Does The Nigerian Government Accept “Foreign Data” Only When It Is Favourable?

By  |  October 25, 2019

Could there be some sort of double standards at play here? Is the Nigerian government playing some sort of two-faced game of convenience when it comes to data on their countries? More so, when that data is coming from foreign institutions?

Those are just a few of the many questions that have popped up since the Nigerian government threw its weight behind the World Bank’s latest Ease of Doing Business rankings. It appears the government sides with the numbers only when they are favourable, and criticizes it when they don’t quite reflect a preferred outcome.

In the early hours of Thursday, October 24, the World Bank released its Doing Business Index (DBI) for 2020. In the latest Ease of Doing Business rankings, Nigeria placed 131st.

Source: World Bank Group

That meant Nigeria leaped 15 places from the previous year when it ranked 146th globally. It continued a run of improvements by 39 places since 2016.

The West African nation was also mentioned as one of only two African countries that made the World Bank’s Top 10 Reformers list; a list of countries whose economic reforms have been more aggressive and telling than others in the past year.

It was the second time in three years that Nigeria made the list, with Togo being the only other African country that matches that record.

Once the data from the World Bank dropped, it wasn’t long before the Nigerian government seized the moment to applaud the institution and also help itself to a pat on the back for a job well done.

Welcoming the announcement, President Buhari in a statement signed by his Spokesperson, Femi Adesina and made public on that same Thursday, noted that:

“The movement of 15 places to 131 as well as the recognition being given to Nigeria as one of the top 10 most improved countries, that have implemented the most reforms this year, is significant because we were not even able to achieve some of the key reforms we had pursued, but what we have done so far is being recognized.”

The statement read further: “This validation confirms that our strategy is working and we will continue to push even harder to deliver more impactful reforms.”

Sure, there’s nothing wrong with thanking oneself for doing a good job but the problem, however, is deflecting and blaming others when the results say you have done a terrible job.

Like, when the government basically described data from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) as “wild estimates” because of some earlier data that was unfavourable. It’s ironic that the same government is now lauding the same institutions for data that they (the government) has basically chosen to gloat over.

Indeed, on Wednesday, October 9, Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, warned Nigerians to be wary of statistics from world bodies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Of course, this statement trailed some particularly “unfavourable” data from the World Bank which places Nigeria 152nd out of 157 countries in the “Human Development Index.”

“Nigeria unfortunately ranks 152nd out of 157 countries in Human Development Index,” Dr. Jim Yong Kim, the President of the World Bank Group, said at the Annual Meeting held in Bali, Indonesia, earlier this month.

Responding to the claim by the World Bank, President Buhari said:

“Today, most of the statistics quoted about Nigeria are developed abroad by the World Bank, IMF and other foreign bodies. Some of these statistics are wild estimates that bear little relation to the facts on the ground.”

“We can only plan realistically when we have reliable data. As a government, we are taking very serious steps to improve the quality of data available for policymaking, and today I charged the Presidential Economic Advisory Council to prioritise the collection of primary data.”

In that veiled criticism, the President did not only imply that the World Bank’s data should not be relied upon but also talked up efforts that are being made to promote data collection locally, which apparently, is more reliable.

The body responsible for data collection locally is the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Interestingly, earlier this month, the Director-General of the Bureau revealed that the majority of data published in Nigeria comes from the NBS and the foreign bodies do not collect data in Nigeria.

However, he went on to mention that the World Bank, IMF, and other foreign institutions regularly enter into partnerships with the Bureau for data collection.

“The World Bank partners with us a lot and they give us financial support,” Kale told Premium Times.

“We are currently collecting data on poverty which in partnership with the World Bank and another project on corruption in partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).”

He also highlighted cases ”where foreign bodies do data modeling due to unavailability of the data they wanted.”

“They do estimates in their countries sometimes when the data they needed does not exist,” he said. “They only create models when they cannot access the data they need anywhere else.”

So, apparently, some of the data from the Bretton Woods Institutions cannot and should not be trusted one hundred percent, unless of course, it says a certain government is doing quite well — in which case — it should be embraced? And if the data from the same institutions say that someone’s done a terrible job, it should be disregarded as inaccurate?

Well, that reeks of double standards, can’t have it both ways, can’t both endorse and oppose. And it appears many Nigerians are far from impressed.

David Hundeyin, a well-known media personality and contributor and on CNN, Business Day, and CCN Markets, among others, says he sees through the schemes.

“My take on the issue is consistent with what I’ve been saying for some months now – the government has completely given up on managing an economy and formulating impactful policy, because for political reasons it has frozen out everyone who has any such capacity, even those within the administration,” he said.

As he told WeeTracker: “All the government wants to do now is narrative management through media messaging and social media astroturfing.”

“In other words, we are no longer being governed. Our “government” is simply an organisation that reacts to occurrences by sending out statements to agree, disagree or express some bland regret about whatever it is responding to.”

It follows that the government should either stand with the data from foreign sources (both in the good times and the bad times), or disregard it entirely while also working to bolster the efforts of the local data collection agency which has been neglected for far too long.

Otherwise, what’s to make anyone believe Nigeria’s significantly improved position on the World Bank’s latest Doing Business Index isn’t just another “wild estimate that bears little relation to the facts on the ground”?

Featured Image Courtesy: GuardianNG

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