On Buhari and data
IF the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari is to be efficacious and impactful, his government must have a grasp of the terrains of crucial aspects of the nation’s economy. To be able to fully master these crucial sectors of the economy, his government would need vital information about those sectors. These pieces of information are not second-hand or externally doctored reports which stakeholders bandy to government officials to work on; rather they are locally generated vital statistics and research findings necessary and intrinsically connected to the running of the nation’s political economy. In other words, this government needs appropriate and judiciously garnered data for national planning.
For many years, if not decades, the nation has been hamstrung by policy somersaults which have caused many to describe the management of the economy as rudderless and clueless. The situations of the oil sector and the state of education are reference points. In the oil sector, for example, in the last three decades, despite encouraging reports and image-laundering studies carried out by sycophantic international business groups, Nigeria has been yoked under the exploitative stranglehold of a cabal of scavengers comprising corrupt officials, marketers and international free-wheelers. So sad and embarrassing has the oil sector become that not only are refineries comatose and citizens subjected to avoidable harrowing experiences of fuel scarcity, but also that Nigeria, an oil producing country, cannot accurately provide workable data about the exploration, production and consumption of the product.
What makes the situation curiouser is the fact that Nigeria has, since the discovery of oil, had renowned experts in the sector. This raises bothersome questions: What is so difficult in the oil industry that Nigerians cannot handle? Why is it so difficult for Nigerians to get accurate data about their oil industry? Exactly how much oil does Nigeria produce? What ratio of consumption comes from local production vis-a-vis importation? There is virtually no accurate data to this effect.
This absence of vital information is also reflected in education and employment. How many job placements does this country have in a given sector of the economy? How many graduates does this country produce in a given sector? What is the percentage of jobs available in relation to the manpower produced? Has planning been based on reliable information and projections?
True, the Nigerian situation, as showcased by the logic-defying policies of its administrators, absence of home-grown models of development, the technical and technological surrogacy that has frustrated the local content policy, and the inability to harness the nation’s potential towards optimum growth and genuine development, with the cumulative effect of over-all low quality of life of its people, points to ignorance or inadequate management of information relating to the nation’s human and material resources. The time now calls for proper record-keeping, research and development as well as proper data management.
If the inauguration speech of President Buhari and the campaign promises of the ruling party are anything to go by, it is apparent that this government has an idea or two on how to turn the country around as well as a plan to drive this vision. Again, if this is the case, there is need for this regime to recreate a productive think-tank, if as of yet it does not have one, for the execution of its vision. Such think-tank would require a fruitful synergy of players and operators in the knowledge industry.
In view of the damage done by sinecurists in previous regimes, this present administration would require players who would continually engage in productive creative thinking despite the absence of lucrative motivations. These players would need to be members of a think-tank who are neither cronies of those in power nor servants of the party. They should be those who Einstein calls “true devotees” of the national cause “whose contribution to knowledge is disproportionately larger than their numbers.” In concert with players are operators who would provide socio-economic realisations of such productive thinking.
It is the conviction of this newspaper that the benefits of such a think-tank to a country like Nigeria are invaluable to national planning. National planning entails conscientious identification of problem areas in the political, cultural and socio-economic life, credible needs assessments to evaluate them and the realistic and patriotic zeal to be results-oriented in addressing these challenges. However, the topsy-turvy nature of the state of affairs in previous regimes belied the planlessness and arbitrariness with which national issues were tackled.
Now, the new dispensation of change affords this government ample opportunity to set things in motion in the proper way. Relevant authorities and institutions charged with the procurement of data must put their act together to ensure proper management and continuous update of data at their disposal. Organisations and bureaux concerned with research and development, be they private or public, should develop home-grown and culture-specific solutions to Nigeria’s challenges rather than blindly simulate models that are irrelevant to problem-solving strategies.
If all this makes sense to the present government, then relevant authorities must create the enabling environment for the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) to become the true custodian of data necessary for national planning. They should jolt the NBS to wake up from its slumber and take interest in the data management of all the tiers of government as well as those of the private sector by devising structures of harvesting vital statistics.