October 20 every five years is usually set aside as World Statistics Day, an international day to celebrate the relevance of statistics as contained in the statutes setting up the United Nations Statistical Commission.
As of 2010, 103 countries celebrate a national Statistics Day, including 51 African countries that jointly celebrate African Statistics Day annually on 18 November. In a world that is driven by data and a need for exactitudes in formulation of policies, both in the private and public space, the place of statistics cannot be overemphasised.
It needs to be pointed out that statistics help decision makers to formulate policies that impact on lives. Improved data sources, sound statistical methods, new technologies and strengthened statistical systems enable better decisions that eventually result in better lives for all.
To this end, the value a country places on generation and use of statistics will largely reflect the quality of its governance structure. The numbers, accurate numbers we should add, are supposed to be the beacon for the safe stirring of the ship of state.
Essentially, data is obtainable via census, a sample survey or administrative records. In Nigeria the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) was established for Data collection and analysis. It had designed three statistical systems to handle the spectrum of data required in Nigeria as contained in the Nigerian 1957 statistics ordinance.
As explained by experts, the role of statistics in national development with reference to Nigeria covers household statistics generated through National Integrated Survey of Household (NISH).
This system allows the collection of data through households and individuals. NISH uses a carefully designed master sample which is normally operated over a period of five years. Information obtained at household level could be via such surveys as those of NISH or through a population census as those taken at an interval of 10 years.
The second system is the National Integrated Survey of Establishments (NISH) through which most of the economic statistics are covered. The coverage of the Establishments or Economic Institutions could be on a sample or census basis. Coverage is also among sectors of the economy spanning manufacturing, distribution, hotels and restaurants, transport and professional services to mention just a few.
The third system is the System of Administrative Statistics (SAS). Within this, statistics are generated from administrative records. These records are kept for various reasons ranging from regulatory to monitoring. These records could cover both economic and social data and could be partial covering of a sub-population or the whole population. All these three systems, NISH, NISE and SAS effectively and comprehensively cover all data requirements of the population.
However, despite this well-defined system, it would seem like Nigeria is yet to take the primacy of statistics and data seriously. Perhaps, these touches on pervasive poor discipline on policy consistency.
In the considered opinion of this newspaper, one scenario that comes to mind quickly is the seeming inability of administrations to develop a consistent database. The country has failed to conduct population census within the 10-year period provided by the law, relying instead on estimates that are excessively unreliable.
Furthermore, before now, different administrations have embarked on different programmes and schemes to generate database. Nigerians have been literally threatened by different administrations to embark on registration exercises for data generation purposes. From the national identity card programme to the telecommunication companies and bank registration processes, it would seem like the data generation system in the country has become so mundane and perhaps, a means for policy wonks and those close to the corridors of power to get a slice of national cake.
Yet the importance of statistics remains a stark reality. Issues like public debt, globalisation, unemployment and reform of social programmes require statistics that will provide insight into the underlying necessities.
In this era of dire economic straits, it is pertinent to stress, in our view, that the availability of strategic information in the light of dwindling resources is critical. But this, too, requires a system to ensure proper prioritisation which involves strategic essentials like what new information to produce and the dissemination approaches to favour.
In our opinion, there is no better time than now for Nigeria to reappraise its statistics culture for proper national planning. With the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, the devastating effect of the security crisis on the agricultural and food production, the need to be disciplined in generating clear and accurate data will not just be critical but essential to our recovery in a fast-spinning world.