Experts have once again underscored the crucial role of statistics in economic planning, recovery and development, especially at a period the country is battling recession. The immediate past President of the Nigerian Statistical Association, NSA, DR. MUHAMMED TUMALA, in this valedictory interview with Bayo Amodu and some other selected journalists, shares his views on the roles of statistical data in development, on the sidelines of the just ended 40th Annual Conference of the Association in Abuja. Excerpts:
Sir, how would you rate the federal governments’ effort towards quality statistical data production in the country over the years?
Looking back, the country has come a long way. Prior to 2007, the federal office of Statistics and the national data bank existed as separate agencies. The timeliness and quality of Statistics was rather very low. However, as a result of globalisation in economic activities, the global community sat down and came up with programmes and minimum standards for data production and quality. Developing countries mainly subscribed to general data dissemination while advanced countries subscribed to special data dissemination standards. Under the general data dissemination system, developing countries were expected to put in place institutions to ensure the production, dissemination and availability of statistics to all individuals without discrimination. Under that programme, Nigeria had in 2007 established the National Statistics System through the Statistics Act 2007 that ensured the shift towards statistics for the country. However, the progress has been slower than we thought because of the political structure of the country as Nigeria adopted a decentralised system of data production. This meant that at the federal level, the National Bureau of Statistics co-ordinate the production of statistics while MDAs produced statistics at their various sectors. At the state level, states were expected to establish statistics agencies to coordinate the production of statistics at that level and local governments were expected to key in. Many states have fallen in line. But there are some states still lagging behind. If you look at it overall, I think the country in terms of institutions has adequate and appropriate institutional arrangement in place for the production of statistics. The establishment of such institutions entails that funds are now available for statistical activities even though such funds are not adequate but at least funds are there. You can now see that the system produces statistics on a timely basis. The system looks at and compiles the output of the Nigerian economy on a more timely manner, although, it can be improved upon. Of course, you can see where the economy is heading. We need to do more in education, we need to do more in health, we need to do more in agriculture, environment and sanitation.
Last week, the federal government announced a N500 billion Social Intervention Fund. How can this programme be effective using statistical data as basis for its implementation?
First of all, social transfers are targeted programmes. They target a particular segment of a population and therefore, it is only statistics that gives you a structure of the population of a country, the skill set mixture and so on. There is no other basis for planning to come out of the crisis we are in right now without the use of Statistics. So statistics should be the starting point because it provides you essentially where the country is. It also tells you where the country is coming from. Also, you can use statistics to target where the country will be and follow on with policies that guides and ensures that the country reaches such target.
Government has said the country needed to rev up non-oil revenue through aggressive tax drive. As a professional, what do you think could be done with the use of statistics to drive non-oil tax revenue?
It is only in few countries that government does not have revenue from other sources other than tax. Tax is supposed to be the main source of revenue for any government. Government is in a position to change the dynamics of tax at any given time. Where is statistics coming from in respect to improving our revenue collection as far as tax is concerned? First, statistics provides the fundamentals for the collection of tax. It is statistics that provides the list of adults that are eligible to pay tax from the population register. Statistics also provides you with the lists of establishments that exist and what they are doing. It is also statistics that can, for instance, provide the extent of participation in primary production like agriculture and so on. The Federal Inland Revenue Service, for instance, is able to know the extent of coverage of its tax collection which is as low as 15 per cent. That gives you an insight into what the government can do to improve its tax revenue and use it to bring the country from where we are now.
Looking at NSA how has the journey been so far in terms of efforts to professionalise the body that has so much to offer the country?
So far, the journey has been good. We are forty years old. Over fifteen years ago, we agreed that we should professionalise the practice of Statistics to be able to control the quality of data produced in the country. Then we were under military rule but with the restoration of democracy, we approached the National Assembly for the establishment of an institute to be able to professionalise the practice of statistics. The National Assembly has passed the Bill, it is awaiting Presidential assent. That is how far we have gone legally. However, Nigeria is supposed to be the host of African Statistical Association in addition to the Nigeria Statistical Association. We have not made progress on that issue. Recently, the African Development Bank, AfDB, and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa made efforts to re-activate the activities of ASA as emphasis is being laid on partnership.
Based on your experience with some states, where do you think they need to do more to have a good statistical data system in the country?
At the state level in Nigeria, you have a very interesting scenario of two extremes. Extreme in the sense that you have states that are interested in statistics and have given statistics so much prominence in their programmes. They have established their statistical agencies, fund them and have very high demand for data. And they base their efficiencies on data. Some states stand out. States like Kaduna, and very recently, other states are following. On the other hand; we have other states that have low demand for data and those states have not initiated any process towards establishing their own statistical agencies. By the nature of the service of states, local governments and federal government, ministries have planning, research and statistics departments. But we have observed in many states that such departments are not active. So, we have very low demand for data at the state level, although in few states we have very high demand for data.
Given the two scenarios you have spoken about; don’t you feel the attitude of some states to statistical data collection and utilisation could naturally obstruct statistical data collection in the short and medium term?
Yes, it could obstruct statistical data collection in the short and medium term because official statistics for Nigeria is an aggregate from local government and states. So, if you have some states providing data and others do not have structures to provide data then data becomes incomplete.