What is the actual population of Nigeria? How many males and females reside in the country? How many people genuinely qualify as indigent? What defines indigence and where are these individuals located? These questions about Nigeria’s population rarely yield accurate information or answers. Paradoxically, we possess national identification numbers (NIN) and bank verification numbers (BVNs). The real issue lies in the utility of these numbers when we cannot accurately harness them for planning and development.
The recent challenges faced during subsidy removal palliative distribution highlight how Nigeria lags behind in establishing a reliable database. It seems that we either underestimate the importance of data in development or merely pay lip service to it. Throughout Nigeria’s history, various institutions – from banks to the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) and the National Population Commission – have collected our data. Additionally, the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) regularly releases economic statistics. However, despite these entities, the credibility of the country’s database remains questionable to the extent that even the Federal Government doubts the accuracy of the Register of the Poor. This situation demands reflection in a nation with numerous institutions dedicated to data collection and management.
It is disheartening that a straightforward task like subsidy removal palliative distribution encounters obstacles due to the lack of a reliable database. The allocated benefits for vulnerable individuals often end up in the wrong hands. Such issues cast the government in a negative light, turning commendable initiatives into objects of ridicule. Data collection and management are integral to development and no nation can thrive without giving them the attention they deserve.
This problem pervades all levels of our society. We often fail to keep records, let alone put them to good use. How many of us know the exact birth times of our children on their respective birth dates? How many houses stand on our streets, and what is the population of our street’s residents? Do we know the gender distribution among our street’s inhabitants? Without this basic knowledge, how can we plan for development even at the grassroots level? If the government were to request such data, could the landlords and landladies’ associations in our areas provide this information? Extending this further to the local government level, does the local government administration possess accurate population data for each local government? With people moving from one local government to another almost daily, who tracks these migrations? These issues point to one glaring problem – the absence of a data-capturing culture. It is simply not ingrained in our character, and this deficiency negatively affects every aspect of our society.
The lack of a reliable database exacerbates the divide between the haves and have-nots, hindering equitable development and the fair distribution of its benefits. While the have-nots lament their inability to access services, those who understand the consequences of this negligence appear apathetic. This should concern any right-thinking individual, as it resembles sitting atop a powder keg that may explode soon. We must reconsider our approach to data collection in Nigeria. The poor struggle to enjoy the dividends of democracy because even basic initiatives, such as subsidy removal palliatives, elude them, let alone more significant developments.
Whatever methods we employed in the past, or continue to use, seem ineffective. Our approach must evolve, embracing artificial intelligence (AI) and big data. If our data institutions lack expertise in this field, they can learn. They may need to unlearn what they know and acquire new skills to establish accurate and reliable databases. It is a feasible endeavour, with technology ready to assist us. Nations worldwide harness AI and big data to identify areas requiring investment, monitor the impact of development projects and track social and economic trends. What are we waiting for?
This is a challenge to our institutions, particularly those within the science, technology and innovation (STI) landscape. It is absurd that the most populous black nation on earth struggles to manage a simple issue like palliative distribution due to an unreliable database. In the 21st century, this analogue approach is archaic and must undergo a revolution.
We cannot persist in doing the same thing and expect different results. We must promote a culture of data collection across all sectors. If possible, and it is indeed possible, we should introduce AI education into the school curriculum to “catch them young”. Our education should serve a utilitarian purpose, moving beyond certificate acquisition to function positively in our society. Stakeholders in education, science, technology and innovation must collaborate to overcome this enduring challenge of inaccurate data and unreliable databases. Data is synonymous with development, and sustainable development can only flourish with a reliable database in place.
In conclusion, addressing the issue of a reliable database is paramount for Nigeria’s development. The recent challenges faced during subsidy removal palliative distribution underscore the urgency of this matter. We must acknowledge the importance of data in development and take concrete steps to establish a credible database. This involves unlearning outdated practices and embracing modern technology like AI and big data. Moreover, it necessitates a cultural shift towards data collection and management at all levels of society. With the right approach, Nigeria can harness the power of data for equitable development, leaving no one behind.