The usefulness of data for effective policy making, meaningful resource allocation and efficient public service delivery was the highlight of the 12th Wole Soyinka Centre Media Lecture Series that held virtually on Monday, 13 July 2020.
Speakers at the event, organised by the Wole Soyinka Centre Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) to mark Prof. Wole Soyinka’s 86th birthday have pushed for Nigeria to have accurate and relevant data towards national development.
The panellists who discussed the broad theme of “Data media and national development” included Oluwayemisi Alaba, Senior Lecturer, Statistics Department, University of Ibadan, Yemi Kale Statistician-General of the Federation and Chief Executive Officer, Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics, Mannir Dan-Ali, former Editor-in-Chief, Daily Trust Newspaper, and Oluseun Onigbinde, Co-Founder and Director of BudgIT Foundation. Chioma Agwuegbo, Founder TechHer, moderated the session.
In her presentation, Oluwayemisi Alaba, emphasised the need for an effective National Statistical System (NSS) in Nigeria because of the growing demand for data globally. She listed the characteristics of the NSS to include, strategic direction, data quality, effective leadership and management, and shared vision. Alaba recommended coordination of the NSS, other government parastatals and the thirty states of the federation in the production of quality statistical system in Nigeria.
Yemi Kale on his part explained the current framework of accessing credible and usable data in Nigeria considering its strength, weakness, opportunities, and threats. He stressed that both the public and government now know that the problems of Nigeria cannot be solved without data. He discouraged the misuse and abuse of statistics to solve short-term political goals. He argued that, Nigeria has to get to the point where data is taken, as it is whether it favours a specific stakeholder or not.
According to Mannir Dan-Ali, the media has a big problem with accessing reliable, accurate and relevant data, as a lot of needed data are not available. According to him, accurate data should be provided with a system for checks and balances. He cited examples where data from government agencies on the same subject matter were contradictory thereby questioning the integrity of such data. He however challenged journalists on the need to specialise on how to use and present data visually in a way that it can be easily utilised.
Oluseun Onigbinde, speaking on the realities of access to data in Nigeria, explained from a civil society perspective that there is need to connect all the dots on a policy level by embedding data systems in newsrooms, through partnership building and broad coalitions with sources of power. In his words: “We need to be a country that wants honesty by accepting the truth that emanates from data and what we need to improve and change the society we want”. He also stated the approach to data identity in Nigeria is very poor and the fight against corruption cannot be taken seriously when data on financial audit of government agencies are not published regularly.
Motunrayo Alaka, Executive Director of WSCIJ, represented by Adeolu Adekola, Senior Programme Officer, in her opening address noted that the theme was carefully chosen to highlight the connection between data, media and development and spotlight the issues so that all stakeholders, can see where their responsibilities lay and work towards the change we deserve. She emphasised that the last population census in Nigeria was done 14 years ago and the country needs to get its data management system right in order to adequately plan for the nation’s sustainable development.
In his remark, Kole Shettima, Director of the Africa Office of the MacArthur Foundation, who have supported the lecture since 2017, expressed the foundation’s excitement to be part of the occasion and stated that the foundation is passionate about the theme of the lecture. He called attention to how media houses can become sources of data collection and use this as a source of revenue. He challenged participants to think of a visual data dashboard that can match Nigeria’s population needs with what is available in the country to put government under pressure to make future development plans.
A total of 194 participants—journalists, policy makers, representatives of pressure groups and non-governmental organisations, students and other members of the public—attended the lecture. WSCIJ hosted the event online for the first time since its commencement 2008 in line with physical distancing measures necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic.