Yemi Kale, former statistician-general of Nigeria and CEO of the National Bureau of Statistics, says he chose not to alter how the country collected unemployment data during his tenure as head of the national data collection body because the new methodology falls short of providing adequate information for policymakers.
This statement comes a week after the NBS published new employment figures, reporting a 4.1 percent unemployment rate, down from 33 percent in Q4 2020.
Kale, who appeared on Arise TV’s Global Business Report on Monday, explained that the committee responsible for reviewing the minimum work hours required to be considered employed found that counting just one hour as employment didn’t make sense, given the insufficient income earned within that short period.
He emphasised that accurate data is vital for policymakers to tackle and monitor societal challenges effectively.
“This is why I resisted changing the unemployment-gathering methodology for 10 years because it did not make any sense in terms of providing the information that our policymakers need. So the 20 hours were set because the committee that was set up, which included the ILO, presented their findings, and they decided that one hour did not make sense because the income you will generate on average from one hour’s work was not going to work,” Kale said.
“The 20 hours was decided on because it was agreed that if you worked for that duration, you might be able to generate enough income that might sort of equate to what working one hour in the US is. Then you have a bit more comparison.”
He defended the NBS’s unemployment figures, stating they have consistently aligned with international standards.
Kale emphasised the flexibility of these standards, noting that various countries can adopt them to suit their specific needs.
The former NBS CEO shared that during his tenure, the NBS previously defined employment as anything above 40 hours, reflecting policymakers’ focus on full-time employment. This approach aimed to assess the government’s performance in fulfilling its promise of job creation.
He said, “If the policy and data are to match, policymakers need to come out to say that all they are promising Nigerians is one hour of employment, then the methodology works.
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But if the methodology is focused on one hour and policymakers are trying to look for full-time employment, the data won’t help them. And is only there for textbooks, researchers, and international comparison, and there is nothing wrong with that.
“But policymakers can’t use it, and I must repeat that the most important use of data is to provide information for policy, not for international comparison. International comparison is good.”
Kale emphasised the importance of international comparisons while stressing the need for practicality in data production. He pointed out that the 4.1 percent unemployment rate indicates that Nigeria’s unemployment situation may not be as critical as previously thought.
In response to the former Kale’s remarks, Wakili Ibrahim, head of communications and public relations at NBS, defended the new methodology, highlighting its alignment with international standards.
Ibrahim noted that some Nigerians earn income from just one hour of work, underscoring the necessity of including this group in the data.
“The new methodology is internationally accepted. All our neighbouring countries in Africa are using the new methodology of one hour. When he was there, it was 40 hours. Ask him (ex-NBS boss) why it was changed from 40 to 20 hours during his own time. Now, it is one hour,” he told PUNCH Newspaper.
“The world is changing. In high-tech countries, if you work for one hour, you can earn what somebody in a bank cannot earn in one year because of IT. Look at lecturers; a lecturer can go lecture for one or two hours, and they will pay him about N200,000 or N300,000 in one or two hours. So, what is the basis for ignoring those ones?
“It is the dynamic world that informed ILO and NBS to adopt this method to capture these people that spend one hour. Otherwise, they will be left out when you use 20 hours as the minimum. It is not the question of NBS but the question of the changing world.”