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Government under fire for withholding unemployment data from public

By Gloria Ehiaghe
09 December 2019   |   4:30 am
Three weeks to the end of the year, the quarterly reports on job creation and unemployment prepared by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) have not been made available to the public contrary to the usual practice.

• NBS blames poor funding for delay
• It’s plot to lie to Nigerians, say NECA, ULC
• ‘Unemployment situation has worsened’

Three weeks to the end of the year, the quarterly reports on job creation and unemployment prepared by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) have not been made available to the public contrary to the usual practice. This has fuelled concerns that the Federal Government may have withheld the data to avoid criticism.Experts suspect that the reports were not released because the rate of joblessness in the country has risen above 40 per cent.

The Federal Government, through the NBS saddled with the responsibility of releasing data for different sectors of the economy, released the last unemployment data and job creation report in the third quarter of 2018, announcing that the country’s unemployment figure rose to about 23.1 per cent. The figure elicited criticism from many stakeholders who lamented the high rate at which unemployment had skyrocketed.

An investigation by The Guardian revealed that despite acclaimed efforts by the current administration to improve the economy in the past four years, the unemployment rate has risen drastically.The NBS had claimed that the economy was too weak to close the significant employment gap that had emerged since the beginning of the global economic crisis in 2008.

With combined unemployment and underemployment rate standing at 43.3 per cent, some stakeholders projected that the unemployment rate might hit 50 per cent as higher institutions continued to produce more graduates. They submitted that the rate might be exacerbated simply because the government had no ready-made jobs for the unemployed youths.

They noted that the private sector operators could help stem the tide, only if the government could initiate the right policies to make it happen. They identified a lack of capacity to attract foreign investments and the challenging local business environment as major factors limiting the private sector’s capacity to create jobs.

With 20.9 million people unemployed at the end of the third quarter of 2018, the bureau stated that the economically active or working age population (15 – 64 years) increased from 111.1 million in Q3 of 2017 to 115.5million in Q3 of 2018. Of the 20.9 million persons classified as unemployed as at Q3 2018, 11.1 million did some form of work but for too few hours a week (under 20 hours) to be officially classified as employed, while 9.7 million did absolutely nothing, the NBS said.

The report noted: “Of the 9.7 million unemployed that did absolutely nothing as at Q3 2018, 90.1per cent of them or 8.77 million were reported to be unemployed and doing nothing because they were first time job seekers and have never worked before.” The Director-General of Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Timothy Olawale, blamed the delay in releasing the 2019 data on what he described as conspiracy from government, noting that since the NBS, in time past, had not released results favourably to government, they must have been cautioned by officials of government.

Withholding such data, according to Olawale , is not good for the economy and the nation at large as it is essential for planning. “Unemployment is getting worse. Even if I am not sure of what it is officially now, my assumption is that we should be over 50 per cent already.

“Unemployment is getting to a boiling point, and we are already sitting on a keg of gun powder; it is just a matter of time before it explodes. Before it explodes, all hands must be on deck to resolve the issue.“One can only suspect that it is a conspiracy from government. We can say emphatically, because in time past, there were statistics that were released that had actually received lots of backlash from those in government. Perhaps, they are being careful now to justify their employment record, but that is not in the interest of the nation.”

The Deputy General of the United Labour Congress (ULC), Chris Onyeka, told The Guardian that the figures on unemployment, which had been stopped once again, indicated the depth to which governance in Nigeria had sunk, and the growing dictatorship which abhored free speech. According to him, it is a sign that the Freedom of Information (FoI) will not be given free rein by this government.“It is only a government that has something to hide that would be against the free flow of information as it is in this case,” he said.

Onyeka said the Federal Government was not happy with the NBS over some of its indicators, especially the unemployment figures which were lower than the figures on ground, and those reported by United Nations (UN) agencies.

“This government has not only lied to Nigerians repeatedly about virtually everything but has used various forms of deliberate misinformation. It must have attempted to force the NBS to gerrymander the actual figures or reach a compromise to stop the unemployment figures from coming out.

“It is truly a conspiracy to muscle free speech and sabotage the truth. It is abnormal in democratic governance and has unfortunately become the new normal in a government that rode to power on the wheels of providing change and next level of everything good.“The truth is that the unemployment situation in Nigeria has worsened and the government is afraid that the continued exposure of the citizens to this truth will put a lie to their achievements,” Onyeka added.

To him, the 23.1 per cent unemployment figure of December 2018 was clearly understated. “At that point, we were registering about 28 per cent on the general unemployment scale in the country. That figure unfortunately stands at 32.8 per cent now.“However, when it is segregated, it stands at 75 per cent amongst the youth and 70 per cent amongst women. This is a time bomb that has continued to tick against our nation. There is a dangerous dimension which is that the number of adults that have never held any meaningful job in their lives is growing,” the labour leader said.

To tackle unemployment, he advised that government should arrest the “usurping of Nigerian jobs” by foreigners through the enforcement of existing laws and standards, empowerment of youths to go into businesses by creating loans for small businesses without accessibility obstacles, re-aligning education curriculum with needs of the society, developing new skills, and re-skilling and up-skilling existing skills.

When The Guardian contacted the Head, Public Affairs Unit of NBS, Sunday Ichedi, on why none of the quarterly unemployment reports for 2019 had been released, he said many factors were responsible.Ichedi, who did not disclose other challenges, said the non-availability of fund was part of the reasons.

“You know how government releases funds to MDAs. We know how important the data are, which help in decision making and planning. We don’t want to rush; we want to give accurate data.”Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, who spoke when the last data were published, had complained that the figures collected by the NBS in recent past had been unfair to President Muhammadu Buhari’s strides in job creation in the agricultural sector, as the bureau had concentrated analysis overtime on white-collar jobs.

“We have created at least 12 million jobs in the area of agriculture,” Shehu said.The Chief Executive Officer of NBS, Yemi Kale, said: “The bureau was too cash-strapped to provide regular updates until now. The work can’t be completed due to budgetary releases.”But the President and Chairman of Council of the Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM), Prof. Olukunle Iyanda, told The Guardian that it was unusual for government agencies not to provide data they were employed to do.

“Politics seems to be the only thriving business in Nigeria. We need a total re-orientation in this country and to move away from the direction which we are, otherwise, this country is aiming for disaster.”The Director of Entrepreneurship Centre, University of Lagos (UNILAG), Dr. Adebisi Abayomi, said government and other concerned stakeholders needed to encourage the youths to be self-sufficient and create businesses on their own even while in school.

He told The Guardian how UNILAG had trained its students on the need, and how to be self-sufficient through creating things by themselves to prepare them for life after graduation.“By January, most universities would be churning out a large crowd of graduates of over 15,000 per school. What becomes of them? Their number will add up to the unemployment rate, it will further increase to like 50 per cent because there is no job being created, rather people are losing jobs”.The Programme Officer, Faculty of Business Administration, University of Uyo, Paul Awulu, urged universities in the country to initiate academic programmes capable of producing graduates who would become employers of labour rather than employment seekers.