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How do we plan without data? Nigerians ask as NBS bemoans lack of funds to carry out unemployment survey

NIGERIANS have expressed worry over the non-release of the 2018 unemployment data by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), but the head of the bureau, Yemi Kale, said lack of funds was stalling the process.

The last time the unemployment data was released was that of the third quarter of 2017, and it showed that Nigeria’s unemployment rate stood at almost 19 per cent (18.8 per cent precisely), the highest since 2010.

It also showed that the unemployment rate has more than doubled since 2015 when President Muhammadu Buhari took power. It’s been more than one year now since that data was published.

Many say the Buhari administration is deliberately refusing to release the current unemployment data because the figures must have increased further, which would be bad news for an administration that claims to have done so much especially with regards to job creation and reducing unemployment, and is using that as a basis for seeking a second term in office.

Graph of the unemployment figures in Nigeria as at Q3 2017. Graph by Bloomberg.com

On Monday, a Nigerian whose Twitter username read simply as ‘Chxta’, took the issue to the social media when he tweeted the following: “These are facts: Under this government, Nigeria’s economy has shrunk. Under this government, unemployment has doubled from 9.9 per cent in mid 2015 to 18.8 per centin Q3 2017. Since then, no more unemployment reports. They will try to distract you, but eye on the ball. We are worse off.”

Chxta (whose real name was later revealed by Yemi Kale as ‘Cheta’) was supported by Boasan Omofaye, a popular business journalist and broadcaster who currently heads the business desk of Channels Television. Omofaye tweeted that the government “dare not release our quarterly unemployment report”, adding that “by the time Trader Moni is well circulated, you will see the millions of new jobs figures that would be rolled out.”

To the above tweets, Yemi Kale, the Director General of the NBS, replied that there was no politics in the non-release of unemployment so far in 2018, but that the process was being stalled because of lack of funds.

“Nobody is calling me to manipulate any data or not to release any data. The work can’t be completed due to budgetary releases. It’s not hard to confirm when last we got data funding and how much,” Kale tweeted.

Kale went on to try to justify FG’s inability to make funds available to his agency. He said “there are other equally or even more important work competing for same limited funding. I assume when funds are available we will be funded”.

NBS Budget

In the 2018 budget, the NBS was allocated a total of N1.38 billion for capital expenditure. This is about N300 million higher than the N1.03 billion that was budgeted for the Bureau’s capital expenditure in 2017.

Out of the 2017 capital budget, about N815 million or 79.1 per cent was released to the NBS, and all was spent, according to documents from the office of the Accountant General of the Federation.

The figures also show that the NBS got almost all its budgetary allocation for capital expenditure in 2016 – N729.6 million out of the budgeted N730.3 million–, and all of the N350,000,000 capital allocations in 2015.

The ICIR is not certain how much that has been released to the NBS so far in 2018, as the fiscal year just commenced with the signing of the appropriation bill into law in July.

What is more important than data?

Assuming Yemi Kale is right that lack of funds was stalling the undertaking of critical researches to generate accurate data to aid government’s policy and decision making, Nigerians are asking what higher priorities the government have that trumps the generation of accurate data?

“All works are important but some are ‘more important'”, tweeted a user by the name Earthtribeboy. “Without data, we’re like the blind. We can’t know which sector is doing well and which needs help. Ministers can’t develop job policies,” he added.

Another tweet by AfricaUpdates read: “This is very alarming. Lack of funding to such a vital part of the Government. So how does the Government even plan without having or using reliable Data from its main statistics body? You wonder if the lack of funding is by design in order to allow the graft to flourish.”

And yet another Twitter user wrote: “Timely release of such important data contributes to improved investor confidence for one. Policymaking without crucial data is like running blindfolded. This makes you wonder what the government has been using as a guide for its policy decisions.”

Perhaps, it was the tweet by one Ayo Alabi that offered a more believable reason as to why the NBS lacks funds to carry out its responsibilities.

He wrote: “We know you cannot manipulate figures. But any average person on the street knows unemployment is on the rise and NO JOBS are being created under this government. If the government is creating jobs, they will definitely be eager to release the figure (and fund your agency).”

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