Astronomical unemployment numbers in Nigeria trigger bitter fight

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Statistics recently released by the Nigerian national bureau of statistics, NBS, showing that millions of Nigerians have become or remained jobless since President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn into office in 2015 promising a better Nigeria has triggered a social media fight.

The job numbers have remained a dark spot for President Buhari as Nigerians go to the polls early next year to elect a new President, more than 30 state governors, members of the national assembly as well as state and federal lawmakers.

Festus Keyamo, a lawyer turned politician, who was appointed as Director of Strategic Communications for President Muhammadu Buhari Campaign Organisation, has disputed a report that followed an interview he granted THE INTERVIEW Magazine.

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The report quoted him as disputing the statistics released by the government agency in the administration of Mr. Buhari, which said at least two million jobs were lost between 2015 and 2017.

NBS unemployment table

Mr. Buhari is seeking re-election next year, but the economy has remained problematic in addition to insecurity, leading to two former Nigerian leaders branding him a failure and advising him to throw in the towel.

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has been more vocal than others and labeled Mr. Buhari’s performance as “mediocre”.

Mr. Keyamo in a statement widely circulated on Thursday said he was disputing the interpretation given to the statistics and not the statistics itself. He said he was misquoted.

“To say those who are unemployed ROSE by 4 million, is NOT the same as saying 4 million people LOST their jobs,” he clarified in a statement.

“This is clearly because the millions of graduates and other trainees the nation produce yearly make the unemployment figures to rise, but it is not the same as saying that those jobs were lost. The fact is that for many years now that even preceded this administration, we have not been creating the number of jobs as quickly as can accommodate the numbers of fresh graduates we produce every year,” he added.

Hours later, the media house, which conducted the interview, issued its own statement, doubling down on what it reported and quoting exactly what Mr. Keyamo said.

“If Mr. Keyamo has any misgivings they are apparently not contained in our reportage of the interview, as can be seen from the Q & A referenced above. We have never once been accused of misquoting or misreporting any interviewee, high or low. We cherish this reputation and will defend it,” THE INTERVIEW Magazine said.

Read both statements below


My attention has been drawn to some on-line reports where I was quoted as disputing the figures of the National Bureau of Statistics as to the rate of UNEMPLOYMENT in the country. Obviously, that is not correct. In a season of politics, fake news and twisted reportage are expected to dominate some space, but we shall expose them as they arise.

For the avoidance of doubt, what I disputed in the latest edition of THE INTERVIEW Magazine, marshaled by the very able ace journalist, Mr. Azu Ishiekwene was the figure as presented by the REPORTER (NOT NATIONAL BUREAU OF STATISTICS) on JOB LOSS (NOT UNEMPLOYMENT) as wrongly reported by some on-line media. To say those who are unemployed ROSE by 4million, is NOT the same as saying 4million people LOST their jobs. This is clearly because the millions of graduates and other trainees the nation produce yearly make the unemployment figures to rise, but it is not the same as saying that those jobs were lost. The fact is that for many years now that even preceded this administration, we have not been creating the number of jobs as quickly as can accommodate the numbers of fresh graduates we produce every year.

The obvious narrative created by those who report like this is that the figure of JOB LOSS is as high as they want to make it up and is as a direct result of some policies that the Buhari administration got very wrong. The report of the National Bureau of Statistics released in December, 2017, reads in part:

“The labour force population increased from 83.9million in Q2 2017 to 85.1million in Q3 2017. The total number of people in full time employment (at least 40 hours a week) declined from 52.7million in Q2 2017 to 51.1million in Q3 2017. The number of people within the labour force who are UNEMPLOYED or UNDEREMPLOYED increased from 13.6million and 17.7million respectively in Q2 2017, to 15.9million and 18million in Q3 2017. Total unemployment and underemployment combined increased from 37.2 percent in the previous quarter to 40 percent in Q3 2017.”

Curiously, those who are pushing the negative narrative also fail to mention that in the same report by the National Bureau of Statistics in December, 2017, it was stated clearly that because of sterling government’s policies, the unemployment rate is expected to drop by 2018. Businessday online in its report of December 28, 2017, reports as follows:

“NIGERIA UNEMPLOYMENT RATE EXPECTED TO REDUCE BY 2018 – NBS  

The Economic Reform and Governance Project (ERGP) plan by the federal government expect to achieve the net job creation of 1.5 million in 2017, 3.8million in 2018, 4.3million in 2019 and 5.1million in 2020. The plan also aim to get unemployment rate to 16.32 percent in 2017, 14.51 percent in 2018, 12.90 percent in 2019 and 11.23 percent in 2018, as gathered from the ministry of budget & national planning and the National bureau of statistics.”

It is in the light of the above that the following exchange took place in the said INTERVIEW Magazine, where I clearly admitted to some loss in jobs, but disputed that the figures of actual LOSS are not as high. It went as follows:

Question:   “Unemployment, even by the government’s own statistics, is still a very big problem. An average of nearly two million jobs have been lost every year for the last three years under Buhari. How do you intend to sell this candidate to Nigerians?”

Answer:     “I also do not believe those statistics. Where do the statistics come from? You should quote the source. I fight this problem. I will pick holes as we go into 2019. The National Bureau of Statistics have said some jobs have been lost. It is not two million every year. I want to correct some of these things. We know jobs were lost. One, because of the slump in the economy, the oil majors laid off so many people. It was a general economic downturn in all oil producing countries. Venezuela went into depression. Brazil went into a depression. Russia went into a depression. There was a general problem everywhere. The question is what is government now doing to reclaim the economy and to create more job? …..The boost in agriculture, there is export now for the first time in many years. Everybody acknowledges that. Even the enemies acknowledge it. There is a lot of employment coming up in that sector. So, they are closing the gap. But we are not there. There is still a lot of unemployed youth out there. The point I want to concentrate on is that, is the government losing the fight? They are not losing the fight. There is a fight back and we are getting there slowly.”

It is therefore disingenuous to say I disputed the NBS figures on the rate of unemployment in the country.

Thank you.

FESTUS KEYAMO, SAN, FCIArb (UK), Director of Strategic Communications, President Muhammadu Buhari Campaign Organisation. (Official Spokesperson)


The Other side: Festus Keyamo’s Reponse To NBS Statisitics On Unemployment

Our attention has been drawn to a press statement by the Director of Strategic Communications of the Buhari Campaign Organisation, Mr. Festus Keyamo, SAN, on his answer to a question on unemployment in the current edition of The Interview.

In answer to the question: “Unemployment, even by the government’s own statistics, is still a very big problem. An average of nearly two million jobs have been lost every year for the last three years under Buhari. How do you intend to sell this candidate to Nigerians?”,

Mr. Keyamo said:

 “I also do not believe those statistics. Where do the statistics come from? You should quote the source (NBS, reporter responded in original tape)….

Then he continued…. “I fight this problem. I will pick holes as we go into 2019. The National Bureau of Statistics have said some jobs have been lost. It is not two million every year. I want to correct some of these things. We know jobs were lost. One, because of the slump in the economy, the oil majors laid off so many people. It was a general economic downturn in all oil producing countries. Venezuela went into depression. Brazil went into a depression. Russia went into a depression. There was a general problem everywhere. The question is, what is government now doing to reclaim the economy and to create more job?….The boost in agriculture, there is export now for the first time in many years. Everybody acknowledges that. Even the enemies acknowledge it. There is a lot of employment coming up in that sector. So, they are closing the gap. But we are not there. There is still a lot of unemployed youth out there. The point I want to concentrate on is that, is the government losing the fight? They are not losing the fight. There is a fight back and we are getting there slowly.”

The crux of the matter is whether unemployment is still a major problem and if an average two million people were unemployed between 2015 and 2017 (as a result of job losses and/or new entrants into the labour market).

We provide other references below in support.

Readers will see from these references that the average two million unemployment figure under Buhari referred to in the question is, in fact, understated – it’s for two years 2015 – 2017 (when the job losses and/or new entrants into the labour market are combined). The figures are not ours.

In the last three years we have interviewed over 150 people, including three presidents, one Nobel laureate and many other distinguished persons, including, of course, Mr. Keyamo himself.

If Mr. Keyamo has any misgivings they are apparently not contained in our reportage of the interview, as can be seen from the Q & A referenced above. We have never once been accused of misquoting or misreporting any interviewee, high or low. We cherish this reputation and will defend it.

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Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba covers the White House, the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions for Today News Africa in Washington D.C. Simon can be reached on simonateba@todaynewsafrica.com

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