National Data Gathering & Call For All-Inclusive Approach

Isaac Oluyi
Isaac Oluyi

“Information is the oil of the 21st century and analytics is the combustion engine.” – Senior vice-president and global head of research at Gartner, Inc., Peter Sondergaard.

There is a significant claim that data has overtaken oil as the most valuable resource in the world. The veracity of this assertion is not the focal point of this discussion; rather, it is the importance of data in national growth and development. If data plays such a crucial role in planning, managing, and developing economies, then the process of mining and analysing it must adhere to global best practices. Anything to the contrary becomes laughable and an exercise in futility that leads to nowhere.
In a recent release of unemployment statistics by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria’s unemployment rate stood at 5.3 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2022 and 4.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2023 (according to the Nigeria Labour Force Survey (NLFS) report for Q4 2022 and Q1 2023). This should be cause for celebration, but the reality of the nation’s economy contradicts the released data. As expected, it ignited a heated debate. While some viewed the development as a sign of positive change in the country, many saw it as a statistical sleight of hand meant to deceive the nation into believing that our economy is improving.

Considering that, in March 2021, the NBS reported that Nigeria’s unemployment rate had soared to 33.3 per cent, translating to approximately 23.2 million people, marking the highest in at least 13 years and the second-highest rate in the world, one might wonder what has truly changed to account for this dramatic shift. Thankfully, the NBS explained that “it has enhanced its methodology of collecting labour market data through the Nigeria Labour Force Survey (NLFS) in line with International Labour Organisation (ILO) guidelines.” As plausible as this explanation may be, it raises important questions: What methodology has the Institute used until now? What enhancements have been made? What were the implications of the previously released unemployment data on our economy? What will be the implications of the recently released data for the nation’s economy moving forward? It is crucial to answer these questions to avoid continuing to plan and manage our economy using a trial-and-error approach.

If, indeed, information is the ‘oil of the 21st century’ and Nigeria wishes to remain relevant globally, there is an urgent need to standardise the methodology used for data collection to align with global best practices. Furthermore, the NBS should collaborate with other institutions that gather data in various sectors of the economy. For example, data on science, technology, and innovation, an area with a significant impact on the economy, must be harnessed and harmonized with the NBS’s economic data. Fragmented statistics on unemployment, the economy, science, technology and innovation, among others, will only impede the nation’s development. Therefore, the NBS should collaborate with institutions like the National Centre for Technology Management (NACETEM), which focuses on science, technology and innovation (STI) indicators. This collaboration can help benchmark Nigeria’s position in comparison to other countries in the deployment of STIs for sustainable development. A significant shift is needed in our approach. We cannot continue with a one-size-fits-all method. Data across the critical sectors of our economy should be harmonised to provide real-time insights. Inter-agency collaborations should be encouraged to ensure that the government’s efforts in revitalizing our hope for a better and more robust nation are realised.

The data market is enormous, with estimates suggesting that by 2025, the big data market will be worth a staggering $229.4 billion. The data industry is flourishing and those skilled in working with data are in high demand. To avoid the release of controversial data as a nation, attention must shift to the training and retraining of data experts in line with global best practices. Development and data are intertwined; they cannot be separated. To achieve genuine development, we need reliable data collected in accordance with globally accepted standards. As a nation, we are blessed with abundant resources that can position us among the world’s leading nations. All we need is the ability to accurately quantify our resources to determine where we stand, with a clear vision of reaching our desired destination.

Furthermore, moving forward, data science should be included in the national curriculum for secondary schools. Early exposure to the significance of data will not only pique students’ interest but also contribute to increasing the number of experts in the field that the nation will have in the future. Big data is critical to sustainable development, and any nation serious about achieving sustainable development must prioritize obtaining reliable data. To this end, the NBS and stakeholders in the STI sector and beyond need to wake up and take data gathering and analysis more seriously, recognising the far-reaching impacts of data on development.

Isaac Oluyi
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