OBI, STATISTICS AND DEVELOPMENT IMPERATIVES

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Peter Obi

Statistics are vital for planning, writes Esin Suji

Not quite long ago, a widely-broadcast debate was organized for some of Nigeria’s Vice-Presidential candidates, prominent among who were Professor ‘Yemi Osinbajo of the ruling All Progressives Congress [APC] and a former State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi of the Peoples Democratic Party [PDP] – the main party in opposition. It was an exciting experience for millions of Nigerians to listen to some of their compatriots who seek to manage their country’s affairs from 2019. In the same vein, discerning Nigerians looked out for what could give them assurance that, indeed, Nigerians may yet witness a new dawn in the 2019-2023 tenure.

While the incumbent Vice-President Professor Osinbajo understandably spoke of about the declared achievements of the Buhari administration and plans for the future, Peter Obi largely presented statistics on some of the critical elements of the state of the Nigerian nation at large. Interestingly, the questions and Peter Obi’s responses were focused largely on the economy, which is constitutionally the main schedule of the Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Expectedly, some rather lame flak were fired at Obi to the effect that he was not a statistician or computer-robot and that his figures were not correct.

This piece is not playing jury for the debate [Nigerians are doing that already], but it is pertinent not to miss or be distracted from the fundamental issues. In the first instance, as a serious, focused decision-maker, must one be a statistician to have access to the facts and figures of one’s country or area of interest? Secondly, statistics are fluid and not static; that is why we have a National Bureau of Statistics [NBS] as well as smaller similar operations in the Federal and State Ministries, Departments & Agencies [MDAs]. Thirdly, the statistics presented by Peter Obi were from respectable sources and therefore, verifiable.

Take these living examples: Nigeria’s official unemployment figure has been quoted at 18.8% for over a year now, and it was barely a week after the ‘VP Debate’ that the National Statistical Office – National Bureau of Statistics [NBS] – reported that the figure had risen to 23.1%; with additional 3.3 million people unemployed. So, with the benefit of hindsight, Peter Obi was being modest with the figure he presented five days earlier. Then, there is the more worrying revelation by the Statistician-General of the Federation, Dr. ‘Yemi Kale, in mid-November this year, that the federal government had not released funds for the bureau to complete Nigeria’s unemployment report.

Obi’s traducers also questioned the integrity of certain other statistics he presented. Pray, again, let the readers of this piece both verify the following facts & figures and the stature of their sources in the national and global scheme of things: ‘Nigeria used over 50% of its revenue to service debt’ [Nigeria’s Debt Management Office (DMO) reported that Total Debt Service as a percentage of FGN Retained Revenue was 58.56% in 2017]; ‘Nigeria’s total debt stock was N22.7 trillion – about US$80 billion;’ [DMO June 2018 report put the figure at N22.38 trillion (US$73.21 billion using an official exchange rate of N305.70/US$. Include the US$2.8 billion Eurobond issued in November 2016 bring the total debt stock to US$76.01 billion]; ‘Mexico’s GDP & GDP per capita are over US$1 trillion & over US$8,000 respectively’. [The World Bank, 2017];

‘South Africa’s stock market capitalization is US$900 billion’. [Stock Market Clock, March 2018]; ‘Nigerian bank loans made up 15% of GDP’. [The World Bank on Domestic Credit to the Private Sector as a Percentage of GDP]; ‘Nigeria has the highest number of poor persons at 87 million – growing by 6 persons per minute’ [Brookings Institution on “The Start of a New Poverty Narrative”, 2018]; ‘Nigeria’s Human Development Index ranking moved from 152 to 157’. [HDI Human Development Statistical Update, 2018]; ‘Nigeria’s Global Competitiveness Index rating moved from 124 to 127’. [Global Competitiveness Reports]; ‘Nigeria’s Stress ranking is 148 of 149’. [Stressful Cities Ranking]; ‘Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children’. [BBC and UNICEF]; ‘While the federal government budgeted N340 billion for Health & N400 billion for Education, it paid over N1 trillion on Fuel (PMS) subsidy’. [Minister of State for Petroleum and FG Budget Office].

Facts do not lie.

Peter Obi’s comparison of Nigeria with certain countries such as South Africa, Mexico, China and Turkey is in order because they used to be at some kind of par with us. Pray, does it not make great sense to desire to know how or why your erstwhile mates, so to speak, have left you behind? Is there not something to learn from their experiences? It is terribly ironical that we are more focused on purchasing or acquiring the best from countries that have made it, than on promoting our local assets and talents. That is why we easily boast of having purchased marble from Italy, Ford from the USA, extension cable from England, apples from South Africa, flowers from Kenya, roofing sheets from Dubai, rugs from Arabia, Caviar from Iran, champagne from France and so on. So, who is playing the ostrich here – Peter Obi or his lame traducers?

As early as Basic or ‘O’ level Economics, literate persons learn that planning without facts is a recipe for confusion and the attendant adverse outcomes. This is particularly evident in our multi-ethnic country with a large population spread over an extensive land mass. Today, with all the sophistication of modernity, those in the public trust are still comfortable with basing their decisions on lugubrious “guestimates’. At various platforms, many people in the public trust appear comfortable with declarations like: “Nigeria has a population of over 180 million”, Nigeria has a population of about 200 million”, “Nigeria has about X million out-of-school children”; “Nigeria has about X million IDPs”; “Government has over X million employees”; “Our crude oil production is about X million barrels per day”; “About X billion barrels of crude oil are lost to oil thieves every year”; “We have over this & over that; and about this & about that”. Can we really make meaningful progress on such premises?

An acknowledged hallmark of the great nations we so much admire is their firm grasp of relevant statistics – facts and figures – that enable them plan for the present and the future; and with commendable outcomes. Indeed, the availability of statistics has continued to facilitate and enhance their ability to identify, project and fulfil their development imperatives.

One of the interesting revelations from the ‘VP Debate’ about the Nigerian situation is that the facts and figures are out there. With the political will and enablement, Nigeria boasts of the relevant professionals who can go into the field and get us the information policy- and decision-makers will work with and the tremendous benefit of the citizenry; which is what governance is all about. When we really know how many we are, the constituent number of females/males/children/youths/adults, the varied state of our education/health/security/infrastructure, number of unemployed and son on, we would have gone most of the way in establishing solid frameworks to tackle our developmental challenges.

In a country where the hapless majority has continued to wonder whether they are cursed or condemned, it behoves on those who can summon courage to speak out to do so. Arguably, Peter Obi was stating the obvious and spoke for many. Good governance is about the people whose welfare is the primary responsibility of government.

In this day and age, only those who desire to perpetuate a status quo of a disorderly and stunted society would insist on planning without hard facts; principally statistics. The subsisting culture of easy money might enrich a few, but will keep on impoverishing the majority to breaking point. The continued practice of sharing and allocating public revenue to tiers and arms of government without appropriate guarantees of prioritized expenditures, transparency and accountability is also strongly linked to the culture of guestimates – planning without facts and figures.

The lack of charity in the response to Peter Obi’s is neither productive nor edifying to the country. In or out of government or public office, we, as Nigerians, are all in this together. The benefits of good governance through planning with facts will reach the citizenry; just like the consequences on ineptitude from poor planning will put them into more misery.

Suji wrote from Owerri