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Nigeria’s Bureau of Statistics Says Labour Minister Lying About Unemployment Rate

Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), on Friday accused the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, of distorting facts and casting aspersion on the credibility of the employment

Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), on Friday accused the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, of distorting facts and casting aspersion on the credibility of the employment statistics they produced.

On Friday, the Minister had through the verified official twitter handle of the ministry, alleged that the country’s employment data might be inaccurate, particularly the methodology used in arriving at the figures.

He stated further that the World Bank had also queried the methodology adopted as it does not conform with global standards, especially that of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Ngige tweeted: “There has been a little confusion as to the accuracy of data generated by the NBS. So, we want to align everything tomorrow. The World Bank says the NBS methodology doesn’t conform with the global standard, especially the ILO format of arriving at such Employment Index.”

Ngige had on Wednesday, while receiving the leadership of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management in his office in Abuja, first restated his position that the NBS’ methodology for unemployment data was faulty.

But the Statistician General of the Federation/Chief Executive, NBS, Dr. Yemi Kale, in his reply faulted the claim Ngige made in his statement, pointing out that the Bretton Woods Institution, as well as the Economic Advisory Committee had variously affirmed their “confidence, commendation, support and close working relationship with the NBS on its publications.”

Kale stated that the World Bank had outrightly denied making such denigrating comments, as alleged by the minister on the data generated by the statistical agency.

According to him: “The World Bank has denied making any such statement and rather together with the economic advisory committee affirmed its confidence, commendation, support and close working relationship with @nigerianstat. The World Bank can be contacted, if in doubt.”

According to Kale, the NBS had approached the bank to verify the claim by the minister, adding that it was found to be untrue.

It is however, not uncommon for politicians to criticise data releases, especially when it is not in their favour.

The latest Labour Force Statistics: Unemployment and Underemployment Report (Q4 2020), published by the NBS in March, had put the country’s unemployment rate at 33.3 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2020 (Q4 2020), compared to 27.1 per cent in Q2, implying that 23.18 million of the country’s labour force were jobless by the country’s definition of unemployment.

The employment figures had obviously unsettled the current administration which had promised to create 100 million jobs for Nigerians over the next 10 years.

The NBS, had in May 2015, officially unveiled the revised concepts and methodology for computing labour statistics in the country, resetting the new unemployment rate at 6.4 per cent as at Q4 2014.

Kale had, while justifying the change in methodology, explained that there was “no universal standard definition of unemployment, as various countries adopt definitions to suit their local priorities.”

He said: “Virtually all countries, however, use the International Labour Organisation (ILO) definition, or a variant of it to compute unemployment.

“The ILO definition covers persons aged 15–64 who during the reference period (which is usually the week preceding the time the survey is administered) were available for work, actively seeking work, but were unable to find work.”

According to him: “The Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics, like most countries in the world, uses a variant of the ILO definition such that the unemployment is the proportion of those in the labour force (not in the entire economic active population, nor the entire Nigerian population) who were actively looking for work but could not find work for at least 20 hours during the reference period to the total currently active (labour force) population.

“Accordingly, you are unemployed if you did absolutely nothing at all or did something but not for up to 20 hours in a week.

“Under-employment, however, occurs if you work less than full time hours, which is 40 hours, but work at least 20 hours on average, a week and/or if you work full time but are engaged in an activity that underutilises your skills, time and educational qualifications.”

He said: “Consequently, rural farmers, only farming seasonally, will be considered underemployed if they only work on their farms during the planting and harvests period and do nothing in between. 

“If farmers are, however, working in dry and wet seasons as is increasingly becoming the case, they will then be considered to be involved in full time employment. This applies to drivers, cooks, bankers, teachers etc who, in most cases, work well over 40 hours and hence are considered full time employed as their working hours and skills meet the adopted methodology.

He said: “The suitability of wages or job fulfilment is covered under other indices such as the living standard, poverty rate or happiness index, but not in determining whether one is employed, unemployed or underemployed, which is a function of economic engagement.”

James Emejo in Abuja

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