Interviews

How NBS is Raising the Bars for Quality Data in Nigeria

Dr. Yemi Kale - Statistician General of Nigeria

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) is an important sector of the economy in various ramifications considering how data, privacy, and security are becoming critical. Our correspondent Justice Godfrey Okamgba had a long chat with Dr. Yemi Kale, the Statistician-General of Nigeria concerning these issues

You head the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the largest repository of data in the country, do you think NBS is doing enough to make data available to Nigerians as and when due?

NBS is continually raising the bar for data production, data quality, and dissemination. We are trying to make the best use of the resources we have to produce sound economic and social-economic statistics and improve the coordination of national statistical system, given limited resources. Our work is two-fold—data collection and data dissemination.

As the agency collecting and publishing national statistics, we are aiming at constantly improving our methodologies and technologies to enhance the quality of the data we produce and disseminate. So in a nutshell, we are doing our best with the resources at our disposal but we know that we haven’t met all data requirements of our users, which is ever growing.

Some players in some sectors of the industry have argued that data is not been properly warehoused in Nigeria. What are your views about this?

As the coordinator of the national statistical system, NBS is responsible for managing all official data. This means that NBS is expected to be a repository of all official statistics in the country. We already have a sound IT infrastructure for managing and warehousing this data.

A good look at our website, which has a data portal that hosts most of the datasets we publish. We also have other databases and portals where we host more disaggregated datasets (Micro-data), specifically for researchers who intend to do a more rigorous analysis.

At the same time, all the statistics we collect is also published and open to the public and can be found in our online e-library. So, the infrastructure is definitely in place, however, there is always an ongoing work to arrange and organize these datasets into more easily accessible and user-friendly formats.

A good example of this is recently uploaded Trade database which makes it easy for users to get information on Nigeria’s trade with other countries, specifically showing the types of items or goods traded, as well as the value of those goods.

Big data is becoming a buzzword in Nigeria, how can Nigerians start taking advantage of big data.

All around us, we observe the quantum leap in the type, size, and scale of data that is being driven by rapid advances in the world of computing. Vast amounts of data are being generated every second of the day, around the globe in various forms and across multiple sectors.

In NBS, we are leveraging on this valuable resource to complement our conventional data sources. Data, whether ordinary or what we call big data, is merely another word for information.

The thing that differentiates Big Data from the “regular data” we analyze is that the tools we use to collect, store and analyze it has had to change to accommodate the increase in size and complexity.

With the latest tools and technology in the market, we no longer have to rely on just sampling or more traditional methods. Instead, we can process datasets in their entirety and gain a far more complete picture of the world around us.

There is currently an ongoing effort in the United Nations Statistical Commission on how we can use big data for official statistics, so very soon Big Data will take greater priority in official statistics.

For us in NBS, what is more, important is that we produce information that accurately reflects reality, conforming to international standards and norms.

There is a huge knowledge gap when it comes to data science in Nigeria, is the NBS doing anything about it in any form at least to bridge the gap.

Part of our mandate includes advising government, policy makers and data users on appropriate standard and methods in data production and use. Thus, we are serious about being champions of data science and utilizing tech innovations to improve the accuracy, efficacy, and efficiency of our data collection & analysis processes.

This is something we will continue to engage all stakeholders in. We are also always updating our capacity for collecting, interpreting and analyzing data in order to accommodate this increasingly changing and complex environment. One of our major success areas in recent years has been in the area of Statistical Advocacy, which is essentially informing and educating the public on the work we do.

We have no doubt in our minds that this has increased both the knowledge and appetite for Nigerian data, locally and internationally. Literally, every day many of our staff are responding to one form of the data request, from walk-in requests to online requests. Sometimes we get as much as 200 requests in one day.

Therefore, I would like to say that the data knowledge gap is being bridged and NBS is playing a significant role in this area, even as we anticipate an expansion of interest in that area.

Sir, what are the pressing challenges affecting the operations of the NBS

As the national institution by law responsible for all official data, the authoritative source and custodian of all official data and coordinator of the National Statistics Office, it is our responsibility to advocate for the correct processes for producing and disseminating data, for the integrity of data, and for the use of data for evidence-based policy and decision making.

Accordingly, it is our responsibility to ensure data as essential as it is for growth and development isn’t mixed with ideology or politics (for or against).

To produce unbiased national statistics, NBS needs to be apolitical and committed to ideological neutrality. This ensures that data outputs are defensible, reliable and accessible not only to governments, but to the private sector, media, and citizens.

NBS has an inherently sensitive position and could be susceptible to internal and external pressures, but we believe reliable data is robust enough to stand on its own merits; therefore, we focus on maintaining our standards and methodologies, keeping to international best practices applied locally. It is also our responsibility to ensure that the data that is produced is accessible and relatively easily understood and interpreted.

That being said, we often see misinterpretations of our published data for various reasons – for example, some misuse statistics because they are neither willing nor prepared to face the reality illuminated by data. This is not a problem of statistics, but rather a problem of the ill-motive of the users of the data.

Another challenge is the issue of inadequate resources to fully carry out our work and produce the statistics needed by users. While this is not a new issue – it has improved slightly over the recent years – it is still nowhere close to what is required to build a robust and dynamic statistical framework for a country as strategic and important as Nigeria.

However, we do our best to utilize what has been allocated to us in the most efficient and useful manner, with the belief that our output is indeed the best advocate for more resources.

In terms of Cybersecurity, at least to protect the data which is in your custody, what measure is the NBS taking.

Cybersecurity is a focal issue for us at the NBS. By law, we are responsible for all data points collected by us, and legally we are liable for unnecessary and unqualified breaches of data. As a result, we have put in place the most affordable security systems in place to protect our data.

Naturally, these systems are reviewed and updated periodically, and our users and data suppliers can rest assured that any information handled by the NBS is protected to the best possible standards.