Nigeria is the world’s 13th largest oil producer and President Muhammadu Buhari re-affirmed in his latest Independence Day address that oil constitutes the bulk of Nigeria’s revenue and foreign exchange earnings. But, as the country quickly depletes her limited oil reserves and the world at large advances in technology, experts agree it’s time it focused on something else: data.
Communications Minister Isa Ali Pantami appears to share this view too. “Data is the oil of the 21st century,” he tweeted on Thursday, paraphrasing reputable research analyst, Peter Sondergaard Gartner. “But oil is just useless thick goop until you refine it into fuel. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the refinery in a digital economy.”
The country, however, still has a long way to go in making this shift—no thanks to an entrenched poor record-keeping and data collection culture.
Journalists hit a wall
With investigative and data journalism increasingly gaining ground among Nigerian reporters, one challenge they often face is the unavailability of important data.
According to the 2019 National Freedom of Information Ranking by the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC), out of a total of 191 public institutions, 87 (45.5 per cent) do not engage in proactive disclosure of information and the rest (54.5) only partially disclose proactively.
Data available to the PPDC also revealed that there’s a 33.5 per cent chance of getting all details requested through an FOI request, a 10.5 per cent chance of getting some of the details, and a 56 per cent chance of getting nothing at all. This is similar to The ICIR‘s experience in the past year, with over 60 per cent of requests either denied or ignored.
But an unwillingness to respond to requests for data is not the only problem, public institutions, in fact, do not have some of those data on record and in an easily retrievable form.
In April, Director of Press at the Federal Ministry of Justice, Modupe Ogundoro, told Bayo Akinloye, then a reporter with ThisDay Newspaper, she couldn’t confirm they have records on the number of name changes done in the last five years.
“How do you expect me to know the number of changes of name that has been done in the country? … I have gone around asking people which department handles records of change of name. I have spoken with my colleagues in the legal department and they told me that they don’t have such records,” she said.
“There must be a record somewhere. I am not saying we don’t have the records in the ministry and I am not saying that we have. I am working on finding out where, if it exists, the record is.”
Also, in July, a PremiumTimes reporter, Evelyn Okakwu, revealed how there seems to be no coordinated data with the Nigerian Prisons Service on the number of inmates detained and released in the last 15 years.
“After tracing the letter in vain for weeks, Mr Enobore [spokesperson of the Nigerian Prisons] requested a more concise application for the said data,” she wrote. “A further request for a similar data, to cover five or ten years, was not granted by the service. The subsequent letter was also lost between the statistics and operations units of the service.”
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