Confusion over Nigeria’s unemployment rate stirs online debate

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A debate about Nigeria’s unemployment figures has swirled online after presidential hopeful Peter Obi tweeted that the rate stood at 35 percent — nearly two points higher than the rate given by the country’s statistics agency. After social media users pointed out the discrepancy, Obi’s supporters defended him by attributing his figure to a rating agency and arguing that the official statistics were out of date. AFP Fact Check took a closer look at these claims; here is what we know — and don’t know — about Nigeria’s unemployment rate.

Obi, who is a former two-term governor of Anambra state in southern Nigeria, tweeted about Nigeria’s unemployment rate on May 1 — known in many countries across the world as International Workers’ Day.

“No country grows economically with a 35 per cent unemployment rate, which, when combined with under-employment, will be 55 per cent. That’s a figure of 60 per cent of unemployed Nigerians being youths—the greatest asset of any nation (sic),” Obi tweeted.

Screenshot taken on May 5, 2022, showing Peter Obi’s tweets

Shortly thereafter, Nigerian journalist Niyi Oyedeji of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) countered Obi’s figures with official data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), which put the country’s unemployment rate at 33.3 percent as of 2020.

“It's funny how a presidential hopeful keep throwing wrong statistics around. Nigeria doesn't have 35% unemployment rate, sir. This error is unavoidable but no, you want to bamboozle your followers. You made same mistake earlier this week (sic),” Oyedeji wrote in his tweet.

Oyedeji stirred debate on the social network, with some commenters arguing that the difference between the two figures was negligible. Others questioned the credibility of the statistics bureau’s data given that it was last reported in 2020.

AFP Fact Check contacted Obi for comment about the source of his claim and we will update this report once we receive a response. Some commenters attributed Obi's figure to the Nigerian rating agency Agusto & Co.

In January, the daily newspaper BusinessDay reported the following: “Nigeria’s unemployment rate rose to 35 percent in 2021, according to a report by a credit rating agency, Agusto & Co.”

The article continued: “While the statistics office, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) is yet to publish the official labour data for the period, the 35 percent by Agusto & Co shows the jobless rate in Africa’s largest economy was up 6.06 percentage points from the 33.3 percent reported in 2020 when the impact of COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses to lay off staff.”

Screenshot taken on May 5, 2022, showing the BusinessDay report

What the official statistics say

The bureau last reported unemployment figures on March 15, 2021. This data indicated that at the end of 2020, 33.3 percent — not 35 percent — of Nigeria’s labour force worked for less than 20 hours or none at all.

The NBS first started collecting unemployment data in 2010. Since then, it has released new data on an irregular basis.

Delays in releasing data have caused controversy in the past. In the lead-up to the 2019 elections, some questioned whether the government was deliberately delaying the release of unemployment statistics after the bureau failed to release the data for nearly a year. Former statistics chief Yemi Kale dismissed this, saying that releasing such data typically “takes two months from start to publication” but that this can take longer due to funding issues.

Similar claims have resurfaced ahead of next year’s elections.

While the unemployment rate may have changed in reality since the bureau’s last update, AFP Fact Check found no hard data to suggest the magnitude or direction of the change.

Rating agency ‘projections’

AFP Fact Check contacted Endurance Okafor, the author of the BusinessDay report that relied on information from Agusto & Co.

Okafor said his report was based on a presentation on January 20, 2022, by Agusto & Co. to its clients on Nigeria’s economic outlook for the year ahead.

Okafor sent a copy of the presentation to AFP Fact Check, confirming the agency's statement on the 2021 unemployment rate.

Screenshot taken from Agusto & Co.’s presentation to clients

The table containing the figure of 35 percent also includes several other economic indicators, like the gross domestic product, wages and market value of equities. At the bottom of the table, Agusto & Co. lists the following sources: the NBS, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigeria’s Bureau de Change (BDC) operators, and the Federal Reserve System in the US.

In the presentation’s summary, the rating agency also makes a prediction for 2022: “Unemployment will continue to rise as school leavers join an economy that is weak at creating jobs.”

AFP Fact Check contacted Agusto & Co. for comment on its unemployment claims. The rating agency clarified that the figure it used was an estimate, not definitive data.

“Those figures are our projections for 2021,” Jimi Ogbobine, head of consulting at Agusto & Co. said on May 4, 2022.

False claim about ex-stats boss

In the same online debate, an old claim started to recirculate: that Kale, the former statistics chief, was “forced out” of office and replaced with his successor, Simon Harry, who died in April. However, there is no evidence to support the claim. Rather, Harry took over from Kale after he completed his final term in office.

The Nigerian Statistics Act of 2007 states: “The Statistician-General shall hold office for a tenure of 5 years in the first instance and may be re-appointment for another term of 5 years and no more.”

Kale’s initial five-year appointment was renewed in 2016. He finished his second term in August 2021.

Job crisis in Nigeria

There is no debate that joblessness remains a major problem in Nigeria.

In five years, the country’s official unemployment rate tripled from 10.4 percent in 2015. More than half (52 percent) of job-seeking Nigerians below the age of 35 are now unemployed.

Put differently, Nigeria's unemployed population stood at 23 million in 2020, surpassing the total number of inhabitants in most African countries.

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