Executive Director Africa Polling Institute (API) Professor Bell Ihua discusses with Blueprint reasons highly skilled Nigerians out-number the unemployed in the search for greener pasture abroad, as well the citizens’ perception of the COVID-19 pandemic among others. BINTA SHAMA reports.
Let me congratulate you on your recent appointment as a professor sometime last year. What does this connote?
First, I want to thank you very much for the opportunity of this parley. Let me start by saying Africa Polling Institute is an independent, non-profit and non-partisan opinion research think-tank that conducts polls, surveys, social research and evaluation studies at the intersection of democracy, governance, economic conditions and public life. The institute seeks to deepen the availability and access of public opinion research to support critical state and non-state actors; with a key focus on sub-Saharan Africa.
And to your question, I was appointed a visiting professor of practice in opinion research at Coal City University, Enugu. It was in recognition of my work within the opinion research space, and I’m quite thankful to the leadership of the university, especially the Vice Chancellor, Professor Afam Icha-Ituma. It’s an exciting opportunity, because it will enable me combine “town and gown” in my work like I always say. I am an advocate of applied research, in emphasis, research conducted by academics and university scholars and how their work can add value to our society and the world at large. This appointment gives me an opportunity to collaborate with other academics. I have also been charged to work towards establishing a regional social and opinion research hub at the university which will be responsible for conducting public opinion polls and surveys in the South-Eastern region of Nigeria.
Can you share with major studies your Institute has conducted?
Yes, we conducted and released a number of interesting studies in the year 2020 in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic, lockdown and restrictions. We started the year with the Canada Rush study, which was a study on the motivations for Nigerians emigrating to Canada. Surprisingly, this study received notable attention. The findings highlighted reasons some Nigerians were considering emigrating to another country; better career opportunities, heightened insecurity, the desire to provide a better future for their children, even for further education, and for perceived poor governance in Nigeria. The study also revealed that those seeking emigration were not your average unemployed or poor Nigerians but the highly educated, employed people who are resigning their jobs and are taking their skills, experience and qualifications out of the country. The favourable Canadian immigration policies acted as a key “pull factor” attracting many Nigerians, as we identified different schemes and migration pathways to Canada such as the permanent and temporary scheme, federal skilled workers programme also known as the express entry scheme, Atlantic migration programme, provincial nomination programme and several others.
In addition, we conducted another major study tagged “Does Nigeria love Nigerians?” This was also well received; it was a study which sought to examine the social contract between the country and its citizens. It made use of a number of indicators to test whether or not Nigeria as a country can be considered as fair and kind to her citizens. We made use of indicators such as how much pride and trust Nigerians have for the country, how well do they consider that their lives matter to the government and if their voice counts to public policy and decision making; what benefits would they say they have benefitted in the country in the last five years, how well does the country treat its elderly citizens, people living with disabilities and the terminally ill amongst us? The findings were fascinating. Other major studies include the first ever Nigeria Social Cohesion Survey conducted in 2019, which revealed that Nigeria is not a socially cohesive country; and more needs to be done by the government to promote oneness, trust, equity, inclusion and hope for the future.
We also conducted and released the Mental Health in Nigeria Survey in collaboration with EpiAfric, Rape in Nigeria Tertiary Institutions which was done in collaboration with HeartMinders Societal Advancement Initiative, The 2019 BUHARIMETER Survey etc
‘Does Nigeria Love Nigerians Survey’ was one of your works. What prompted this particular survey?
Thank you very much for this question. As public opinion pollsters, you must understand that we are the barometers of the public and it is our responsibility to constantly scan the environment and look into gauging public attitudes, opinions and perspectives on critical issues that pertain to our common existence. And so, this study stems from the theory of the social contract which presupposes that the country owes a certain responsibility and obligations to the citizens, and citizens also owe certain obligations and responsibility to the state or country. So, what we are observing as opinion pollsters is a disconnection such that people are becoming really apathetic when it comes to the government and we see that citizens see themselves apart or different from the government, and because of that we are seeing a lot of breakdown in the social contract and this breakdown is leading to an increase in crime, increase in social vices, disobedience of the laws and the constitution and civil unrest in different parts of the country.
Looking at all of these vices, we begin to ask ourselves if these are Nigerians perpetuating these crimes. What has happened to the contract citizens have with the state? Is that contract still in force? It is important that we conducted this investigation and this is the first part of a two- part survey to understand what was going on and this first part is “Does Nigeria Love Nigerians” looking at the country’s roles and obligations to the citizens and the second part which is coming as a sequel to this we have released is “Do Nigerians Love Nigeria” where we will be looking at obligations and responsibilities of citizens to the country; How far are citizens willing to go for the country? Will they be willing to give their lives to the state if it comes to that point, are they willing to pay their tax? Will they be willing to obey the Nigerian Constitution and the rules and laws of the land? These and others are what informed the study.
Tell us about your findings on whether Nigerians are proud of being Nigerians and the level of trust they have in the system.
Yes, interestingly, 91% of Nigerians said they are proud to be Nigerians and these cuts across the various social demographics (age, geo-political zones, gender, rural/urban demography). Nigerians are proud of being Nigerians. However, when it comes to the issue of trust for the Nigerian state, the survey showed that 67% of Nigerians say that they have little or no trust at all in the country compared to 33% of Nigerians who say they have some level of trust or a lot of trust in the country. So what we find here is sort of a love-hate relationship. On one hand, they are proud of the country, they are proud of being Nigerians, on the other hand they have no trust for the country. Clearly, we see an issue of trust affecting the social contract that the citizens have for the state.
What did you intend to achieve with this particular study?
As opinion pollsters, we serve as a bridge between citizens and the government, we serve as a bridge between the governed and governance, we serve as a bridge between the people and the policy makers. So it is for us to bring these opinions of the citizens of the people to the table of the policy makers, to the table of the government. And in fairness to this particular government, what we see is not an evidence of what has gone wrong but what has happened in successive governments that has resulted into a situation where overtime, the ordinary Nigerian has become separated from the state. So the essence of this is to interrogate the social contract and to help policy makers understand what is happening within the social contract and why there needs to be some reforms.
You also conducted some studies on the Corona Virus pandemic. Can you share with us some of the findings those studies?
Yes, we conducted about three different studies looking at different aspects of Covid-19 on citizens. The first was a commissioned study we conducted for a group, which was trying to undertake some intervention in one of the south-south states and requested that we conducted a citizens poll to help ascertain the state of Covid-19 in that state; gauging what their people knew about the pandemic and examining its impact on them. The second study was a nationwide survey to provide an update on the corona virus pandemic from the perspective of the general public. The poll found that while majority of Nigerians believe in the existence of Covid-19, only 75% of that proportion believes it exists in Nigeria. We also found that 84% of Nigerians said they will not be in support of a second lockdown due to the hardship they experienced during the initial lockdown. The third study on the Covid-19 was the one we conducted to assess the socio-economic implications of the pandemic on rural women in Nigeria. For this one, we had to visit rural areas to directly interact with rural women. The major findings from the study showed that majority of rural women interviewed, 74% said that their sources of income had been negatively impacted by the pandemic. Also, the study revealed that 90% of the rural women interviewed stated that they did not receive any form of palliative from the government or any other source during the lockdown.
It’s a new year. Is the Institute currently undergoing any study and what should we look forward to in this 2021?
As I mentioned earlier, we are public opinion pollsters, and it is our responsibility to constantly scan the environment for the hotspots or honeypot areas that we can use to support policy makers. We have some new grants that have recently been won, so we intend to engage in more collaboration with institutions like the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the National Populations Commission (NPC). We also wish to expand our footprints across the African continent. Praise be to God, last year we handled assignments in Burkina Faso, Mali and Central African Republic. We also handled assignments in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ghana the year before. This year I would like to see our footprints extend to places like Senegal, Cote D’ivoire, Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana, and Uganda. We also have some very interesting studies lined up to be released. It’s going to be a very active year for us an Institute.