs Sarah Alade, affirmed how critical quality, timely and reliable information is to the development of the country. She alsohighlighted some of the causes of the problem, including inadequate funding to the NBS, low technical know-how and uncoordinated data collection strategy.
For Nigeria to achieve sustainable development therefore, the country's data gathering and information dissemination system must be overhauled. The system needs to be strengthened and its integrity protected because this is a prerequisite for international investment and support.Data gathering agencies must be adequately funded, and their data collection strategies well coordinated and developed along best practices around the world. This also required if we are to challenge those figures that rate us low all the time.The capacity of the manpower in these agencies must be regularly developed and well remunerated.