Simon B. Harry, NBS

By Adebayo Obajemu

After a decade as Statistician- General of the Federation, serving two terms of five years each, Dr. Yemi Kale has graciously bowed out.

Clearly a successful tenure, many view his years at the helm as a period during which the data gathering agency became an important source of information on virtually every walk of life in Nigeria from macro to micro economic data.

The man chosen by President Muhammadu Buhari to replace him is neither a stranger to the data system nor a brought-in from any other ministry. He is an insider who has been in the thick and thin of the statistical subculture of logic and data gathering and analysis for planning purposes for the past three decades.

Simon Harry, the new kid on the block at the National Bureau of Statistics is a brilliant data expert.

As the outgoing Director, Corporate Planning and Technical Coordination Department at the NBS, he is said to have reformed the Department for efficiency.

Sources say Harry was an important figure in the reform of the Nigerian Statistical System, which fast tracked the creation and establishment of State Bureaus of Statistics at the sub-national level. This is an important contribution to the reform in Bureau of Statistics.

Harry is expected to manage the Statistical Operations of the National Statistical System in the production of official statistical data.

In the course of his long civil service career, the new helmsman made significant contributions to several reform initiatives including the reform of the then Federal Office of Statistics, which transformed to the current NBS.

Harry, as analysts have posited, is sound and qualified for the top job in statistical gathering for national planning, but he is stepping into a big pair of shoes left behind by a man who has changed the face of NBS in the past decade, and looms larger than life. He will have to further step up his act to come out of Kale’s shadow.

Kale had created a new template for assessing performance, and his benchmarks are as demanding as they are tasking.
Many critics are agreed that during his time there as Statistician- General, he acquainted himself well, and did much to reposition NBS.

Kale, 46, did not just, set high dreams, but equally delivered visionary leadership and initiated bold and important reforms. Those reforms restored confidence in the entire data process, and delivered brand value to the NBS as a producer of reliable, quality and timely statistics for both national and international use.

The reforms also elevated the Office of the Statistician – General in a way that it is now highly admired and aspired by many.

Recall that the Statistics Act of 2007 confers on NBS, the core duty of developing, managing and providing official statistics on a wide range of economic, social, population and environmental matters. The NBS also has a role to coordinate the statistical operations of official bodies and liaise with international organisations.

But up till 2011, the agency was unable to deliver expectations, particularly in terms of reliability, timeliness and believability of data/outcomes

The reason for this is not divorced from a lack of visionary leadership that could see far into the role of data in national planning.

Kale assumed office at the age of 36 as the helmsman of the all important data agency. A man of vision borne out of deep scholarship forged in important schools in the world, Kale saw the huge work ahead and was clearly determined to tackle them. And he did deliver!

He introduced bold reforms in the country’s data system. Today, Nigeria has one of the most robust data systems, at least in the region, a sharp contrast to pre-2011 when the country’s data process and output was thin and could not be trusted.

Today, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has established itself as a reservoir of data on virtually everything and is unarguably one of the most important and quoted data authorities well regarded by local and international analysts, market operators, economists, journalists and development agencies including international bodies like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, Development Finance Institutions as well as public service officials.

With Kale in the saddle, Nigeria’s quality of data has been significantly enhanced through the introduction of Computer Assisted Personal Interviewers (CAPI) – a much more modern technology for field data collection, and thus gradually departing from the use of paper-printed questionnaires. He also introduced a call center which also eased data collection. But the truth is that in all of this process, Harry played a central role, thus in a way he has been part of the success story of the past decade.

As heir apparent to the throne of data royalty and now a prime royal himself, it is only fitting to describe him as the Sheriff come to town with enough experience to pilot the data business to new heights.

Over the years, the NBS had carried out a series of methodology reviews to boost data quality. Some of the methodology improvements include the rebasing of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the revision of the methodology for computing labour force and unemployment estimates, amongst others. The CPI rebasing in 2013, particularly showed how Nigerians’ consumption pattern had changed, moving slightly away from just food to things like luxury, education, health. Behind the methodology review was Harry along with an intimidating team of dedicated staff who believed in the vision of quality data management.

In the area of data dissemination, Kale successfully upgraded the NBS website and introduced several features like an App, the data portal and the data release calendar tool, both of which are the first for any African Statistical Office. For the first time, NBS data now have time-lines and users now know when to expect data. Official statistics are also now disseminated via social media to reach a wider audience of users, a sharp deviation from the past.

He also introduced the use of infographics to make data easily understandable by the users. The timeliness, quantity and quality of data was greatly enhanced and data credibility improved significantly.

For many who have followed the trajectory and service delivery of Dr. Kale, Dr Harry has a clearly quite big task ahead of him, going by how well Kale ran the Bureau, in taking it from a largely opaque parastatal to one that has helped drive economic growth through the more timely release of data.

Harry joined the defunct Federal Office of Statistics as Statistician 11 in 1992 , rising to the position of a substantive Director of Statistics in 2019.

“The new man Harry must build on the strong ramparts put in place by Dr.Kale, but there’s enough reason to believe that he has the experience having spent three decades in NBS, so in a way he has been part of the Kale years. He needs to step out of shadow of his predecessor, because NBS has become an important mine of Information”, says Professor Adeagbo Moritiwon, a political scientist and public affairs analyst.

In the coming months, the style of the new man will begin to unfold, and how it impacts on the NBS that is already widely seen as being quite efficient, will dictate the direction and trajectory of the data agency under his dispensation.

Here’s wishing him well


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