“We are Committed to Credible Opinion Polls in Africa” ~ Akinnagbe

Sola Akinnagbe, Group Managing Director of The MRC Group, a seasoned and renowned market research, marketing operations and statistical experts in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) with over 30 years’ experience in the delivery of world class solutions for blue chip clients. He co-founded the company in 1995 after one of the most brilliant professional careers in the annals of market research in West Africa and a stint as an independent consultant in statistical analysis and marketing research, spoke with Murtala Aleem on how to conduct credible opinion polls and many other issues.

When you do proper research, like we do scientifically driven opinion polls, we can guide candidates; we can tell them where they are weak, we can tell them where they are strong. Click To Tweet

As MD/CEO of a leading Research agency with your wealth of experience from traveling across the world on business missions, how would you compare the Nigerian business climate to what is obtainable in the rest of developing or developed countries?

Well, when it comes to comparing Nigeria with the developing world, I will say we are not too bad, even though I wont say we are upfront, because I recently came back from Ghana and I saw how their airport has been transformed I have not been there for six years also. I remember the first time I was in Ghana in early 90s; the airport looked like a ramshackle, looked like a kind of rural setting, and the road to and from the airport was like old roads done during the time of colonial era or during the time of Obafemi Awolowos, Nnamdi Azikwes, Tafawa Balewas of this world, [during the] first republic. But when I when there now, I actually thought that I was abroad, the way the airport has been expanded, transformed, and modernized. You can even do self-checking in Ghana now and you go to area you are waiting for bags you see so many conveyor belts, air-conditioning and so on. And when you look at that and you look at Nigeria you will not expect Ghana to be anywhere close to Nigeria let alone being ahead of Nigeria. And I look at the city of Accra, only six years ago and I could not believe my eyes, it has grown, it has expanded, it is clean and then I just wondered what exactly we are doing. I am just comparing with Ghana here not even about developed countries, so if Ghana could do it in short time and improve their situation, Nigeria can do better after all we are far ahead of them before. So, if you want to do business and you come to Nigeria, arrive at airport, you see how you are harassed by all these touts and the rest of them and the environment, you will likely go to Ghana as prospecting investor for security reason.

We have done surveys consistently for International Republic Institute, IRI, of United States for US Department of States, even British government, UKAIDS Click To Tweet

Sir, what do you think is the cause of these, are our leaders the problems or Nigerians?

I think the basic problem with Nigeria has been the lack of national cohesion because everybody sees himself or herself as not having a stake in Nigeria. For instance, the ongoing agitation, we want to have Oduduwa, we want to have Biafra, this and that. Then you see the Northerner talking about giving passage to Hausa/Fulani and all that. When you have all these fights going on, when there is no national focus, something that everybody believe in, so the faith in Nigeria to me, I think is fundamental thing that is lacking and because there is a lack of faith in the country by the constituent parts, they don’t see Nigeria as their own or they belong to Nigeria, they only hold the passport, a lot of people, if they have chance of leaving the country now they will go. So, they don’t see themselves as part and parcel of Nigeria and that is what leads to corruption, if you believe it’s your own thing, you will want to keep it and you will not want people to steal it, you wont even want them to waste it. So, corruption, stealing, wastages are all embedded in the fact that there is a lot of people in this country even the past majority, will not see Nigeria as belonging to them. That is why when you want to elect somebody from [another] ethnic group, because we believe that it is our own turn, it is not what is the best for Nigeria, it is what is in it for me. So, when I get there, maybe as a governor or somebody, I will want to take care of my future because I don’t believe that Nigeria can take care of me and if Nigeria cannot take of me, I have to take care of myself and I think that is the problem we have been having. It started from the military era when a lot of civil servants were sacked, it was a good intention but a lot of committed civil servants who were dropped felt that all their years of service have been wasted and therefore people began to think that serving Nigeria is not in your best interest. So, it is better to serve yourself or your family or your ethnic group and son on. So, if you want to serve yourself, and in position of power, you have to be corrupt, and I think that has now eaten dip into the cankerworm of Nigeria. And because the leadership and even followership has been corrupted in that sense, we don’t have national value, no national ethics again people are just doing what they think is good for their own self and not for the nation and I think that is where the problem comes from. I am not saying there are no people like that in other countries but the number of people in that category seems to be few, Ghana was like that until General Rawlings came and cleared… I’m not saying I support revolution or people being killed but I am just saying from the time of Rawlings, Ghana politics seem to have changed for the better and also because Rawlings used iron hands as a military man. Rawlings was quite patriotic and was able to gather the bulk of Ghanaians in a direction that saw the nation as more important than individuals.

2023 Election is knocking on our doors now, how can Market Research help in this regard?

It is an area that we are very very committed to, we have been conducting opinion research in this country for over twenty years, we have been silent players, and we don’t make noise. What we have been doing is to conduct opinion survey or opinion polls for our clients who commission us and we submit the report to them. And most of the elections in this country, not only in this country, in West Africa, that have taken place Marketing Research Consultancy has participated in conducting one opinion poll or the other, mostly for international organisations and we don’t make noise about it. Every time we have conducted opinion polls we have come up with the predictions with who wins, in most cases, that is the result especially outside the country. I know there are a lot of things happening in Nigeria that there are some elements of rigging but except it is very close and tight elections, except widespread rigging, rigging will not really change results at national level except when it is very close. When there is a clear winner, when you do proper research, like we do scientifically driven opinion polls, we can guide candidates; we can tell them where they are weak, we can tell them where they are strong. We can guide them and even give advise on what they need to do to shore up their credibility and to put their campaign money in. so we can indirectly help credible candidates to actually do better in the elections both at local level maybe as a candidate for state positions, governors even for political parties nationally or national candidates and so on.

Last year, we did a job with 18 countries for one of our clients, all of them in Africa. Click To Tweet

So, we can help them, we have been doing that and we have done it at least in ten countries in Africa and virtually all the time, we have won. And we have done surveys consistently for International Republic Institute, IRI, of United States for US Department of States, even British government, UKAIDS and some others like that. We are very versatile on that. So in the area of opinion polls, we can actually help the nation in getting the views of the masses across to politicians, what do the masses really want politicians to focus on in 2023, we do studies that will give us that information and we can use it to advise on what the priorities of the people were and how political parties can better put that to use but it is one thing for us to do a study, it is another thing for the people that are supposed to make use of it to actually grab the opportunity of the study. But what I will say is that any or most well-meaning politicians and political parties should partner with organisations like us to have proper insight with local context, a lot of organisations go to international agencies to do research for them but there is no contextualization, they do not really understand the context of the domestication of the structure, research and the interpretation or application of it. That is why we are different, because we understand the market, we understand the political economy of Nigeria and we are able to do things very well. And in fact, a number of international organisations that are also getting to do opinion polls in Nigeria and across Africa depend on us to help them do the fieldwork and that is the way it is. I can’t count opinion polls we did for Cameo, the global agency that does research and renowned for opinion polls, I can’t count survey opinion polls we did for them across Africa. So what I am trying to say is that we will participate in helping distill the core issues, the things that are important to the voters, to the electorate, to the Nigerian people and we are willing to partner with politicians who are interested either at local, state or federal level to know these things and to use it to channel their campaign and to know what to do when he or she gets there and they actually get there and get voted and also to help the nation tune down tension because if you do an opinion poll and you do the result that you are not going to win or that you are not likely to win, except you do ABC and if you are not able to do ABC if you lose you are not likely to wipe the emotion of your supporters and create tension and crises in the country. But because you don’t have the fact, you are saying you are going to win willingly without knowing whether people are going to vote for you or not. That is the value of opinion polls abroad, before the election is even conducted, each political parties have already had idea of how they are likely to perform, so when the results come it is not a surprise to them. Even Nigerian government can do it in the national interest not for their own political interest, that does not mean they wont campaign trying to prove their own chances. But when you look at the trend of opinion poll, when you see the final polls, as elections come closer, they will know what to expect, and the results are in line with the polls, there will be no tension.

Is there any regulatory agency to regulate those coming to organise opinion polls because foreigners are taking over virtually everything in Nigeria?

We celebrated our 25th anniversary last year on a low-key because of Covid-19. But what I am trying to say is that we have the pedigree, we have best global institutions in conducting opinion polls, we are on ground, we have the credibility, so what people are going to look at is our pedigree, and track records as we have been doing this over the years and who the clients we have been working with or working for are. You cannot be bigger than United States Department of State when it comes to quality of opinion polls, International Republican Institute, IRI, when it comes to opinion polls and others like we have worked for over the two and half decades. And not only that, we also have international bodies that are regulating opinion polls and market research and that is why our company (Marketing Research Consultancy, MRC) is a member of those organisations like Nigerian Market Research Association of which I am the pioneer president of the body.

Has it been chattered?

No, it has not yet been chattered, we are working to make it chattered, but that is the body that combine all research agencies in Nigeria and guides our practices. It involves both the international global agencies operating in Nigeria as well as local agencies operating in Nigeria. So, I was the first president and served two terms, I’m a fellow of the association. I was also the country representative of European Society for Opinion and Market Research, ESOMAR, which is the world leader in market research professionalism. I was a two-term ESOMAR’s representative of this country in 2006 and 2010. I have been a member of Pan-African Media Research Organisation, PAMRO, since inception in year 2000 and also I am a professional member and one of the leaders of Market Research Society of the United Kingdom, MRSUK since 1992. So we comply fully with professional protocol and ethics of conducting research that is why we have been a very strong member of those associations.

Coming down to organisation, MRC. You have very big ventures operating across Sub-Sahara Africa, how do you manage this?

Actually when MRC started in 1995, we started very small in Oregun, Lagos. But what happened, was that a few clients we have worked for were very satisfied with our operations and from there, MRC operations began to spread, those who left the companies we have worked for and were satisfied went to other companies and began to talk about MRC to them to the extent that in 1999, when the industry wanted to engage an organisation for media research, it was about fifteen agencies, MRC, MRSN now part of TNS counter gold were the only two selected to do it. MRC was asked to do the South, while RMS was asked to the North for one year, by this we finished the first year, they wanted only one agency to do it, so MRC was selected be the agency after a competitive bid because they could see the quality of what we are doing and once people began to see that quality locally, some of these people began to tell their associates abroad that there is an agency in Nigeria that could do this and that and so I got an invite to come to Ghana in year 2000 to come and do a research for them. We travelled down, we did the research and they said look you can’t just be flying and flying. Why can’t you set up in Ghana? That was why we registered our first company in Ghana in 2001. And in 2004, set up our Pan-African fields services in Ghana and that was how we are being called upon to know if we can work in Togo. Can you work in Benin? Can you work in Kenya? Can you here and there? So we began to explore the possibility of working there.

Last year, we did a job with 18 countries for one of our clients, all of them in Africa. What we do is to take advantage of internet sometimes to do some of this coordination. So I use most of my time coordinating projects, meetings with clients online, but when the need arise to go physically I fly in, like I just came back from Ghana a week a go. We also have an office in Maryland in US, also in UK.

Where do you see your organisation in the next five years?

Our goal, and mission, is to actually belt the whole of Africa and key centres of the US and UK with the MRC brand of insight delivery. And in doing that what we intend to do is not just to have offices or presence in those places but to begin to take deliberate steps to actually introduce our core unique approach to Market Research and to also engage the associations in spreading that approach within the industry, so that people can gain, so that this thing will not die with us. We are also committed to writing papers and books and publications to help bring out some of the salient things we have learnt over the years in the delivery of properly domesticated and contextualized research in Sub-Sahara Africa.

A lot of international agencies can do good research based on scientific principles but where we are different is how we were able to do global techniques and global standards and contextualize it properly and give it local flow that will meet the actual needs of marketers and organisations that are operating in Sub-Sahara Africa. That is one area where we have gained a lot of experience, which we want to try and spread and we believe that that has advantages; the first advantage is that, it helps the industry and marketers and people who want to come to Africa as a whole to be able to get the best and it also increases MRC’s performances in terms of what comes down to us if we were able to do successfully. So, we see ourselves growing in leaps and bounds.

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