As Yemi Kale Returns as Statistician-General…

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James Emejo writes on the expectations and possible challenges for Dr. Yemi Kale, who has just been reappointed as Statistician-General/Chief Executive, National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) for another five-year term by President Muhammadu Buhari

It was finally affirmed last week that President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the reappointment of Dr. Yemi Kale as Statistician-General/Chief Executive of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), having completed his initial tenure in August 2016.

His re-engagement had been rumoured by the media without an official confirmation.
But last Tuesday, a statement from the Media Adviser to the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Mr. Akpandem James, affirmed Kale’s return to the NBS.

The SGF was first appointed in August 2011 for an initial five-year term.
Before assuming office, he was the Special Adviser to the then Minister of National Planning-and received his undergraduate degree from Addis Ababa University as well as a Doctorate from the London School of Economics & Political Science.

Kale’s second tenure at the NBS is highly commended and deserving, going by the critical reforms he has helped to initiate as well as the need for some of the technically-inclined programmes he recently introduced to be followed through.

Kale has been highly commended for among other things, restoring sanity and confidence of the local and international community in the country’s statistical processes and outcomes in recent times. Similarly, he towers as an icon who initiated and spearheaded the country’s rebasing of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in April, an exercise which positioned Nigeria as Africa’s largest economy, relegating South Africa to the second position-and further redefined in clear terms, true structure of the Nigerian economy.

Prior to his coming on board at the agency, the country’s statistical processes and outcomes were often disputed especially by politicians and development partners, who believed the agency lacked the capacity and transparency to produce credible data.

This was not surprising, given that the NBS had been poorly funded for ages and given that government had often paid lip service to the development of data in the country even when it knew the relevance of accurate data provision to policy making.

On several occasions, the NBS has had to rely on external institutions including development partners and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for budget support in order to carry out its critical primary mandate.

At some point, the World Bank has had to either support or outrightly carry out own independent research wherever there were perceived shortcomings by the NBS.
Concerns were also expressed over the rather redundancy of the agency’s website which was hardly updated and unattractive.

It was in light of this precarious operating conditions and challenges that Kale had assumed office and worked against all odds to forge an agency whose credibility is now celebrated by all stakeholders. Today, the agency’s website is an online platform to reckon with in terms of creativity, aesthetics and traffic.

Kale had on several occasions been ignorantly accused by politician especially state governors of being bias, particularly whenever jobs or poverty figures were not in their favour.

If anything, the NBS boss must be commended for standing by his data releases and not compromising even amid pressures and rebuke within the administration he serves. He often plays down criticisms by development partners over the country’s data quality, reminding them that some of the data they brandish were often from the NBS-and even went further to insist that only the statistical agency had the sole responsibility under the law to generate and publish data across the country-and demanding that statutory empowerment be respected.

Analysts believe the macroeconomic data space has significantly improved under Kale although there’s still much to be done.

The Enhanced General Data Dissemination System (e-GDDS), a data standards initiative by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was recently introduced by the NBS to serve as a one-stop publication vehicle for essential macroeconomic data.

When fully operational, it is expected to boost member countries’ data transparency and promote development of sound statistical systems and help Nigeria attract the much needed Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs).

As he re-assumes office, he among other things, faces the task of surpassing current achievements within limited resources-which appeared to have also limited the scope of the agencies’ research in terms of sample size and incursion into other fields of economic relevance.
He also runs the risk of increased antagonism by politicians who are likely to dismiss future data if it doesn’t favour them especially now that the effects of the current recession are telling on Nigerians.

Interestingly too, under Kale’s watch, the country’s economic data had been troubling in recent times-negative growth rate in GDP, declines in foreign trade, rise in unemployment index among others – it would therefore be more credible and exciting for the NBS under his watch to provide an update whenever and whichever way the table turns.