Ekaette Enang is a Professor of Statistics with specialty in Sample Survey at the University of Calabar. She is the second female Professor of statistics in Nigeria and her scholarly works, published both locally and internationally cover a wide range of areas including: time series analysis, statistical distribution, calibration estimation, impulse response function and others. She is also a survey design and statistical analysis Consultant. She had a session with the Engineers’ Forum, in which she addressed several issues of national concerns.
As a member in the Scientific Board of Cross River Health and Demographic Surveillance System, tell us why the State was foot-dragging on Covid-19 pandemic and the situation now in terms of reported cases?
Thanks for having me. First let me correct an impression. The Cross River Health and Demographic Surveillance System is not a State Government Agency but a Scientific Board for a Research team that is based in the University of Calabar. So I am not competent to comment on the situation of the Covid-19 in the State. I do know however that this issue had since been resolved as positive cases in CRS have been listed by NCDC.
Getting appropriate Statistics is still an issue in Sub-Saharan Africa where most times we depend on International organizations to source for information. Why is this so?
This can be traced to a number of factors. Top most on the list is the growing apathy to the use of data by both Government and private Organizations. Next is the problem of the disconnect that exists between data generators and data regulator/management agencies. Also, there are no enabling laws to govern the collection, storage, retrieval and use of data in the region. Another key factor is unprofessionalism in the Statistical System which has made Statistics and data handling an all comer’s affair. Still, poor funding (or none at all) of relevant and cutting-edge researches and surveys constitutes a major constraint.
What will you say are the challenges in the various stages of developments in the Nigerian National Statistical System?
One of the major challenges is the use of non-professionals (Non Statisticians) to drive the Statistical System. This is quite unlike the practice in other professions like Accounting, Engineering, Medicine and Law, where only certified professionals are allowed to take up key positions.
Another major challenge stems from inadequate funding of the National Statistical System (NSS) as is the case in Nigeria. The establishment of Statistics Trust Fund as part of the National Sustainable Development Strategies (NSDS) is yet to be fully actualized. Admittedly, Government funding alone cannot sustain the needs of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) to fully and properly run our National Statistical System (NSS), to meet International Standards. The World Bank has played a vital role in funding most surveys and other data generation activities while some donor agencies, like Dangote and Melinda Gates Foundations have also funded few health surveys in Nigeria. What they have done is however a far cry from what is needed for NSS to be on the same page with its Global counterparts.
There is also a challenge in the way we play down on the importance of using data for making informed policy decisions which would enhance economic growth and development in Nigeria. Activities capable of creating awareness on the need to imbibe the culture of using facts and figures for evidence-based policy making have not always attracted adequate support from government and related organizations. Nigeria is thus, not regarded as an information-oriented society. There is no strong belief in data (evidence) in Nigeria. This explains the low rate of responses from respondents during surveys and low turnouts at events targeted towards data generation. We tend to resist results from investigations. Little wonder then that any person can comment on issues against or for Nigeria, concerning figures or data, without recourse to appropriate agencies.
Some of your expertise areas include Multivariate Calibration. Do you interface with industry needs in your research?
We have done a lot in the area of Calibration Estimation and so, far we have come up with new /alternative estimators for some population parameters (especially the population means) which we have tested and found to be more robust when compared with some existing estimators for these parameters. These research findings are published and are readily available in the public domain. Unfortunately, there is no collaboration with the Industries. What is obtainable in most developed Countries is that when an Industry encounters a problem, such is referred to the University where a competent research group will then take up the task (with full support from the Industry) to proffer solution. We are still struggling to get Industrial collaboration in my area.
When Multivariate Calibration is deployed, at what conditions can it become invalid?
The essence of calibration is to improve the precision of survey estimates by adjusting the original design weights to incorporate known population parameter(s) of the auxiliary variable(s). Therefore, Calibration (univariate or multivariate) becomes invalidated when it cannot improve the precision of the survey estimates of the population parameter of interest.
Applying this to Instrumentation Engineering, Calibration is the process of adjusting machines, instrument and/or components to improve their precision based on established standard. In practice, it also involves the resetting of a device if it is out of accuracy or when there is a deflection. Therefore if the precision of an instrument cannot be achieved, then the calibration is invalid.
People and organizations bandy figures for whatever reasons. What is the position of the law on false peddling of statistics?
There is no extant law to punish offenders in this regard but there is a penalty for any offence of this nature under the Statistics Act (2007). This Statistics act mainly takes care of the operation of the National Statistical System in Nigeria. Section 28(5) under Offences and Penalties states thus, “Any person who, in purported compliance with the requirement to furnish information, estimate, return or particular under this act knowingly or recklessly makes a statement in the information, estimate, return or particular which is false in any material particular commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of one hundred thousand naira or one year imprisonment.” This can only be invoked if the culprit works for or under the National Statistical System. Note here that the only agency saddled with the responsibility of producing and disseminating information in form of data (official statistics) is the NBS, which is the coordinating agency for the country’s statistical system.
How can we enhance data generation for national development?
Professionalism should be strengthened by Government through the amendment of the 2007 Statistics Act, and the National Assembly should speed up the passage of the CISON Bill. Government, Corporate organisations and individuals, as well as the private sector and other stakeholders should show interest in events, programmes and projects involving awareness in data generation and utilization in Nigeria to change the people’s orientation towards the need for data production and use. The establishment of an effective Statistics Trust Fund (STF) that would stand the test of time is imperative. There should also be an effective manpower training and development plan for proper production and handling of data in line with International Standards. Surveys by relevant agencies should be harmonized through integrated co-ordination by NBS to produce reliable and valid data. There is the need for telecommunication organizations (like MTN, 9Mobile, Globacom, etc), individuals and other corporate bodies to also support our Statistical System financially in addition to sponsoring entertainments like Big Brother Nigeria (BB Naija), Maltina Dance Competitions, and other such events which are of doubtful national benefit. Investment in data generation and collection could help in putting our economy on a better pedestal, as confirmed by the submissions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), that good data can lower the cost of borrowing money in a country by 20%.
Statistical agencies should collaborate with National and International organizations or agencies in the area of capacity building, data collection, funding innovations in technology and other logistics. Finally, appropriate statistical laws should be enforced to regulate data generation and utilization.
Can you appraise the Statistical Data Management System in Nigeria?
The Nigerian Data Management System has improved but a lot still needs to be done to meet the required International Standards. The Country’s Data Management system lacks standardized data software to handle big data. It also lacks the expertise to handle these platforms. Inadequate funding has also hobbled the system. By way of appraisal, we have a weak system.
In one of your researches, you recommended the monitoring and the strengthening of professionalism in the system through the implementation of the Chartered Institute of Statisticians of Nigeria laws. What laws were you looking at?
The Chartered Institute of Statisticians of Nigeria (CISON) is a professional institute that is proposed by the Nigerian Statistical Association (NSA), a professional association established in 1976 as a non-profit professional body of Statisticians, Economists, Planners, Demographers, Analysts and Corporate Organizations; committed to the advancement of statistical theory and practice in Nigeria. The CISON bill will provide a legal framework for the practice and regulation of the statistical profession once signed into law by the President. Once it becomes an Act that can be referenced by law, a breach of its provision will attract consequences. By this law, professionals will be held accountable and non-members or non-licensed authorities can be sued by this body since it has among its provisions the establishment of a tribunal to try offenders of the Act. The CISON law will also empower CISON as a body that will statutorily be responsible for determining who qualifies to be a member. This would ensure the quality and competence of personnel which will ultimately enhance the quality of data. The body will equally engage in advocacy, training and retraining programs of members on new tools and methodology.
Finally, why is it difficult for Nigeria to have acceptable census figures despite available technology to handle the process?
The problem is multi-factorial ranging from bureaucracy, politics, religion, ethnicity, corruption, to shortage of qualified manpower. Beyond these is the apathy to the use of data for making evidence-based policy decisions and result-oriented implementation of policies. All these can be circumvented if we as a nation are willing to honestly and objectively confront these problems and if we muster the required political will.