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Faulting new methodology for latest unemployment rate

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It is no longer news that the National Bureau of Statistics has released the fourth and first quarters of 2022 and 2023 labour force statistics respectively. It was reported that the new rate of unemployment in Nigeria is 4.1 per cent. According to the NBS, the share of wage employment was 13.4 per cent in Q4 2022 and 11.8 per cent in Q1 2023. The NBS also stated that the shares of most Nigerians who operated their own businesses or engaged in farming activities are 73.1 per cent and 75.4 per cent in Q4 2022 and Q1 2023 respectively. It was also disclosed that it was a new methodology that gave birth to these shocking figures, and not that anything had changed with respect to employment generation. Initially, the unemployment computation was 40 hours of work per week, and later moved down to 20 hours of work per week as a minimum to qualify someone as being employed. However, the new methodology recognised the minimum of one hour of work in a week as gainfully employed. Again, the labour force age limit has been increased from the range of 15-65 to the range of 15 and above. By implication, It then means that people who have the grace of living up to 95-100 years are part of the labour force in Nigeria.

The criterion of one-hour minimum work a week as the basis to qualify someone as employed in the new methodology of labour force survey calls for deliberation, and requires further conversations, considering our peculiarity. Is one hour of work good enough if someone chooses not to do more jobs? Is one hour of work liveable? Does it really make any sense? Is the income generated within one hour of work in a week in Nigeria realistic to justify this new methodology? With all sincerity, can two hours of work feed someone for a week in Nigeria? Does Nigeria have an hourly pay rate?

Assuming one uses the Nigerian minimum wage of N30,000 a month, one can only generate N125 for one hour of work if one works eight hours a day. Don’t forget that not all the states in Nigeria are paying the minimum wage of N30,000. Even if they all agreed to pay, can this amount feed someone for two hours, not to talk for one week? Then I ask, what is the value of a policy, guideline, or new methodology if it cannot be practicable? In fact, there are so many questions begging for answers.

It appears that the committee or policymakers regarding the new model for unemployment statistics have not weighed the implications before accepting the shocking new methodology from the International Labour Organisation. The worst part of the tale-guided exercise is the fact that the number of unemployed Nigerians is still unknown, because even the current Statistician-General of the Federation, Adeyemi Adeniran, could not give the figure when he was interviewed on AIT. All he could say was that Nigerians needed to wait till after the whole year’s labour force survey in 2024. It is important to understand that any attempt to politicise economic issues will depict lies because economic issues are more practical than theories, and any economic theory that violates the reality of life is abnormal. It’s totally ironic and abnormal to say you have a full employment level and more than half of your population wallow in abject poverty.

The next question is, how do we reconcile this new methodology of calculating the unemployment rate with economic theories, the practical and everyday reality of Nigerians? If the new methodology is born out of consolation, or a diplomatic way of saying we are fine, if even we are not, then, we need to think it through again. I have thought it through, and to me, it does not add up. Again, surveying 35,520 households out of 200 million population requires a rethink.

I have never been surveyed nor did I know anybody that had ever been surveyed.

So, it will be difficult to rule out cynicism in Nigeria in a situation like this. An economist, Tope Fasua, while responding to the new methodology, stated, “Don’t blame us if we disbelieve, work on your methodology.”

In conclusion, continuing with this new methodology, which many scholars have faulted, including the former Statistician-General, Mr Yemi Kale, will amount to ridiculing ourselves, the jobless Nigerian population, and a sign of insensitivity. The future implications will include distrusting the NBS data if urgent action is not taken to salvage the situation. Again, aside from looking into the sampling size, the NBS need to expand and spread the geographical coverage of the survey for proper understanding and public buy-in. The next quarter survey will be another testing period.