The DATA Manipulators

President Buhari and members of the Economic Advisory Council

By Babafemi Ojudu

It was a sore point he touched. President Muhammadu Buhari who is not  known for diplomatese said it as it is. 

In his  address to the newly inaugurated Economic Advisory Council he dismissed the data emanating from the World Bank, IMF and others . 

He is never known to be a fan of these organizations though. Not now and not then when he was military head of state. It was in fact his refusal to accept their antidote to our economic challenges that propelled the move against him. What happened thereafter? Those who succeeded took the poisonous pill. It led to the exodus of the best of our country and standards and values collapsed.We may not recover from this in a half a century.

Buhari declared , and bluntly too, that most often the data generated by these West based organizations are unreliable. 

His words : ”Today, most of the statistics quoted about Nigeria are developed abroad by the World Bank, IMF and other foreign bodies. Some of the statistics we get relating to Nigeria are wild estimates and bear little relation to the facts on the ground. This is disturbing as it implies we are not fully aware of what is happening in our own country.”

As expected this has generated fierce arguments and condemnations in the circles of the worshippers of these institutions. This is much expected.

Babafemi Ojudu

Most statistics about our country are generated from the outside: child mortality rate, unemployment rate, growth rate, poverty level, productivity or lack of it, GDP, number of displaced Nigerians etc. 

Often we are not told how these data were gathered. They are pronounced and government officials , development experts and academics mouth them without raising questions. 

Our country is  judged by them and the respectability of our nations , her people and leaders is measured by the data generated by outsiders to justify and drive their agenda for Nigeria and Africa. 

The fact that they could be wrong and far off the mark was practically demonstrated to me some years ago at a conference on Investing in Nigeria, which I participated in in Washington DC.

It was the year MTN, the telecommunications company that originated in South Africa, celebrated her success story in Nigeria. It was a magnificent story told at business fora for all over the world . It was a story that at that moment demonstrated to American investors that if they should continue to depend on the statistics and data from the Bretton Woods institutions, they will not get the right compass  to lead them to the right decisions on investments in Nigeria.

What happened ? 

President Obasanjo deregulated the telecoms industry. Bids were advertised all over the world for interested companies to apply to invest in Nigeria. Top American companies , as narrated at the conference, hired consultants to advise on whether or not to put money and resources in the Telecom sector in Nigeria.

All of the reports and recommendations from the consultants using the World Bank data came up negative. Nigerians are so poor that hardly could anyone spend a dollar a day on making telephone calls, they concluded. The American majors in this sector received the reports and decided it was not worth their while. 

Nigeria was left with MTN and the then Econet , both from southern parts of Africa. 

They took the risk, invested. and boy , the money came in troves. The western telecom companies became green in their eyes.

When ten years after MTN consistently reported humongous profits , the majors  from America and Europe were desirous of coming . It was too late. The cost of license had not only gone up but the door had been shut. So much for the lack of understanding and knowledge of the Nigerian situation and economy by outsiders, particularly the West.

That is why I feel no nation or community can experience development by relying on handouts from these institutions. A nation finds growth by mobilizing the energy of her people for productivity. Those nations whose leaders expend their energy and resources pursuing funds from those bodies that make up figures to stay in business, and relying on oxygen from them for the survival of their nations, are simply suffering from laziness, insincerity and lack of creativity. 

Let them learn from others who have taken their destinies in their hand, called on their people’s creativity and lifted millions out of poverty. Steadfastness, not junkets in search of handouts from develops nations. Aid truly is dead, paraphrasing the Zambian Author, Dambisa Moyo. 

Expending energy on writing proposals, spending millions on first class flight tickets and expensive hotels in Washington DC and New York , doctoring statistics and manipulating reports to impress World Bank bureaucrats never will bring about development. It has always been a fraud and will remain so. Our few public servants who make this their pre-occupation should take a page from this admonition. 

Be sincere, level up with your people , keep your traveling passport in the inner recess of your wardrobe , get you hand dirty, what you are looking for brother  in Sokoto is in the pocket of your Sokoto.

A large chunk of whatever is given ends up in paying fat cat consultants and their expenses, buying SUVs and living big among the poor they are supposed to bring out of poverty. It a device by a few to have a good life at the expense of the image of our country and using our people as their mascots. If in doubt ask the people of the North East of Nigeria. As the President indicated, there is hardly any evidence that aid money declared in western capitals make their way to the North East. 

The prices of accommodation in Yola and Maiduguri is sky high, bid up by competing Western Organizations while the ordinary citizens are pushed to live on the streets all in the name of aid. The young western boys and girls in search of adventure rock night clubs in Abuja, Lagos and Yola while writing reports and consuming the aid dollars – and perhaps if the President is right, also making up figures. 

The time is ripe for us to take data collection and projection seriously, and that starts with our identity. We must be able to identify all Nigerians – to secure ourselves, to plan for our schools and clinics, to even ensure we collect much needed taxes to support the expanded services we must deliver to our every growing citizens. This is why we must emphasize the harmonization of the various databases of identities that are now stored in various forms across various competing agencies, and take primary data collection very serious as Mr. President has admonished. 

Again,  President Buhari I am with you in this.

-Senator Ojudu is Special Adviser Political Matters. He writes from Abuja.