COVID-19: A Call for Sustainable Data Capturing and Utilization

By kehinde Tayo June 3, 2020

COVID-19: A Call for Sustainable Data Capturing and Utilization

The Coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) pandemic has brought us closer to the realization that the maxim “every disappointment has its own share of blessings,” is true.  However, my idea of blessings in this scenario is not the conventional one from God as religion has always made us perceive, rather, it is such that all our imperfections and inadequacies as a country in all sectors have been laid bare.  I will cite instances to buttress my point.

The first instance was well buttressed when the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Alhaji Boss Mustapha, told anyone who cared to listen that he was not even aware that Nigeria has so much rot in her health sector. No one should blame him though; we are all aware that the current administration has always been the ‘unaware’ one.

Another instance is the foolhardiness exhibited in the Minister of Education’s directive that schools engage in online learning. Unlike the SGF, the Minister failed to admit that our educational system is so far behind when it comes to modern tools used in imparting knowledge. This is in spite of the fact that he has been the Minister of Education for about five years now!  

These are just two of the ‘blessings’ that really got to me during this period and made me sit to pen this article.

We have always been a nation that attaches little or no importance to data capturing and this has come back to haunt us. It is troubling to realize that the data we have been mouthing mostly while sharing palliatives were the ones captured on our behalf by the World Bank and even this has been largely questioned by a larger majority of the population.

As a country, our idea of data has always been anchored solely on guesswork, and when we try to capture some, they always create more questions than answers. Of note is the 2006 census which I actively participated in as an enumerator under the Lagos State Government. While the state government gave the state’s population as 17.5million, the Federal Government posited that it was 9.03million: Many said back then that this was done in a bid to balance the North-South dichotomy with its many ethno-economic pandering that has bedeviled us as a country.

While we do not value data as a country, the mistrust among us as a people, the method of data capturing, and the unreadiness of the government to responsibly make use of the data make whatever purpose the capturing was meant to serve defeated.

Back to COVID19.  Most of the countries that have been able to ease the pains on the populace by providing palliatives in form of food and financial resources at the moment have made best use of available data captured prior to the advent of the pandemic. In our case however, we are prone to spending money on generating almost new sets of data at every instance rather than harmonizing the existing ones no matter how comprehensive they may be. We do this without taking into cognizance the troubles and pervasive corruption that such processes encourage.

But ‘data is life’ as one of our mobile operators will say, only that it seems our administrators are yet to have a full grasp of this fact. Today, many falsify their ages in order to gain employment or even other things just because our birth record systems are virtually non-existent. In some states, we do not even have the correct idea of the number of houses we have. Crime detection and solution is a mirage because the technology to track the perpetrators and bring them to justice are not available and when they are, we lack the data to run them with. We complain of tax defaulters because we do not have the right data on the number of employed or unemployed citizens. Everything we do is mostly guesswork to say the least. In situations where we have data, most are still being captured using paper when the world has gone digital.

It is my sincere belief therefore that one major blessing that will be our lot when this pandemic is over is our valuation of data. The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Patanmi, should see COVID-19 as a blessing in this regard and impress it upon Commissioners at the state level to take data digitalization seriously. We can harmonize existing ones to have a central database where every Nigerian, irrespective of his location, can access this data (some will surely require protection of course) in order to use them. Agencies in charge of data capturing and utilization should be adequately funded to carry out their mandates effectively. The state governments should, as a matter of fact, ensure this is not politicized as we are wont to do in all matters of national development. The time to do this is now, and not tomorrow.

Kindly stay safe and practice all recommended safety measures to ensure that the COVID-19 curve is flattened as soon as possible.

  • Mr. Omotayo is on Twitter as @simplyteewhy