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Data is not the enemy

Akwa Ibom Governor Udom Emmanuel


Data is not the enemy

In Nigeria, more often than not, elected leaders assume office with perfect plans on how to distribute state resources for the leading and primary purpose of strengthening their political base to remain at the helm for as long as possible, and secure for themselves and friends a life of luxury.

Whatever it is the public gets after the accomplishment of all of these, is what they must profoundly appreciate while “encouraging the government to do more”.

However, sometimes, a little disturbance often rears its ugly head: data.

Take for instance the little disturbance in the shape of volume two of the Labour Force statistics released by the National Bureau of Statistics [NBS] to show the level of unemployment and underemployment in all states of the country between the third quarter of 2017 and corresponding quarter in 2018.

Accounting for internal movement within and across the states, as well as varying seasonal economic activities, the general projection is that only less than half of these states recorded any meaningful growth in areas of jobs creation, or reduction of the un/underemployed.

In the specific case of Edo state, unemployment soared and was pegged at 25.1%. Despite the Governor, Godwin Obaseki’s central campaign promise to create 200,000 jobs, the report says that “the total net (created minus lost) number of employed persons (full time and part-time/underemployed) decreased by 13,607  persons.” In other words, the state which has ramped up its foreign debt profile making it the biggest debtor after Lagos, is shedding jobs.

Similar pattern exists in most other states, with the situation particularly dire in the North.

Like a stubborn fly that just won’t stop trying to perch on your glass while enjoying a drink no matter how hard you swipe, data like this reminds the elected officials of ‘irrelevant’ things like jobs creation, poverty level and attendant consequence such as deteriorating health and rising violence – whereas they are just trying to enjoy themselves and witch-hunt their political enemies, real and conceived. So they fight it.

In its response to the NBS data referenced above, the government of Akwa Ibom state, which took first position in the sheer number of unemployed persons, described the figures as “voodoo statistics” before roundly dismissing it as a continuous attempt by political opponents to embarrass a working government.

If this report is anything to go by, other governors went a notch higher by issuing threats to the NBS chief, Yemi Kale possibly for conniving with their enemies to “bring them down”.

This is the attitude of our leaders to figures which are crucial to policy formation and implementation.

Last month, against all known standards of measurement both by local and international bodies, Chris Ngige, Nigeria’s former Minister of Labour, proclaimed that the government he served created 8 million jobs – in the middle of a recession, no less.

Evidently, the government wants to manufacture its own flawed and political-serving data, at the expense of objective evaluation which provides an accurate representation of things and informs design of interventions and strategy.

Thus far, the NBS Chief, Yemi Kale has been brave in the face of the onslaught. It however remains unlikely that when his tenure expires, he would be given another chance. So we risk having the country’s data resource base being headed by another political lackey who presents data when and how politicians want in order to save face.

Yet, data is not always negative. In the same NBS report, Lagos and a few other states recorded positive results in areas of job creation and reduction of underemployment. Like a mirror, data reveals the objective truth and so if anyone seeks a positive image, he has to put in the work. If only anyone can whisper it in the ears of the constituted authority that data is not the enemy, their incompetence is.

Peter Adeshina is a journalist who reports politics, policy and governance.

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