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Does Nigeria have world’s highest unemployment rate? Several newspapers quote unreliable social media source

In August, a spate of media reports brought bad news for Nigerians – that they now had the highest unemployment rate in the world. But the publications should have dug deeper into this statistic.

This article is more than 9 months old

  • The UN’s International Labour Organization ranks Nigeria 38th out of 185 countries in the world with an unemployment rate of 10.7%, based on 2019 data. 

  • However, the most recent official numbers did give the unemployment rate for the fourth quarter of 2020 as 33.3%. But this is not based on current ILO standards and can’t be directly compared with other countries.

  • If these standards were applied, the country would rank 41st out of 181 countries, according to the country's statistics office. More recent data will be published in 2023.

In August 2023, several Nigerian newspapers reported that the country had the highest unemployment rate in the world.

“Nigeria tops global unemployment rating” read some of the headlines. Similar headlines can be seen here, here and here.

Almost all the articles cited the “latest statistics released by the World of Statistics”, and used the same figure of 33.3%.

With the rising cost of living, unemployment is one of the indicators Nigerians care about.

But is it correct to say Nigeria has the world’s highest unemployment rate, and that it is 33.3%? We checked.


“Nigeria has the highest unemployment rate in the world.”



Following the flurry of news reports, we found the source – a tweet dated 7 August 2022 from the World of Statistics account on X, formerly known as Twitter. The account tweets statistics on everything from inflation rates to breast sizes by country, with its bio stating that “there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics”.

The tweet in question ranked 58 countries and the “euro area” by unemployment rate. Many of the countries in the list are also part of the 20-member euro area.

Nigeria topped the list with 33.3%, followed by South Africa with 32.9%. The next country, Iraq, with 15.55%, had less than half the unemployment rate of these two countries.

However, the account did not give a source for these or for many of the other statistics it shares. There is also no evidence that it is affiliated to the World of Statistics, a global organisation with 2,300 members.

The account has a YouTube account and no website, and refers enquiries to its founder “Denis”. Its tweets are regularly repeated the 7 August tweet quoted in the Nigerian media was tweeted at least five times in June and four times in July, with other media carrying the same claims as early as 3 July

Three days later, on 10 August, the account tweeted the same unemployment statistics – but for 27 countries, and this time Nigeria was conspicuously absent from the top of the list, which was now led by South Africa.

We have emailed the account with a number of questions about the two lists, but have not received a reply. (Note: We will update this report if we do.) 

What does the available data show?

The International Labour Organisation (ILO), an agency of the United Nations, has a range of global comparative labour statistics, including unemployment rates.

According to the ILO, Nigeria ranks 38th out of 185 countries in the world in terms of unemployment, with the latest figure recorded for the country being 10.7% for 2019.

The data, which was last updated in January 2023, shows that South Africa leads with 28.8% in 2021, followed by the Occupied Palestinian Territory with 26.4% (2021) and Djibouti with 26.1% (2017).

But – and as many of the media reports in question noted – Nigeria’s most recent official labour statistics only cover the fourth quarter of 2020. These showed that the unemployment rate was 33.3%

A report from Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), dated March 2021, noted: “In comparison with other countries across the world, we apply the International Labour Organisation’s standard of 1-hour work per week. Using this measure, Nigeria’s recent unemployment rate is 11.7%.”

This, it said at the time, placed the country 41st out of 181 countries, although it cautioned that countries should not be compared directly as the reference period and the method of calculating unemployment could be different.

The new methodology

It was wrong to compare Nigeria with other countries on the basis of the 33.3% figure, Dr Baba Madu, head of the national accounts department at the NBS, told Africa Check.

The way the country measures unemployment had since changed, he said.

“Our unemployment rates were too high compared to other countries because of the method we used. We used to count some people who were underemployed as unemployed. And that had to do with our peculiar situation,” Madu said. 

“For instance, you could find a graduate riding an Okada [a commercial motorcycle popularly used as a taxi in Nigeria] and making more money than a fully employed civil servant, but he is considered unemployed. However, that has changed now,” he said.

Previously, to calculate the unemployment rate, the NBS considered as unemployed anyone aged 15 to 64 who was available for work and actively seeking a job.

A person was considered to be unemployed if they had worked less than 20 hours in the week before the labour force survey. Full-time students and those who chose to stay at home or were ill and unable to work were not counted as unemployed.

But the agency has said it was changing how it calculated unemployment. New unemployment figures were supposed to have been published in June 2023, based on the new approach. 

To lay the ground for this, the NBS published its new framework for labour force statistics in April. This uses a one-hour criteria, in line with ILO standards, and considers the unemployed as those not in employment, are actively searching and are available to work. 

The underemployed are those who worked between one and 39 hours, and are willing and available for more work.


Therefore, the claim that Nigeria has the highest unemployment rate in the world is based on an earlier method of counting that has since changed, is incorrect and is not supported by the available ILO data.


“Nigeria’s unemployment rate is 33.3%.”



Madu said he would not “quarrel with someone who says our unemployment rate is 33.3% because that is the last figure we published”. 

“But that was since the fourth quarter of 2020. Things are different now.”

The new methodology should result in a lower unemployment rate comparable to other countries, the NBS statistician said.

“We have published the new methodology. People should be patient, we will soon publish new labour force statistics. Then we will know the country’s real unemployment rate,” he said. 

Until then we can only rate the claim of 33.3% as unproven.

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