SDGs: Making Nigeria embrace the data revolution

RECENTLY in Abuja, the Women Environmental Programme, a non-governmental, non-profit, non-religious and voluntary organisation established in 1997 by a group of grass-roots women in the country, made history by training about 25 Nigerian youths on data collection for the purpose of monitoring developmental governance.

The training of data collectors was done under the project, “Promoting Transparency and Accountability in Local Government, Through Open Data Collection in Three Area Councils of FCT, Nigeria.” The project, which is being implemented by WEP in collaboration with the National Bureau of Statistics, aims at determining the status of basic amenities, creating awareness on fiscal activities of area councils and eliciting interest of the citizenry to participate effectively in the development of their communities.

To understand the significance of this project, one must look at our current socio-political environment. Is it not baffling that with the perennial political mantra of “delivering the dividends of democracy” right from 1999, Nigerians at the grass roots have yet to have concrete testimonies of these purported interventions?

During the last administration’s Presidential Summit on the defunct Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), all the state governments’ representatives at the event were reeling out data on the projects they had undertaken and the lives they were touching. Yet, when hard facts came out on the achievement of the MDGs, it was evident that Nigeria scored abysmal low points.

And this situation raises two questions: Given that most of the data on our development process comes from the international community, are these statistics to be trusted? And then, if our government officials are so certain that they have affected the lives of the ordinary Nigerian, how did they scientifically ascertain the impact of their projects on the grass-roots communities whom they were meant to represent and oversee?

The answer is manifest in the fact that as a country we have no accurate way of gathering data from the grass-roots communities. And, ironically, the ones that come back to us from our foreign development partners were as a result of foreign-sponsored data collection projects, which are arguably inefficient, because of over-dependence on random sampling and other haphazard methodologies.

This is the reason why, up till this moment, there are still ongoing debates about the exact percentages of compliance as regards the achievement of the MDGs. The statistics and facts concerning its success in Nigeria are still iffy.

And this is exactly the reason why the world’s governments decided that the current Sustainable Development Goals should toe a different line of strategy. When they convened in July 2015 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to agree on a framework for financing the new SDGs, it was agreed that there would be a “key window of opportunity to improve the existing, haphazard approach to data collection and reporting.”

Following the progress made under the MDGs, which guided global development efforts from 2000 to 2015, the world was determined that the SDGs for the period 2016 to 2030 would continue to fight against extreme poverty, but would add the challenges of ensuring more equitable development and environmental sustainability. Crucial to their success, therefore, will be strong government systems and in particular strong statistical systems that can measure and incentivise progress across the goals.

According to opendatahandbook.org, open data is data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and share alike. The data must be available as a whole, and at no more than a reasonable reproduction cost, preferably by downloading over the Internet. The data must be provided under terms that permit re-use and redistribution including the intermixing with other datasets. And, everyone must be able to use, re-use and redistribute – there should be no discrimination against fields of endeavour or against persons or groups.

Interestingly, I see a new vista of youth participation in government, if only the Nigerian youth can catch the vision of this evolving data revolution.

If the dream of WEP and other similar organisations that are set to train our youths come to reality, then we can rest assured that a new day has come in grass-roots politics and in general political participation.

I see that with open data internalised in Nigeria, the days of “political abracadabra” are numbered. No more will politicians stay inside their campaign offices and manufacture data of nonexistent community projects with which to lie and bamboozle the uninformed electorate. Right in the midst of their campaign crowd will be youths armed with raw data from the field – statistics that have been professionally and scientifically generated to track governance services and infrastructure.

On that day, no politician can “lie” to any constituent anymore; and no government official can “obfuscate” our international development partners, who are frustrated by paucity of data and transparent governance which inhibit their intervention efforts.

And it is a gladdening development that some youths are catching the vision; and when they reach the critical mass, they will lift the nation into a new socio-political paradigm.

We all must lend our voices to that of the United Nations in its admonition that both donors and recipient countries must look to join the data revolution.


  • Odogwu is a public affairs analyst.