How Realistic Is Latest NBS Unemployment Report?

Stakeholders in the labour sector have continued to query the reliability of the recent figures of unemployment rate in Nigeria by the National Bureau of Statistics. CHRISTIAN APPOLOS, in this report, presents their reactions.

THE recent statistical verdict of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on the rate of unemployment in Nigeria is seriously causing disquiet and has also been described as a hard pill to swallow by the community of labour enthusiasts. NBS, in its latest publication, said that unemployment rate decreased to 5.3 percent in the last quarter of 2022 and 4.1 percent in the first quarter (Q1) of 2023. Unemployment rate in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2020 according to NBS, was 33.3 percent. This report is causing uproar in the labour sector.

In a statement where it made known the content of the report, NBS explained that the latest unemployment rate was ascertained through a new methodology that provided an in-depth analysis of the country’s labour market. “The latest Nigeria Labour Force Survey (NLFS) covers the fourth quarter of 2022 and the first quarter of 2023, presenting an in-depth analysis of key labour market indicators such as employment, including unemployment rates, underemployment rates, hours worked, and informal employment. The revised methodology aligns with our contemporaries in Africa such as Ghana, Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Benin, The Gambia, in line with international best practices.”

NBS further said the new methodology which has been in practice in other countries of the world, considered employment to include “work, even if only for a few hours and in low-productivity jobs,” which is essential to make ends meet, particularly in the absence of any social protection for the unemployed. The Bureau added that the revised methodology defines employed persons as individuals who are working for pay or profit and who worked for at least one hour in the last seven days.

The Bureau also stated that “The old methodology placed a range on the working-age population at 15 – 64 years, while considering working hours between 20-39 hours as underemployment, one to 19 hours as unemployment.”

In addition, it said that subsistence agriculture and temporary absentees from employment work were not properly represented, as well as the absence of mutually exclusiveness of unemployment and employment. “These improvements, among others, captured in the revised computations will make Nigeria’s Labour Force data comparable with other countries,” the agency noted.

On underemployment, NBS said the rate was at 13.7 percent in Q4 2022 and 12.2 percent in Q1 2023. The report also added that the rate of informal employment, including agriculture, was 93.5 percent in Q4 2022 and 92.6 percent in Q1.

It also hinted that about three-quarters of working-age Nigerians were employed, saying that in Q4 2022, the rate was 73.6 percent and 76.7 percent in Q1 2023, indicating that most people were engaged in some type of job for at least one hour a week, for pay or profit.

However, in total disagreement with the report of the Bureau, trade unionists argue that the figures NBS churned out do not represent the reality on ground.

National President of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), Comrade Tommy Etim Okon, said: “The National Bureau of Statistics should live up to its billing, being a national database. What Nigeria is going through now is as a result of dearth of data. The only agency the whole of Nigeria depends on for statistics is the NBS. It will be counterproductive if their credibility is called to question.

“No matter how you manipulate data, the facts speak for themselves because they are very obvious. In 2020, everybody knew the issue that affected the entire world – coronavirus! If unemployment rate as at then rose to 33.3 percent, and in the first quarter of 2023, you are saying it is 4.1 percent, I think it is common sense for NBS to know that within that period and now, the situation in the country has worsened. As far we are concerned, that figure of 4.1 percent is not correct. It is not correct because there are indices that have proven the error.”

On his part, the immediate past general secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Dr Peter Ozo-Eson, lambasted the NBS, saying; “we need to challenge the National Bureau of Statistics to do a proper definition of what is realistic in the Nigerian situation when defining unemployment. If for comparative basis they want to use the definition that is used in some other countries, do that for just theoretical purposes. But for reality and for the purposes of learning, and economic policies, let it define a proper relevant rate for identifying the level of unemployment in our country.”

The former NLC scribe went on to say that the complexity of the labour market needs to be properly understood. He added that the second phase of the NBS report said that a huge proportion of Nigerians population is moving away from wage salary to sector into the informal sector.

“So, whoever that is unemployed is counted as employed in the informal sector. But we need to realise that when you have such a huge proportion of formal and informal work, it is a recipe for impoverishment. If 73 percent of the workforce is not earning wages, clearly a huge part of that pool is actually unemployed. People may own small pieces of land and farm on them, and you say they are employed. When those same farmers are chased from their lands, emanating from clashes with herders, will you still consider them as employed?”

In the same vein, Comrade Abdullahi Yahaya of the Labour Business School, Abuja, said the report by NBS on unemployment rate in the country causes trust issue against the government. He added that the report does not reflect the reality on ground and, therefore lacks truth.

“When government agencies come with data and statistics that is not in tandem with the reality on ground, it causes trust issue. If you look at the Nigerian system, there is a huge gap between what government is saying and the true situation. The people therefore do not trust what government is saying. For example, you can say because I attended a programme for one hour, then I am employed and you add it is as statistics. What then happens to the next three months when I won’t be here attending this programme, and you calculate the statistics? Will the people trust that your data?

“Data is not generated for just keeps; it is for the use of people. Even government itself doesn’t believe in some of the data some of these agencies are generating. For example, if NBS comes today and says that unemployment has increased, the same government will deny them. So, this NBS data is not true. For example, I have 15 people that are supposed to be working but are not because there are no jobs and the environment is so hostile to businesses, so I have been taking care of them. If you now come and tell me that unemployment has dropped, how do you want me to believe your data?”

Comrade Yahaya further said: “My advice is that NBS should not be frivolous in making pronouncement of statistical data, especially in an issue as sensitive as employment or unemployment. This goes also to all the other government agencies. The former minister of information, for example, will tell you that nobody is hungry in Nigeria, that rice is available everywhere. But you know the reverse is the case. So all government agencies must say the truth at all times and build confidence in the citizen to believe in what they are saying.

“The new methodology the NBS said it used is clearly a case of when it suits Nigeria. Government officials quote good things that happened in other countries but they are not willing to implement them here. For example, government officials will quote the price of fuel in other countries and how they want to implement it here. But they will never quote the price of wages, what the citizens in those countries that have removed fuel subsidy are earning. They should copy and paste the right things and make sure they work.”

In summation, in the words of the ASCSN President, “For National Bureau of Statistics to come up with these statistical indices, they need to go back and look at their findings again. Because there could be somebody somewhere who has cooked up the figures. They should not make their credibility to be something that is questionable.”

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