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Kelechi Deca: Single digit inflation, in Nigeria? Is this a joke?

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Kelechi Deca: Single digit inflation, in Nigeria? Is this a joke?

by Kelechi Deca

Dr Yemi Kale is not in the league of Ali Baba, Basket Mouth, Okey Bakassi or even Teju Babyface. He is not in the comedy industry and he does not have a recommendable sense of humour either.  He is Nigeria’s Statistician-General (I like the sound of that portfolio) thus ordinarily, figures emanating from his office at the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) should be taken seriously. But that is the major problem, I don’t think many do.

No one, especially those I know, (and I know many people who work in sectors where figures are taken as matters of life and death) take him or the  figures he dishes out seriously.

To make matters worse, someone texted me yesterday that Dr Kale is beginning to sound like Dr Reuben Abati . This is very unfortunate because Dr Abati is a first class academic turned journalist whose followership a little over a year ago was almost a movement. Remember those youth television shows he participated in, and his punchy columns. Many say that their Fridays and Sundays are incomplete until they have read Dr Abati. But today, no thanks to his otherwise ‘enviable’ position, his rating is at its nadir. How did Dr Yemi Kale came to this notorious comparison.

Honestly, it is not the fault of the Statistician-General that his figures cannot even cause a whimper not to talk of a consideration in circles where it should matter simply because they don’t add up. I don’t believe in them, and I know so many people and organizations that don’t either.

Even someone who should be in the know and who tried so hard to bring that organization to the level it is today, though he acknowledged that there is still a long way to go indicted the NBS few months ago. Writing on the back page of This Day Newspapers of 6 August 2012, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo erstwhile Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria highlighted the rot in the system with the title, Do You Believe Nigeria Statistics?.

According to Prof Soludo “one is embarrassed to see even officers of government reeling out unsubstantiated statistics from their heads or quoting figures from the World Bank. Quoting World Bank figures by government officials is an admission that the government does not trust its own statistics. Nothing is a more national embarrassment than seeing the National Planning Commission (which supervises the NBS) repeatedly refer to World Bank ‘estimates’ in its Vision 2020 document. The World Bank does not have the operational infrastructure to collect economy-wide primary statistics on Nigeria. It relies on national statistics produced by NBS and other government agencies plus its own ‘staff estimates’. I know that some of the World Bank figures are suspect.”

Bearing this in mind and from other experiences I have encountered in trying to match figures from the NBS to what is on ground, I was taken aback when the agency on Monday 18 February, published figures purported to be the current inflation and the GDP growth rate in the country.

READ: Increased Growth For Nigeria In 2013, Inflation Drops To Lowest Level In 4 Years

Hear him:

“Inflation rate in Nigeria has dropped to nine percent in January 2013 as against 12.0 percent in December 2012.”

The NBS also projected a real gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate of 6.75 per cent for the Nigerian economy in 2013 and an average rate of 6.9 per cent over the period of 2013-2016.

As usual the projected 6.9 percent GDP growth falls short of the Governor of CBNs forecast at a panel discussion on emerging markets at the just concluded World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Sanusi was quoted as saying that Nigeria will achieve a double digit growth rate in 2013 if the current reforms in the oil and gas sector and the privatisation of the power sector were allowed to scale through. How all these projections will manifest when the Director of Public Relations, Nigerian Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (NASME), Mr Nerus Ekezie recently remarked that 65 per cent of new businesses in Nigeria go moribund within the first three years.

READ: Reno Omokri: Christiane Amanpour And Our Accidental Activists

Back to Dr Kale. What the NBS is telling us is that the inflation figure decreased by 3.0 percent (a whopping 5.0 percent, where did I travel to when this was happening) in January and that the monthly change in the composite Consumer Price (CPI) was as a result of the declines in major food and core sub-indices.

In plain English, what the erudite Dr Kale is saying is that food products are now cheaper in the market today than they were in December, excluding the festive seasons spike. He further said that the marginal decline in the food sub index is as a result of the floods in July to October last year as well as other base conditions.

Not finished yet, Dr Kale noted that urban inflation rate was recorded at 9.2 percent year on year in January, a decrease of 5.2 percent points from 14.5 percent recorded in December. This in effect means that inflation has dropped from 14.5 percent in December 2012 to a single digit 9.2 percent.  Haba! how come I am still in my skin.

I think Sanusi Lamido should be very happy, he has been pursuing a very tight monetary policy with aim to achieve single-digit inflation rate in the past 18 months. If it is factual that there has been a decline in CPI, Sanusi has more work to do, the CBN will have to cut the Monetary Policy Rate (MPR), but this is a big if.

If everything is as Dr Kale and his people painted it, then things are looking up for Nigeria, inflation is down, the economic outlook is very bright, a combination of this points to the fact that Nigerians should be getting richer not poorer  but is that the case? How I wish most Nigerians will agree with Dr Kale.

The first question is, how reliable are these ridiculous figures?  Can anybody dependably make use of them to make projections about this economy, even the government?  Are these figures in sync with the experiences of Nigerians who are supposed to feel this drop in inflation rate?

The need to have reliably dependable statistics in this country cannot be over emphasized.  I even wonder how they operate, mapping out their development strategy without a reliable office of statistics. For a country with doubtful population figures, birth rates and death rates, voters’ registration register and school enrolment figures, then every other figure is suspect.

But in the last few years since the introduction of the biometric international passport, telephone registration and to some extent, drivers licensing, what will it take to build a national data where all these will be fed into?

A trip to our airports will shock you.  Immigration officers still add entries in long hand and inside sheets even though they have computers on their tables.  They don’t have a centrally connected real time data base even though they have software that could manage same effectively.  Economic development projections without a reliable data base is like a Night of Thousand Laughs with Ali Baba ministering.

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