NBS kicks as ex-statistician general faults new employment data

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The former Statistician-General of Federation/ Chief Executive Officer of the National Bureau of Statistics, Yemi Kale, has said he resisted the urge to further change the country’s unemployment data-gathering methodology during his time as head of the statistics body.

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He spoke barely a week after the NBS released a new data that put employment at 4.1 per cent.

The agency had put unemployment at 33% in Q4 2020.

He noted that the committee in charge of reviewing the minimum number of work hours to count as employed felt one hour did not make sense because income generated within that time frame was not necessarily live-able.

Kale disclosed this on a live television interview on Monday.

He further stated that the income generated from 20 hours of work in Nigeria would equate to that made from working one hour in the US.

He opined that the most important point of data is give policymakers the tools they need to understand the problems, proffer solutions, and monitor the impact of those problems.

Kale said, “This is why I resisted (to change the unemployment-gathering methodology) for 10 years because it did not make any sense in terms of providing the information that our policymakers need. So the 20 hours was set because the committee that was set up, which included the ILO, presented their findings and they decided that one hour did not make sense because the income you will generate on an average from one hour’s work was not going to work.

“The 20 hours was decided on because it was agreed that if you work for that duration, you might be able to generate enough income that might sort of equate to what working one hour in the US is. Then you have a bit more comparison.”

According to him, the unemployment figures from the NBS have always been in line with the international benchmark.

He explained that in many of the countries that pushed for this new standard, one hour of work made sense.

He argued that what the International Labour Organisation has set is a base guideline and countries can tweak around it to suit whatever their needs are.

Kale explained that before 20 hours was set as the benchmark under his watch, the NBS defined unemployment as anything above 40 hours and more because Nigerian policymakers were promising Nigerians full-time employment and needed to know if they were performing considering that.

He explained, “If the policy and data are to match, policymakers need to come out to say that all they are promising Nigerians is one hour of employment, then the methodology works. But if the methodology is focused on one hour and policymakers are trying to look for full-time employment, the data won’t help them. And is only there for textbooks, researchers, and international comparison, and there is nothing wrong with that.

“But policymakers can’t use it, and I must repeat that the most important use of data is to provide information for policy not for international comparison. International comparison is good.”

“Do your international comparison but ensure that what you produce is of use,” Kale urged.

He added that the 4.1 per cent unemployment rate is telling policymakers that Nigeria does not have an unemployment problem.

Reacting to Kale’s comment, the Head of Communications and Public Relations Department of the NBS, Wakili Ibrahim, said the new methodology was in line with international standards.

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According to him, there are some Nigerians who earn from working for just one hour, and this set of Nigerians needs to be captured in the data.

He said, “The new methodology is internationally accepted. All our neighbouring countries in Africa are using the new methodology of one hour. When he was there it was 40 hours. Ask him (ex-NBS boss) why it was changed from 40 to 20 hours during his own time. Now, it is one hour.

“The world is changing. In high-tech countries, if you work for one hour, you can earn what somebody in a bank cannot earn in one year because of IT. Look at lecturers; a lecturer can go lecture for one or two hours, and they will pay him about N200,000 or N300,000 in one or two hours. So, what is the basis of ignoring those ones?

“It is the dynamic world that informed ILO and NBS to adopt this method to capture these people that spend one hour. Otherwise, they will be left out when you use 20 hours as the minimum hour. It is not the question of NBS but the question of the changing world.”

The NBS communications head also alleged that the NBS was in a bad state under the former statistician-general, which he described as worst performing.

“In my 30 years of service, he is the worst ever, and the youngest served statistician-general we ever had. Everything was crippled, not even light in the office. The money the government spent on NBS, we did not see anything,” he claimed.

He alleged that the former NBS boss was not ready to leave after 10 years but was forced out, which likely triggered his comment against the statistics body.