Listening to Chidi Odinkalu, the brilliant and passionate advocate of human rights lead a discussion at SALT initiative gathering about three years ago, he used the phrase an “innumerate culture” to explain our inability to measure. We are a country where measurement is almost an anathema. The problem is not that of government alone but a general reluctance even in the academia to measure output.
Let us look around our various touch points to see if we can say with certainty that we know whether there has been improvement or not. Let’s take electricity for one, every year we discuss how many megawatts of electricity is generated, sometimes we hear 4000MW another time we hear 5000MW. When we announce these numbers, it is supposed to be understood by everybody, including my grandmother in the village, that we are making progress. The fact that all the technical information provided about transmission, distribution and generation have little meaning to the consumer who only wants light in his house, office or factory seem to not move the electricity providers.
In more numerate culture, the information to the consumer would have been broken to how many hours of electricity you receive daily and the time belt that you have the most unbroken supply of power. This information will make it possible for us to measure month on month, year on year if we are making progress in providing electricity to the consumer throughout the country. With that information, we can also see the regional and state variations and possibly link that to the investments we are making in the power sector. Further analysis will also reveal how much of the distributed power is paid for to enable us link supply to revenue. This kind of visibility will provide an environment that can attract more private sector investment and enable the government hold officials accountable.
In the area of security, we see another example of absence of measurement supporting stereotypes and perception of safety. Annually, the Police publish crime statistics and that is the end. I have not seen the police showcase the impact of the statistics to the average citizen. The question is: are you safer today? Is crime higher in your locality than state and national average? What is the national average of homicide, armed robbery or kidnapping? Are more people killed, robbed or kidnapped in my community? How effective is the Police station in my neighbourhood? How many emergency calls did they receive last month and what was their response rate? How many reports were lodged at the station and what are the status of the reports?
We need data to make informed decisions about where we live, site our businesses and educate our children. If we have these statistics, it may well be that many Nigerians who sent their children abroad, ostensibly because of higher quality education and safety, may well find out that Nsukka or Ife is safer than Chicago or Johannesburg.
Talking about education, a family friend moved his son to this very expensive international school that is supposed to make it easy for his son to walk into an Ivy League university abroad. As he excitedly told me how happy he is about the school, I asked him if the school provided any information on the number of students from the school who are currently in Ivy League universities or passed out from same. I also asked him if he checked the average SAT scores of past students of the school. He had no answers but mumbled some words about checking out the facts.
It is still a mystery to me how parents are spending so much money on private school education without inquiring about the outputs from the schools from third party standardised tests. We need to see both public and private schools publicise the average scores of their students in JAMB, WAEC, NECO and foreign tests top enable comparison and measurement.
When Nigerians troop abroad for “medicals” they are voting with their feet against what many consider our poor medical facilities and rampant misdiagnosis. The horror stories are told about the mistakes of Nigerian doctors and the deaths arising from the murderous gang. Curiously the issue of misdiagnosis is an international problem according to the British Medical Journal quoted by the Financial Times of London. One in eight patients are misdiagnosed in the UK. The report pointed out that medical error kills about one thousand people a month in the UK and is also the third leading cause of death in the US. Yet Nigerians think we are the worst, which is possible, but we need to see hospital data by locality to support or disprove that and help accountability.
We need to see hospital websites provide information about patient throughput and the outcomes. We need to match the hospital budget for public hospitals, or charges for private hospitals to the treatment rates and output. Many state governments still engage in building new hospitals where utilisation rate of existing ones are, in many cases, below 40 per cent.
At the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), automating data collection revealed trends informing proactive action that led to reduction in road crashes. Turning the annual ritual of publishing crash data to a daily exercise revealed the states and routes with the most crashes and fatalities. In 2013 when the data collection went fully electronic, we discovered that the top three states by crashes recorded were FCT, Kaduna and Nasarawa. It also revealed that the top three states by deaths were Kaduna, Oyo and FCT.
Contrary to common sense, it was discovered that the top crash-prone route was not Lagos-Ibadan but Abuja – Kubwa expressway followed by Abuja – Nyanya and Abuja – Lokoja. Lagos – Ibadan was number 7 on the list. Data revealed that Toyota hiace was the most involved in crashes in the bus category while Volkswagen Golf was the most involved in the car category. The FRSC call centre in 2013 handled 48,032 calls and responded within 35 minutes nationwide while Abuja averaged 25 minutes. Intervention to stem crashes became a dynamic action of reviewing manpower and resource allocation to ensure optimal utilisation.
The data automation process at the FRSC was motivated by my motto of Monitor, Measure and Improve. It didn’t come as a surprise to stakeholders when the World Bank declared FRSC the best example of a Road Safety Lead Agency in the developing world. The key message is that we need to move from anecdotes to measurement. We need to move from an innumerate to a numerate culture if we want to benefit from the 21st century. Measurement can only lead to improvement and informed decision.