Did you hear that smoking in public places is now banned in Lagos? According to a recent poll conducted by NOIPolls, nine out of ten Nigerians support this law, which is aimed at protecting their health from second-hand smoking.
“And this result of our poll might be used to support the expansion of the anti-tobacco law beyond Lagos,” communication officer OJ tells me enthusiastically during my recent visit to the headquarters of NOIPolls, West Africa’s number one for country specific polling, in Maitama, Abuja. They do opinion research on topics as diverse as football and health and put their findings, apart from some that are commissioned by paying clients, freely online on their website.
NOIPolls has conducted several polls on different aspects of health and health care in Nigeria. According to one of their polls, access to clean water is still a major challenge to every second Nigerian. Another poll indicates that marijuana (34%), codeine (22%) and alcohol (20%) are among the most abused drugs. NOIPolls showed that, despite associated health risks, skin bleachingis still very common in Nigeria. In another poll, two out of three participants said that they had had malaria at least once in the past year, however only about half of them (44%) actually saw a health care professional who might carried out a malaria test. One of their polls, on access to healthcare, may hold the answer to why so few sought medical advice: It indicates that eight out of ten Nigerians are without health insurance.
In Africa, NOIPolls owns the only call centre dedicated to polling. As such, they carry out opinion research within Nigeria and are planning to expand to other countries. So far, they’ve been invited by five countries in different parts of Africa, to come and carry out opinion research for them.
“Opinion research is new in Nigeria,” OJ starts to outline the difference between polling here and in the US. “We still need to gain the trust of the population. For example, when we did a poll on child labour, many people hung up as soon as we asked if they had a child help, which is illegal in Nigeria.”
“I presume people were afraid that you’d report them. But could you actually do so?”
“No, we cannot report them on anything they tell us. We don’t even ask for names or addresses. So, any replies are totally anonymous.”
As I start to ask for more details about the procedure in making poll calls, OJ tells me “let’s go to where they make those calls.” I follow him into the Call Centre where a number of young people sit at desks, each of them entering data into excel sheets while talking on the phone. All of them are using mobile phones due to Nigeria’s poor landline phone infrastructure. Above their screens, there are labels, each of them showing one of the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria.
The calling room is filled with voices. Over there, someone speaks Hausa. OJ points out a person who conducts an interview in Pidgin English. He explains that the other languages used in addition to English are Igbo and Yoruba.
Then, OJ takes me to see their managing director, Oge Funlola Modie. I recognize her immediately from a photo taken after a radio interview on heart disease she did together with my colleague Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu. We talk a bit, and Oge explains to me that NOIPolls often partners with others to conduct polls. She mentions their collaboration with the Nigerian Tobacco Control group and, of course, with EpiAFRIC, the health consultancy firm with whom I am doing an internship at the moment.
NOIPolls recently conducted a poll on the topic of heart disease in collaboration with EpiAFRIC. The results were surprising. The poll revealed that, while 48% of the adult Nigerian population were aware of cases of heart disease in their locality, a majority (77%) thought that they were not personally at risk.
That knowledge on health matters needs to be increased in Nigeria is furthermore supported by a 2013 NOIPolls poll on HIV, in which one out of four Nigerians stated that HIV could be contracted by witchcraft. This shows that there is still much work ahead of us. While the design and implementation of interventions in the health sector is critical for development, we must always go back to the people to ask them what they think. Knowledge is the first and most important step in changing behaviour and we are glad that NOIPolls is polling Nigerians on health related issues.
But for now let’s celebrate NOIPolls at seven! The smiles of the entire team and on the face of football coach OJ after their first outing speak a clear message: This team will go far …