The drastic drop in Nigeria’s unemployment rate from 33.3 percent to 4.1 percent as recently published by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) can only be described as a miracle. It would suggest there is now an abundance of jobs for Nigerians who are able and willing to work.
But the reality of Nigeria today does not support this. Even as the NBS has now suggested unemployment in Nigeria is now comparable with developed economies like the United States with an unemployment rate of 3.4 percent and the United Kingdom (4.2 percent), poverty in Nigeria plagues over 60 percent of the population.
The Nigeria Labour Force Survey (NLFS) puts Nigeria’s unemployment rate at 4.1 percent in the first quarter of 2023 and 5.3 percent in Q4 2022. This is odd for many reasons, and one of these is that the first quarter of 2023 was a chaotic period for the Nigerian economy. The cashless policy with its unintended consequences saw businesses shutting down and the accompanying job losses that followed. Economic activity slowed down in what is a largely cash driven economy, yet the NBS suggests more jobs were created as unemployment declined in that quarter.
While the NBS has tried to emphasise that statistics due to a new methodology is behind this outcome, the disparity between this data (and how it was obtained), from the reality in Nigeria makes the whole process flawed. The NBS said last year that 63 percent or 133 million Nigerians were living in multidimensional poverty. Inflation pushed an estimated four million more Nigerians into poverty in the first five months of this year, the World Bank said in June. But how is Nigeria such a poor country and with low GDP growth when there are so many jobs?
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After all, economies with comparable single digit unemployment rates have larger GDPs & are more productive. The NBS’ unemployment data appears to be a blatant case of Harry Truman’s 3 types of lies, who said, “There are lies, there are damned lies and then there are statistics.”
Until about 10 years ago, the NBS did not have much of a reputation for credibility, and was just another agency of the government claiming to be working. But it was mostly seen as a mill for propaganda statistics and data with no bearing to real life situations in Nigeria.
The hard-won credibility of the NBS is at stake today, as it appears determined to return to its dark days of being a propaganda tool for the government, rather than a trusted source for data on Nigeria’s realities. To be clear, decline in unemployment is something we look forward to. We in fact, dedicate our editorial strength towards ways that more jobs and economic prosperity can be achieved through our reportage. However, a mere paper-based and statistically unreasonable declaration of a drastic decline in unemployment is not something we intend to cheer about.
The hard-won credibility of the NBS is at stake today, as it appears determined to return to its dark days of being a propaganda tool for the government, rather than a trusted source for data on Nigeria’s realities
The LFS, which is a quarterly survey designed with the objective to produce official national statistics on the labour force, employment and unemployment for monitoring and planning purposes, was delayed for almost two years. After the long wait without up-to-date unemployment figures, this is what the NBS has to show for it. Most ridiculous is the definition of employment as working for a minimum of one hour in a week.
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Amongst other findings, the survey conducted by the NBS in collaboration with the World Bank classified employed individuals as those who are working for pay or profit and who worked for at least one hour in a week. By this standard, if a person works even for a full day of eight hours (not just NBS’ one hour) in a week, then based on the minimum wage, earning N4, 000 in a month would qualify them as employed.
During the launch of the NBS report in Abuja, Adeyemi Adeniran, statistician general of the federation, said it was an outcome of a recalibration in methodology using standards set by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and not necessarily that the government had performed better, as BusinessDay reported. But this as we have reported, has been faulted by many Nigerians and analysts. Those who spoke to BusinessDay say it does not reflect current realities, and could send wrong signals to policymakers.
Nigeria’s Inflation has accelerated to 24.08 percent in July, a new 17-year high, according to data from the same NBS, with the country grappling with double-digit monthly digit inflation since 2016.
The situation has accelerated poverty in Africa’s most populous country with 63 percent of Nigerians (133 million) living in multidimensional poverty. But overnight, NBS has literally become the megaphone of the government to create an impression, albeit false, that things are not so bad in Nigeria, even if it wouldn’t go as far as saying they are working well.
We want to sound a note of warning to NBS and those in government that they should resist the temptation to manipulate statistics for optics and political gains. If things are working, they would be evident for all to see. And when things are not working, then embracing the reality is the only way the country can develop the right policies and strategies to get them right.