Mfon Ekpo: The role of research in policy making (Y! Policy Hub)

by Mfon Ekpo

Mfon Ekpo (Y! Policy Hub)

The fact is research on its own is so tedious and unrewarding that to put organizations through the trouble of conducting them and not follow up with a reasonable application of the research recommendations creates a researching community steeped deep in lethargy and inertia.

In 2010, the newly appointed minister of the FCT, Senator Bala Mohammed approved the removal of the speed bumps on the Abuja roads put there by his predecessor, Adamu Aliero in an attempt to curb the occurrence of road traffic accidents. This stirred up the conversation on waste of funds this process would necessitate, bottom line being it had taken about N40 million to put those triple-layered speed bumps on the road and would take another N16 to N60 million to remove them and construct “motor-friendlier” road bumps. It was especially bothersome knowing the implemented solution to the problem of road traffic accident had now become a problem in itself necessitating another solution… the removal of the first solution. Even more disturbing was the fact that this entire circus could have been avoided with a bit of research, as the issue was not which Minister was right but that all the arguments for and against the bumps showed a complete absence of extensive research.

While these happenings affects only the FCT, this is a fragmented picture of a greater problem in Nigeria, which is the institutionalization of policies and implementation of various plans without adequate supporting research to back them. No debate is necessary to prove that any action undertaken by the government affects the populace favorable or adversely. However there seems to be little knowledge or complete disregard of the fact that when anchored firmly in research, policies are sustainable.

The problems does not however stem from scarcity of research institutions. A 2007 DFID report shows that Nigeria does not lack capacity in terms of number of research organizations and institutions as it has one of the largest numbers of academic research institutions of any African country. At the time the study was done, there were 66 governmental research institutions and several NGOs that conducted research as part of their work, this is not counting the university-based research institutions and the four government-run policy research institutes.

The fact is research on its own is so tedious and unrewarding that to put organizations through the trouble of conducting them and not follow up with a reasonable application of the research recommendations creates a researching community steeped deep in lethargy and inertia. This has automatically spilled over to the populace; businesses are set up without so much as a test period, research or even a simple poll. There is no successful society that does not have a strong research culture, as a lack of research is evident in a society by what it suffers. This can be seen from the United States example.

In January, following the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in 2012, President Barack Obama in an executive action on gun control issued a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to commence research on the causes and prevention of gun violence. This step ended the 17 years suspension on gun violence research, which started in 1996 when Arkansas Rep. Jay Dickey sponsored an amendment, following a particularly critical report on gun deaths in the United States, that cut federal spending on research and removed $2.6 million from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s budget. This was the approximate amount the agency had spent on firearms studies and so that ended the research. However following the increase in gun violence from Columbine from 1999 to the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in 2012, research into gun violence was reinstated as one of the key means to tackle the problem.

Dr Mark Rosenberg, who was the head of research on gun violence prevention at the CDC stated however, that having no research for the past 17 years on the issue means there was no clear cut picture of which policies worked and which did not. He stated that years of research allow the collection of data from large studies with large numbers of people in different geographical areas and at present there was not enough evidence due to lack of research to judge as it really does take time to know what works as in the research that was conducted by the CDC on motor vehicle accidents. A rise in car crashes in the 1960’s prompted the research into motor vehicle accidents and data collated from various modes of research which ran well into the 90’s (30 years and millions of dollars in federal funding later), informed the redesigning of cars, construction of safer roads, answered the question of which type of speed bumps to use where, caused the taking out of traffic intersections with red lights, the addition of traffic circles and a whole lot of other tested and proven safety measures to make roads and drivers safer. Implementation of the research findings resulted in motor vehicles crash death rates by 31%. These results, he opined, were based on extensive research to simply find out what works.

Bringing it back to the Nigerian example, one of the reasons the 2012 riot or protests of the hike in fuel price was successful was because the arguments were steeped in research. Unlike other protest which had the bandwagon effect as a driving force, once the government brought out the policy, people began research, decimating information, perusing reports, bringing out their strong reasons asking the government to explain policy results, finding the flaws in what the government presented. That was the way we succeeded… that is the way we will succeed in the overall scheme of things. We are information driven society, research is an imperative, it informs the argument and if the government doesn’t pay attention to it …we will, we are the people… we shape the agenda.


Mfon Ekpo is a Maritime Lawyer and a professional negotiator, who has served in the Legal department of the National Assembly and as a training consultant for the Supreme Court of Nigeria on Alternative Dispute Resolution. She has majored in Business Law, Private and Islamic law and Aviation law. She is also a multiple award-winning bestselling author.


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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