It has been established that the world is currently experiencing a data revolution, where data has become one of the most vital assets any company can have. Hence, data science is at the peak of demand across every field and every nation in the world.
However, Nigeria is still counted as a lag in the flock; with more than enough data and information, yet so few hands to analyze and record them.
What is the Data Revolution about?
While there has been no obvious or express changes to how data is perceived, it is however true that the value of data has skyrocketed over the years and has birthed an age in which data wields the ultimate power to make or mar our world.
Where data produces information that could inform policies and decisions, increase productivity, strengthen economies and better human existence, there has been a growing need for people and ways by which these data can be recorded, studied and thoroughly secured.
For this reason, Data science has risen in the ranks and is listed among one of the most paying, most in-demand and fastest growing jobs in the world.
What is Data Science?
Wikipedia defines Data Science as “a concept to unify statistics, data analysis, informatics, and their related methods, in order to understand and analyze actual phenomena with data.”
Simply put, data science is the study of data with the aim of creating helpful insights as to how things work and how they can work better.
What Data Scientists do:
They are analysts who work with machine learning algorithms to collect and study data; and from their studies, find meaningful correlations with which predictions can be made.
Hence, they combine the prowess of mathematics, statistics, programming and domain expertise to explore data and consequently communicate results.
The benefits of Data Science:
While the benefits of adequate data science are innumerable, here are some of the most popular examples of things it has accomplished:
- Better Governance: In developed countries, the government records the data of every single citizen within its jurisdiction. With this data at the ready, it is easier to distribute wealth, regulate the activities of the citizens, manage their needs and enforce policies. Even in terms of security and policing, having the data of every citizen and monitoring their activities both online and offline assists in the apprehension of criminals and protection of rights and social calm.
- Improves Healthcare: The health sector also employs the expertise of data scientists to track the spread of diseases, the effects of a drug on people and to define who needs what and when.
- Improves Social Media: The “friend suggestions” we get on facebook and suggestions on “pages” and/or “groups” we may like are as a result of our previous searches and inputs. Our activities on the internet are recorded and the data scientist finds a pattern in them and predicts future needs, solutions to which they provide.
- Facilitates E-commerce: The same thing happens in e-commerce. We are provided with suggestions based on previous data collected and thus making our experience on these platforms enjoyable and stress-free.
Data Science in Nigeria:
According to the 2021 Global Innovation Index, Nigeria occupies the 121st position in terms of Human Capital and Research; and in the aspect of Knowledge and Technological outputs, she sits in the 123rd position out of 132 countries. This goes to say that the country of over 200,000,000 minds is a dependent consumer of IT solutions and technology rather than it is a producer of such.
In an Interview with The Hub, Lengdung Tungchamma, a data scientist and the co-founder of Alpha25 said Nigeria has a huge gap within the data science sector – one which only a few people are struggling to fill. “I actually learnt data science on my own through Youtube videos,” he said. “That’s actually part of the huge gap that’s existing.”
Where there is interest to learn the skill, there are not enough outlets to thoroughly train data scientists. The focus is mostly on software development and blockchain technology. This, according to him, can be censured to poor awareness, inadequate funding and relatively few training outlets for data scientists.
The effects of inadequate data science in Nigeria:
The absence of proper data science in Nigeria has cost the country so much – economically, financially and in every way. Among other things, it has caused:
- Unknown population: For over 16 years, the country’s population has been estimated based on assumptions that are neither precise nor practical. This is due to the fact that the government has failed to prioritize data collection, to the point of neglecting censuses.
- Failed distribution of wealth: This uncertainty has affected the distribution of wealth within the country, hence failing to meet the needs of every citizen in the country. An example of this was during the 2020 lockdown when the palliatives meant to be distributed to the lower class citizens failed to reach all the intended beneficiaries.
- Unchecked crime rate: While other countries check the rate of crime in the country with already existing data on all its citizens, Nigeria falls behind because of the absence of precise data. With no intel on how many citizens they govern or what these citizens are mostly up to, they fail to identify troublemakers within the society and correct social issues that may develop.
- Failed economy: The lack of adequate data on its citizens has caused the economy to remain on a downward slope. Because of this, there is an increase in unemployment rates and where interventions are needed, the government has failed to recognize its place.
Some attempts made to encourage data science in Northern Nigeria:
“You can learn theory anywhere,” Mr. Lengdung noted “You can learn theory on the internet. But what is really lacking is the practical skill. This was why we started the project called Alpha25. To teach Data Science to everyone interested.”
Alpha25 is a Jos-based company that provides and teaches digital skills. With a mandate to raise the next generation of technology-driven society, their training programs are open to all who desire to develop practical skills in the digital space, especially in Data science.
In collaboration with Natview Foundation for Technology Innovation (NFTI) and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Kaduna State Government has strategized a 5-year project called the Data Science Fellowship Programme. The initiative is aimed at developing human capital around data science and making use of data for decision making, with a general focus on the health sector.
Kano state is not left out, as the Natview Foundation for Technology Innovation (NFTI) is using data science to study and develop its vulnerable communities with the Kurna/Warawa Living Lab Project.
In the country’s capital, Data Lead Africa is also making waves in the data science field. With about 51-200 employees, Data Lead Africa is a consulting firm which provides data analytics and strategic consulting services as well as training programs in methods and tools used in data and big data science.
Training Outlets for Data Science in Nigeria:
As an emerging field, there has proven to be barely enough training outlets and fewer participants/interested candidates to fill in this gap within the country.
According to a survey conducted by Data Lab Nigeria – a data analytics company in the country – there are no more than 14 universities in the country which offer data science courses. Furthermore, a majority of these schools are owned by private individuals.
Data Science Nigeria (DSN), KVCH, Utiva, Hamoye and Kaggle are also among the few companies in the country that provide data analytics and offer training to intending data scientists both virtually and in person.
The Prospects of Data Science:
The average annual salary of data scientists in the United States of America, according to a survey by Fast Hire, is $165,000. All it takes is proficiency in the field and anybody can be employed in the space with no question of age, race, gender or geographical location. The benefits of data science is not just a personal gain for those involved but a national and global advantage as well, since data drives the world.
For a country like Nigeria that is struggling with a rising number of unemployed youth and economic underdevelopment, data science proves to be a promising venture for all interested. The demand only increases and it is high time Nigerians hop aboard the train to a better future.
Although we are still curating the efforts amongst public and private players in enabling data science in Northern Nigeria, the aforementioned examples are some of the popular ones.