Dr. Bell Ihua is Chief Executive Director of Africa Polling Institute (API). API is a non-profit and non-partisan public opinion research thinktank that conducts opinion polls, surveys, social research, and evaluation studies in support of democratic governance and economic decision-making in Africa.
So, what kind of academic/professional background has prepared you for public opinion polling?
I have a very interesting academic background. I was a lecturer for a few years in the UK. I lectured in a couple of universities. First, it was at the University of Kent, where I got my PhD in Business Management and Administration. Afterwards, I moved on to lecture at the Coventry University Business School in the Midlands. But I was head-hunted back home in 2012 to join the Nigerian premier public opinion polling company, NOI Polls. I served as its Chief Methodologist and Director of Research from 2012 to 2015 when I was appointed the Chief Executive Officer of the company. I served as the CEO between 2015 and 2018. Thereafter, I went back to the UK on sabbatical for a few months to do a bit more intellectual work, i.e. core academic research. I came back to Nigeria just before the elections to support some election polling work.
In terms of my educational qualifications, interestingly I have a background in accounting. I have a first degree in accounting from the University of Abuja. And I later acquired three Master’s degrees and a PhD. I have a Master’s in Business Management. I have a Master’s in Knowledge Management from the Birmingham City University as well as the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen Scotland, and I have an MBA. I capped it off with a PhD from the University of Kent. So that sort of pushed me into academia, lecturing, conducting research and of course doing community service, those are the three major pillars of academia, teaching, research and community service. I have been doing it for the past 10-15 years now.
What is the market like for opinion research in Nigeria?
Prior to 2012, the market was really slow because there was very little opinion research capacity in the country. What we had were the traditional market researchers. For example, this is Lagos so you have the traditional market research clusters. There is one cluster not too far from here, there is the Ikeja cluster and here you have the traditional market researchers like RMSTNS, you have the likes of MRC by Sola Akinagbe, we have Kareem Tejumola, we have also Taofeek, who just passed on a few weeks ago.
So, they were the traditional market researchers, but then polling is a bit technical and because with market research you didn’t need to do a lot of prediction, but predictions are central to opinion polling. You need not just only tell what the people are thinking but also do some predictions regarding who they are going to vote for or how they rate the President and how an election is going to turn out. This requires some deep statistical technicalities in terms of analysing in order to accurately predict and so we have some prediction analysis, we have to run internal and external consistency analysis which requires deep statistical expertise. The statistical tests determine the reliability of that data that have been collected, if they are reliable or not.
Before now, it was slow, but I think we are coming to the point where, gradually, Nigeria is beginning to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of polling. The work that we have done at NOI Polls which NOI continues to do and the work we are now doing at the Africa Polling Institute, have contributed to this shift.
So that is the main difference between market research and opinion polling?
Yes, the tools are different, but there is also a difference in polling methodology. In traditional market research, you could get phone numbers of people telling them you want to conduct a telephone poll. You could get numbers of people and just conduct a poll for traditional market research. For opinion polling there are techniques in terms of selection, there are techniques in terms of analysis, there are techniques in terms of even things like stratification, randomisation and stuff like that we need to adhere to.
Who are the main clients for opinion polling services?
The main clients are development agencies. Over the last seven years, we have worked for the World Bank. They have their biannual country survey. Even though the World Bank works in Nigeria, they often want to know what Nigerians think about them and their work, the sectors Nigerians want the World Bank to support e.g. education, healthcare or roads. So, instead of just sitting in Washington and deciding what plans to execute, they want to know from Nigerians and so they have us go out every couple of years to a certain category of people—cutting across the media, thinktanks, academia, and key stakeholders—to find out what they think about the Bank and its activities, and also what the key issues are and areas they think the bank should be focusing on.
We also have the Department for International Development (DFID). Of course, DFID has loads of programmes in the country. So, you have the Facility for Oil Sector Transformation and Reform (FOSTER) for example, which Henry Adigun manages. You have Nigeria Infrastructure Advisory Facility (NIAF) and you have Enhancing Nigerian Advocacy for a Better Business Environment (ENABLE) amongst others. So all those DFID programmes require, as part of the programmes, that certain baseline surveys be conducted to be able to know where are we starting this programme from; from that we can then begin to engage in interventions and then go back to measure whether our interventions are having any impact. So, there must be a baseline survey. At some point, there must be a mid-line survey. At the end, there will be an end-line evaluation.
Then, we have the GIZ which conducts many studies. In 2014, we led a major study for the GIZ on SMEs in Nigeria. We have also worked for the German Embassy in Nigeria. In 2017, I led a major work for the embassy on Motivations for Irregular Migration. It was a big study. We travelled to many communities where there is a strong tradition of illegal migration to Europe. These are the hubs. We met these guys who have returned from Libya, people that have traveled or attempted to go to Europe by road. We interviewed scores of people who just got back or who are thinking of going. A lot of really interesting stuff came up. But you also have Nigerian civil society organisations who understand the importance of research and data. Many of them are donor-funded. This includes organisations like PLAC, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre in Abuja, CDD (the Center for Democracy and Development), Clean Foundation, YIAGA Africa etc.
The African Polling Institute has done some post-election work. In May this year, we worked on the Buhari Meter, a project owned by CDD which has been running since 2015. It measures the gap between what Nigerians expect from the government and what it is delivering. The big elephants in the room were the economy and security, of course. You know with a 23% unemployment rate, with 20% or 20.1% underemployment rate you have 43% of your population either unemployed or under-employed and you have about 65% to 70% of that population between the ages of 18-35. So, the challenge is very clear to the government and Nigerians. In Europe and the United States of America, government institutions have budget for conducting opinion polls. While I was at NOI polls, one of my clients was the US Office of Opinion Research, it is part of the State Department, Foreign Affairs Ministry i.e. their Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They conduct research all over the world to know what the world thinks of America and its foreign policies.
Are there interesting regional variations to your research findings?
Yes. The African Polling Institute just released a new survey called The Nigeria Social Cohesion Survey, to make us all understand how united or divided the country is. We found out that 45% of Nigerians feel that the country is much more divided today than it was four years ago, compared to only 26% who believe that the country is much more united today than it was four years ago. The people who believe the country is more united are concentrated in the North.
One interesting thing came out in the survey – 7 out of 10 Nigerians believe that some Nigerians are above the law, so all Nigerians are not equal. So, it is like Orwell’s Animal Farm where all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. All Nigerians, regardless of region, equally share this belief. That is what we found in the study. I remember I was in Benue for the fieldwork and when we put this question across to a woman she said to me “you know in my state there have been so many killings, have you ever heard that anybody has been arrested, prosecuted or jailed over the killings?” and I couldn’t answer, and she said, “that is why I tell you all Nigerians are not equal under the law, some Nigerians are more equal than others.” So, when you ask the question “do you prefer to be identified as a Nigerian or your ethnic group?” 87% of Nigerians prefer to be identified both as Nigerian and by their ethnic group, and when you probe that number further, 25% of Nigerians identify primarily as members of their ethnic group rather than as Nigerians. Only 5% see themselves first and primarily as Nigerian. So, we have a country where we have 87% of citizens feel equally loyal to Nigeria and to their ethnic group, with the majority leaning more towards their ethnicity rather than towards Nigeria.
But happily, we found in this same survey that 73% of Nigerians are willing to work with all other Nigerians to make the country better. Surprisingly, only 32% of Nigerians are willing to relocate abroad with their family in search of better job opportunities and security. We have funded this research ourselves because we believe it is very important.
What other socially relevant research are you working on?
The African Polling Institute is currently working on Deconstructing the Canada Rush, a study of the drivers of migration to Canada. In 2017, I had done a major work on the migration of doctors. We found out that 8 out of 10 Nigerian medical doctors are leaving the country or are planning to leave the country, either writing PLAB, UMLE exams or writing the Australian Exam. The South-West is leading the current trend of migration which we describe as the 5th Generation Migration. In the 1940s and 50s, we had the first generation migration – people like Azikwe, Awolowo and the others left Nigeria to prepare themselves to come back and change the country. In the 1970s, Nigerians were still traveling abroad to study and couldn’t come back quickly enough to start careers either in the government or the private sector. But by the 1980s, we started to see an unusual wave of migration – trained professionals, especially medical doctors, began to travel to countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to work for very long periods. Another wave was added in the 1990s – creatives and writers, such as Majek Fashek, Orits Williki, Danny Wilson etc. moving abroad to see greener pastures to play on. Well as if that wasn’t bad enough, now we have the 5th generation of migration. So now, who are these guys migrating? They are educated, they are not the poor ones, they are smart, they are between the middle and the upper-class guys that are checking out. Obviously, the cost of even running your Canada migration is not cheap. It is not the poor checking out now. It is the upwardly mobile, the educated, the skilled that are checking out. And where do we have the bulk of those people? The South. The South-West is leading this migration movement.
Can you explain why you have taken it on yourself to use your time, resources, and funds on this national project?
Well, you see I will tell you a story. So, this happened in December 2011. I resigned from my lecturing position at Coventry University on the 31st of January 2012. I arrived in the country to commence work on the 1st of February 2012. On the 3rd of February 2012, the house where I lived was robbed. Robbers came and they were shooting to the high heavens; they broke the burglary, came into the house, climbed the staircase etc. It was a duplex and I was upstairs. They were hitting the door, saying if I didn’t open this door, they would come in and everyone in this house would be dead. So, I was saying to myself, should I go under the bed? Should I enter the wardrobe? I was really shocked. I never thought of going back because of this experience. I had seen a very clear role for public opinion research in so many areas and I have remained irresistibly attracted to fulfilling this role. So, I continue to play this role when we fund studies that we consider to be of national importance by ourselves. We are now disseminating the research on The Nigeria Social Cohesion Survey: the activity has taken us to Enugu, Kano, Port Harcourt, Gombe and Lagos where we have been sharing the data with media people, civil society organisations and the general public. It is down to a principled belief. We cannot continue to play the ostrich when answers are needed to important questions that have enormous consequences for our progress and survival as a nation. We are committed to doing some of the heavy-lifting by ourselves.