Penchant for Data and “Nigeria’s Unknown Population”

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While in Secondary School (Minor Seminary), the authorities ensued that the exact number of meat was provided for students during meals. If there were 10 students on a table and 1 person cornered two pieces of meat, it meant that 1 person would miss out on this “precious protein.” It was the same thing with mangoes and oranges. It was the responsibility of the Kitchen Perfect to ensure that each student got what was his due. If there were extras, it was announced and those who were interested would indicate. That way, energy is saved even as equity and fairness in terms of who gets what is concerned. It was the same practice in the Major Seminary. This brief scenario above aptly captures the importance of data collection in policy formation and implementation. Even those who hate mathematics must acknowledge that data gathering and processing is the soul of almost every human endeavour as everything requires careful calculation.

Sadly in Nigeria, the only time quasi-data means anything to anybody is when the nation is heading to the polls. This is when politicians remember that data is key. It is to be seen how government policies and programmes can succeed without adequate data. For example, based on Worldometer elaboration of the latest United Nations (UN) data, the current population of Nigeria as at Tuesday, June 30, 2020, is 206,074,234. Chances are that this figure is way beyond the number of people in the country. The implication is that we are dealing with a large portion of an unknown population. In a recent report, the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) indicated that Nigeria cannot identify over 100 million of its population. The report stressed that this unknown population “Significantly represents the poorest and the most vulnerable groups such as marginalised women and girls, the less-educated, refugees, migrants, asylum seekers, stateless persons, people with disabilities and people living in rural areas and conflict zones. Since the commencement of identity registration and enrolment in 2012, only about 41.5 million people have been issued with National Identification Numbers (NIN).”

Questions that readily come to mind are: How can government policies and programmes be targeted at a pseudo-population? How can the poorest and most vulnerable population which cannot be identified enjoy the so-called dividends of democracy? Why would a country not be able to accurately identify over 100 million of its national population in the twenty-first century? How can the much talked about government’s social investment programme be felt by masses that cannot be accounted for? What is worrisome is the disclosure by Nextier Security, Peace and Development that 7.9 million Nigerians urgently need humanitarian assistance as against 7.1 million recorded in 2019.  It cited the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) as saying about 82.9 million Nigerians live on less than one dollar per day. It noted that this is made worst by jihadist violence and other intractable security challenges that have displaced about 2.5 million Nigerians.

The factors responsible for unreliable data in Nigeria are legion. First, poverty and illiteracy are issues to contend with. Research has shown that poor and less literate people give birth to more children than those who are literate and rich. What this implies is that we are caught up in the web of over 100 million “marginalised women and girls, the less-educated, refugees, migrants, asylum seekers, stateless persons, people with disabilities and people living in rural areas” who despite their swallowed conditions are reproducing exponentially. Sociologists have noted that there is no time in the history of the human race that demographics keep increasing than now. The question is, if as a nation we cannot account for this alarming number of our countrymen and women, what would become of the Nigerian State in the next decade in terms of population and provision of basic amenities like pipe born water, adequate housing, basic health care, qualitative education and accessible roads? What is more, the rise in crime rate especially rape, armed banditry, commercial kidnapping and insurgency further demonstrates that this nation has not been able to take advantage of statistics to inoculate its national malaise.

Second, tied to poverty and literacy is religious indoctrination. We live in a nation where some religious leaders convince their adherents that increasing demographics is a pious duty unto God. With this is kind of propaganda, it becomes difficult for the government or anyone else to come between one’s perceived covenant with God and issues around national planning. In the end, their religion is not able to help them maintain their wives or raise their kids responsibly. The disturbing number of destitute across the length and breadth of this country confirms this position. There is also a cultural cum political twist to the rag-tag mentality. Whenever census is to be taken, issues around over-counting or undercounting often rear their ugly heads. There are times that the lives of government officials are at risk because they are trying to avoid counting pets and trees to increase demographics.     

Third, the lack of digital immigration laws is another clog in the wheel of progress. The reader would recall that in a previous column “A Bleeding Nation: Whence Cometh Our Peace?” this writer made reference to the ban placed on Nigeria alongside Eritrea, Sudan, Tanzania, Kyrgyzstan and Myanmar by the President of the United States of America, Donald Trump as countries that cannot obtain certain types of Visas to the US. The Department of Homeland Security gave failures by these countries to meet US security and information-sharing standards as reasons for the ban. The US further noted that: “The administration wants to see them start issuing electronic passports that can be scanned with a computer and improve their information-sharing with US authorities and Interpol to help identify criminals and terrorists.” Lack of electronic passports militates against accurate data gathering, analysis and national security.

Fourth, the same article emphasized that: “The current move to allow African passport holders into Africa’s largest economy with Visa on arrival portends great danger for peace and security in a country that is battling to survive insurgency, armed banditry, commercial kidnapping, herder-farmer clashes, and other criminal activities.” Without a doubt, this has reversed the gains of peace and security in the country. Besides, it is very difficult to account for the exact number of nationals in this country when foreigners move about freely without qualms. Despite their distinct features, these foreign nationals roam about selling unendorsed traditional medicine, tea and water in our motor parks and streets. This creates an impression that entering Nigeria is an all comers-affair. 

Fifth, this leads us to the porous nature of our borders. As a nation, we are yet to fortify our borders from foreign invaders. We are yet to recover from the marauding Fulani herdsmen whom government handlers confirmed entered the country illegally. Do we have a saver that keeps an eye on those coming in or moving out of this country? Well, espionage entails investing in digital equipment for monitoring and surveillance. Therefore, unless and until those on the saddle realized the importance of capturing Nigerians and foreigners, it is impossible to adequately provide resources for the citizenry. This is because the limited gains of democracy would be competed for by both aliens and the citizenry like the irresistible apple which tempted Adam and Eve. 

The startling revelation by the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) that it would need N132 billion to register all Nigerians by 2025 is crucial to this discussion. Part of our problem as a nation is not so much about policy formation. Our main albatross is policy implementation – and between theory and practice, animals will swallow millions. Francophone countries seem to be more practical than theoretical. Conversely, Anglophone countries seem to be content with setting up committees, organizing seminars and workshop et al while neglecting the most critical job of implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Expectedly, NIMC and the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) have a lot of work to do if we must recover from the cancer of inadequate data. As a nation, we must learn from other climes by taking issues of The Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) registration initiative by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) more seriously. Most importantly, data can be generated through bank details of people and implementing compulsory birth registration. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!   

Fr. Dyikuk is a Lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Editor – Caritas Newspaper and Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.     

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