• Friday, May 24, 2024
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BusinessDay

Political pressure may have suppressed release of Nigeria’s unemployment data

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The fear that a higher unemployment rate will have a negative impact on the fortunes of Nigeria’s ruling All Progressive party (APC) at the general elections early next year may be behind the delay in releasing the country’s unemployment data, sources tell BusinessDay.
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) last released unemployment figures in the third quarter of 2017, and since then analysts and other users of such data have waited in vain for an update.
NBS has blamed the delay on paucity of funds.
“The delay in the release of the data is due to pressure from government officials, who may be trying to prevent the opposition from using an increasing unemployment rate to score cheap points against the incumbent in the oncoming elections,” said a source familiar with the situation on the condition of anonymity.
Nigerians will go to the polls to elect the president, state governors, as well as federal and state legislators in February 2019.
APC faces a strong opposition from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which has vowed to regain the presidency that it lost to the ruling party in 2015.
PDP has chosen Atiku Abubakar, a wealthy businessman and former Vice-President, as its presidential candidate, to challenge President Muhammadu Buhari. Both are Muslims from the north.
The last time Africa’s largest economy reported an official unemployment rate was more than one year ago, when the rate stood at 18.8 percent as at Q3 2017, the highest since 2010, according to Bloomberg data.

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The development is however unusual, given the promptness in data release the NBS has been known for in recent times.
The unemployment rate has more than doubled since 2015, when President Muhammadu Buhari came into power.
“This suggests that it may dampen his bid to return to office when he seeks re-election in February 2019,” another source said.
Unemployment rate in Nigeria averaged 10.63 percent from 2006 until 2017. It reached an all-time high of 19.70 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009 (the peak of the global financial crisis) and a record low of 5.10 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010 (the period of high oil prices).
Abubakar says he will end the multiple exchange rate system so as to attract more foreign investment into the country, if elected president in the February 2019 general elections. This will in turn help create jobs and reduce unemployment, he said.
The Nigerian Graduate Report, released last week by Stutern, in partnership with BudegIT Co. and Jobberman, said that unemployment among Nigerian youth (15 – 35 years) ‘‘stands at a staggering 53 percent, which is significantly higher relative to previous years.’’
Stutern said that the report is timely because of the urgency needed to address the challenges in Nigeria’s labour market, and argued that  Africa’s most populous nation faces one of the worst unemployment crises in its history.
Although it is expected that the return to economic growth in Q2 2017 following five consecutive quarters of negative growth should provide an impetus to employment, analysts fear that the current rate if released would be much worse than the 2017 figure, especially given the slow pace of economic growth in the country.
“We do not think the pace of recovery is strong enough to encourage businesses to raise their demand for labour,” analysts at Lagos-based CSL Stockbrokers, a wholly owned subsidiary of FCMB Group Plc said.
“That said, as the macroeconomic conditions continue to improve, underpinned by improved liquidity in the FX market, favourable oil prices and improved domestic production of crude, we expect unemployment to decline gradually.”
Nigeria’s GDP growth as at Q2 2018 slowed to 1. 5 percent from the 1.95 percent that was recorded during Q1 2018 while population stood at 198 million, according to NBS data
Ayodele Teriba, CEO, at Economics Associates told BusinessDay, “We cannot expect unemployment to improve in an economy that is experiencing per capita decline. The latest figure of our GDP growth is 1.5 percent showing that our GDP is growing less than 2 percent while the population is growing at 3 percent and that has been the case since 2015.”
“Hence, if you have an economy that is in per capita decline/recession, you should expect unemployment to worsen,” Teriba said in a phone interview.
Yemi Kale, Nigeria’s Statistician-General and head of NBS, has however attributed the inability of the National Bureau of Statistics to release the unemployment data in Nigeria for more than a year to lack of funds.
In tweets through his official Twitter handle, Kale had stated that, work on the nation’s recent unemployment figures have not been completed due to budgetary constraints. While some reactions on twitter suggested the delay was politically induced so as to conceal the weakness of the present administration, Yemi Kale however, refuted those claims.
Kale in a November 12 response to a tweet said the agency had received only 20/25 percent of its data/ capital budget and about five months for overheads. “This isn’t even unique to NBS. We have even gotten more than many MDAs who are on 10 percent.  How can we produce updated data till November with 20/25 percent Collected? Let’s not be political with NBS.
“I know it is election time, but I have said this repeatedly. Nobody is calling me to manipulate any data or not to release any data,” Kale tweeted.
Several phone calls placed across to the statistician general proved abortive, and a tweet seeking clarifications on the issues was not replied as at the time of filing this report.

 MICHEAL ANI