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4.1% Unemployment Rate: Official Data Not Always Enough To Make Informed Decision, Says Okey Ikechukwu

“It is a change of methodology as distinct from a clear government intervention that led to a reduction in jobs.”

 Executive Director of Development Specs Academy, Okey Ikechukwu, has said that official information does not always reflect the total amount of available data that a person needs to make an informed decision.

On Thursday, the NBS released Nigeria Labour Force Survey (NLFS) report which put the country’s present unemployment rate at 4.1 per cent in the first quarter of the year (Q1 2023), compared to 5.3 per cent in the preceding quarter. In 2021, the NBS had reported that Nigeria’s unemployment rate had hit 33.3%, rising from 27.1% in the second quarter of 2021 due to the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on Nigeria’s economy.

In an interview with ARISE NEWS on Friday, Ikechukwu explained the sudden fall in the unemployment rate, saying, “What the NBS has done is a modification of criteria for measuring the labour market and the labour force. If, for instance, you look at their report, before, the idea was that if you worked for less than 20 hours a week, you are unemployed.

“So, the basic fact is this, it’s a change of methodology. It’s not to be understood to mean that the government has done anything dramatic to increase the number of people who are employed. It’s not to say that the facts have become different, it’s to say that what you have on the table is a new method that gives you a different configuration. However, the point needs to be made. The fact is on change of methodology as distinct from a clear government intervention that led to a reduction in jobs.”

Still speaking on the recent statistics from the NBS, Professor Ikechukwu said, “Official information does not always necessarily reflect the total volume of data which is available for any person to make a decision. The second thing is that I will not expect- yes, this is an official agent of government and so we should take whatever it gives, but let’s look at it, does government really work like that? Once you say there are criteria, why is it that federal government, for instance, in negotiating with labour, will raise issues? You know how long it took the Federal Republic of Nigeria to begin to accept some of the international provisions on employment and labour laws and the rest of it?

“So, an automatic cut and paste like I said earlier will actually, I don’t want to use the word foolish, but will be unadvisable. The other element to bring into all of this is that, to the extent that any surveyor reports, states his limitations, the criteria used, is already a note of caution to whoever is going to use it that there is more that can be added. Now, if we take from it, oh, you know, it’s NBS, we should take the statistics and run with it, I agree with you. But to the extent that there are laws governing the securing and the use of statistics, to that extent should it be made clear what you’re doing.”

Ikechukwu then said, “I think we could also take the conversation from the domain of methodologies and international conventions to economic reality within our operating environment. And in saying that, I take us back to an earlier point I made, which is, a policy maker has the duty to access all variables, including those not put on the table for him so that his decision will be informed decision, so that his policy will be reasonable and sustainable. What do I mean in that regard?  Our environment, if you look at the issues of banditry, that is affecting national productivity. Even if you look at some of the issues in agriculture, it’s also affecting productivity.” He then said that due to these issues, it is likely to infer that a 4% submission is open to question and open to argument.

Giving his suggestions on how to ensure better and sustainable figures, Ikechukwu said, “A suggestion moving forward will be, yes, we understand they used a total survey population of 35,000+. If you use 35,000+ per state, I think that will be more realistic. So, the NBS going forward may want to consider that number per state. But that means that it has to employ more people, that means that it has to be better funded.

“So, the issue to raise here further still on this matter and looking for better results from NBS, to what extent is it really funded to carry out a comprehensive, detailed national survey? Because the plus in the current submission they made is that instead of quarterly it will now be monthly and continuous. That means a lot more work, that means a lot of survey canvassers moving around, that means more funding.”

Ozioma Samuel-Ugwuezi