Ihua: Nigeria Requires Data to Accomplish Developmental Objectives

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Executive Director, Africa Polling Institute, Prof. Bell Ihua, in this interview speaks about the crucial role of primary data in improving Nigeria’s development outcomes, arguing that the country currently needs data more than ever in surmounting its socioeconomic challenges, James Emejo brings the excerpts

Your institute has been quite active in the social research space producing primary data for the country; what role do you believe data should be playing in helping to shape a better future for Nigeria?

Yes, you’re absolutely right, Africa Polling Institute has been actively involved in generating important social and opinion research data in Nigeria for a while now. And this is because of how important we consider the role of data. No country can grow beyond the level of its intellectual capacity and data generation. The role of data cannot be over emphasised. The world is getting more complex by the day, and world leaders are having to confront much more difficult challenges today that they ever faced 20 or 30 years ago. Who ever thought there would be a pandemic that would cause the world to go on a standstill as we experienced in 2020. But some countries already had data to show the possibility of such happening, and had ran simulations on what would happen if such a situation arose. So you see, we cannot underestimate the role of research and data generation. Data, whether primary or secondary, has a huge role to play in improving the development outcomes of any nation. Part of the economic and even security challenges we are experiencing in this country today could have been solved by keeping proper records and data of every Nigerian citizen. This is why I have always been a strong advocate of linking all forms of data in the country. Not just only linking our NIN to our phone numbers, but linking our NIN to drivers’ licenses, bank details, international passports, educational institutions and most importantly our voter’s card. If we are really serious about getting our electoral system right, we should also consider linking the NIN to the voters’ card. That way, anyone without a verified NIN wouldn’t be able to vote; and I tell you, this will curb a lot of electoral malfeasance and irregularities. Any sector of the country today facing challenges, if you look closely, you would notice that the lack of data or its inadequacy is playing a role in the challenge or inefficiency being experienced. I am fully persuaded to say that Nigeria needs data today than it has ever needed data at any time in our history as a nation.

Last year, your institute released a number of research studies. Can you share some of the major highlights from the findings?

Yes, there were a number of really important and interesting studies that we conducted and released in the year 2020, in spite of the pandemic, lockdown and restrictions. We began the year with a major study tagged the Canada Rush, which was a study on the motivations for Nigerians emigrating to Canada. I’m sure if I ask you now if you know someone who migrated with his or her family to Canada, your response will be in the affirmative. It was a study that received significant attention. The findings showed that there were five key reasons some Nigerians were considering emigrating to another country, the first being better career opportunities, followed by heightened insecurity, the desire to provide a better future for their children, for further education, and for perceived poor governance in Nigeria. The study also revealed that those seeking emigration were not your average unemployed or poor Nigerians, No, they are the highly educated, employed and in most cases resigning from jobs, and the upward mobile Nigerians who are taking their skills, experience and qualification out of the country.

We also saw that the favourable Canadian immigration policies acted as a key pull factor attracting many Nigerians, as we identified over fourteen different schemes and migration pathways to Canada such as the Permanent and temporary scheme, federal skilled workers programme also known as the express entry scheme, family sponsorship, Atlantic migration programme, provincial nomination programme and several others. In addition, we conducted another major study tagged, “Does Nigeria love Nigerians?” This was also well received; it was a study which sought to interrogate the social contract between the country and its citizens. It made use of a number of indicators to test whether not Nigeria as a country can be considered fair and kind to her citizens. We made use of indicators such as how much pride and trust do Nigerians have for the country, how well do they consider that their lives matter to the government and their voice counts to public policy and decision making; what benefits would they say they have benefitted in the country in the last five years, how well does the country treat its elderly citizens, people living with disabilities and the terminally ill amongst us. And the findings were really interesting to see.

The recent study on “Does Nigeria Love Nigerians” was insightful. Can you shed more light on the findings?

As I mentioned, in the study we tried to interrogate the social contract that exists between the country and her citizens. The theory of social contract presupposes that government has certain responsibilities and obligations it owes to the citizens; and on the other hand, the citizens have obligations they owe to the state. So, while government is responsible for providing good quality of life and security for its citizens, citizens also owe a duty to pay their taxes, be loyal to the state and also adhere to the constitution of the country. It’s a two-way thing. So yes, the first question we asked was whether or not Nigerians are proud of being Nigerian. I am pleased to inform you that categorically the survey showed that 91 per cent of Nigerian said they are truly proud of being Nigerian and this 91 per cent cuts across the various demographics of age, gender, urbanisation, religion and geo-political zones. However, when you come to the subject of how much trust they have in the Nigerian state, we found that the majority, 67 per cent of Nigerians said that they have little or no trust at all in the Nigerian state, compared to only a third, 33 per cent who said they had some level of trust for the state. So, what we see here is a sweet-bitter relationship, where on one hand citizens are proud of being Nigerians, but on the other hand the level trust they have in the Nigerian state is limited.

Another interesting question we asked in the study was what Nigerians think they have benefitted from the country in the last five years. It will interest you to know that 75 per cent of Nigerians we spoke to said they had benefited absolutely nothing from the country this past five years. This is public opinion, this is how they feel, however, from the remaining 25 per cent, we had seven per cent who said they have experienced a bit of improved security, and only five per cent who said they have benefited from some of the government’s empowerment programmes like N-Power, Home-Grown School Feeding Programme, and the Market Moni, Trader Moni schemes. Again, this tells you about what we have been saying that the impact of the national social investment programme is still minimal and needs to be scaled up massively. A lot needs to be done to shorten the gap between the haves and have-nots, and of course the government and the governed, especially in the areas of providing a sense of belonging for all Nigerians irrespective of tribe, tongue and religious differences. It is when citizens have that sense of belonging that they can give up their life for the country. You know when you go abroad, like in America, there’s something they call the American dream; but in this country, do we have the Nigerian dream? We also need to have the Nigerian dream; something that binds us together as a nation and makes everyone want to give their all for the nation.

API also conducted some studies on the COVID-19 pandemic. What was the research all about?

Yes, you’re quite correct; API conducted about three different studies looking at different aspects of Covid-19 on citizens. The first was a commissioned study we conducted for a group, which was trying to undertake some intervention in a particular south-south state and requested that we conducted a citizens’ poll to help ascertain the state of Covid-19 in the state and what citizens knew about the pandemic. The second study was a nationwide poll to provide an update on the pandemic from the perspective of the general public. The poll found that while majority of Nigerians believe in the existence of Covid-19, only 75 per cent of that proportion believe it exists in Nigeria. You see, we also found that 84 per cent of Nigerians said they will not be in support of a second lockdown due to the hardship they experienced during the initial lockdown.

In addition, the 3rd study on Covid-19 which we conducted was the one conducted to assess the socio-economic implications of the pandemic on rural women in Nigeria. For this study we had to visit rural areas to directly interact with rural women and their interlocutors. The major findings from the study showed that the majority of rural women interviewed, 74 per cent said that their sources of income had been negatively impacted by the pandemic. Also, the study revealed that 90 per cent of the rural women we interviewed stated that they did not receive any form of palliative from the government or any other source during the lockdown.

No doubt most of your findings stand to benefit policy making, how much buy-in do you have from policy makers especially given the place of data in planning and development?

Well, we have received very positive feedback from the general public and media whom we have engaged as part of our dissemination strategy. We have visited major radio stations and a number of TV stations where we discussed the findings of this study. We observe that anytime we are on air, especially on radio, we have listeners who call in to thank us for our work and corroborate the findings of the studies. I recall the study on Canada Rush kind of went viral, and we even had people sending emails to the company to make enquiries about emigrating to Canada, as if I had turned to an immigration consultant. We have also sent out report to a number of relevant public institutions that we believe should see the findings of our studies, surveys and polls.

As I always say, it’s of no use conducting research studies and leaving them to gather dust under the table, without seeking to engage in proper dissemination. So we try to disseminate as wide as possible and using our social media platforms as well. We are heavy on social media and we have a great social media team who help ensure that the data we produce as disseminated widely. We also make use of beautiful infographics that really help to drive home the message about the findings. So far we have been getting commendable feedback from the public, and it is highly gratifying for us to say the least.

Are there new projects the institute is currently embarking on this year?

Yes of course, as public opinion pollsters, we are constantly scanning the environment for what I call hotspots or honey pots of areas that we can use to support policy makers. We have some new grants that have recently been won, so we intend to engage in more collaboration with institutions like the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the National Populations Commission (NPC). We also wish to expand our footprints a lot more across the African continent.

To the glory of God, last year we handled assignments in Burkina Faso, Mali and Bangui, Central African Republic. We also handled assignments in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ghana the year before. This year I would like to see our footprints extend to places like Senegal, Cote D’ivoire, Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana, and Uganda. We also have some very interesting studies lined up to be released, but I would not like to let the cat out of the bag at the moment.

How would you advise policy makers on the need to imbibe use of data and research in their policy making?

I don’t think I have anything new to say than the things I have always said. With our population projected to high 263 million by 2030 and 400 million by 2050, we do not need a soothsayer to tell us that data and information would become the new diamond. With population increase comes complexities in addressing public needs. How do we clothe, feed and provide services to this population? The answer would be in the data we are able to produce. So I think the earlier our government and policy makers realize this, and begin to strengthen institutions aimed at providing us with essential data the better for us. Let me end by saying Nigeria is in desperate need for a new census. As you may be aware, the last census conducted in this country was conducted in 2006, and a new one had to have been conducted in 2016, 10 years after. I will like to plead with the government to ensure that NPC is funded to conduct a fresh census for this nation. This would be a good starting point in helping to provide fresh data to drive Nigeria’s next development plan.

Congratulations on your appointment as a professor sometime last year. Can you tell us about that?

Yes, thank you for that. I didn’t see that coming. But anyway, yes I was appointed a visiting professor of practice in opinion research at Coal City University, Enugu. It was in recognition of my work within the opinion research space, and I’m quite thankful to the leadership of the university, especially the VC professor Afam Icha-Ituma. I’m pretty excited about the opportunity, because it will enable me blend the “town and gown” in my work. I have always been an advocate of applied research, especially about how research conducted by academics and university scholars can add value to creating a better society. So it gives me an opportunity to collaborate with other academics; and I have been mandated to work towards establishing a regional social and opinion research hub at the university that would be at the forefront of conducting opinion polls and surveys in south east Nigeria. The idea is that in a few years, anytime you want to ask about what Nigerians in south east Nigeria think about any matter, be it politics, economy, public life, culture you name it, you can simply go to the research hub at CCU. The plan is to start out with a flagship poll for the region, with extensive surveys across the entire local government areas and senatorial districts of the region. So I’m currently shopping for funds to make that happen; but it’s an opportunity I’m most excited about.