After Twitter announced it would be opening its first African office in Ghana, Nigeria’s ruling All Progressives Congress and opposition Peoples Democratic Party exchanged words.
Three of the PDP’s claims about Nigeria’s Twitter user numbers are incorrect, and a claim about rising poverty under the APC is misleading. The PDP got the unemployment rate right, but there’s no proof that 40 million businesses have closed.
Two of the APC’s claims about foreign direct investment in Nigeria are correct, and a claim that multinationals are setting up shop there is mostly correct. But Nigeria did not become Africa’s biggest economy under APC rule.
Wading into the debate, the Nigeria’s two largest political parties traded blows – fittingly, on Twitter – over the country’s attractiveness to investment.
The main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) claimed Nigerians were “heavily despaired” by Twitter’s decision and that this was evidence of how far the country had fallen under the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
Pushing back, the APC portrayed Nigeria as good for business. We fact-checked 10 claims made by the sparring parties.
CLAIMS BY THE PDP
We have asked both sides for the evidence for their claims, but neither has responded yet. We will update this report when they do.
The PDP claimed there were about 39.6 million Twitter “subscribers” in Nigeria. It argued that this figure was bigger than Ghana’s population, so Nigeria should have been picked.
But do the numbers add up? Before 2019 the microblogging platform reported on its monthly active users, with the last reported figure being an average of 326 million for July to September 2018. The company now reports on “monetisable daily active usage” (mDAU).
Twitter also defines subscription differently. It is reportedly exploring a service where users would pay for certain types of content.
Nigeria not in top 20 of Twitter user countries
A spokesman for Twitter, Gareth Field, told Africa Check the firm does not disclose country user data externally.
Nigeria is not in Statista’s top 20. Malaysia is 20th, with 3.4 million active users. Statista says its data is sourced from Twitter and the third party companies DataReportal, We Are Social and Hootsuite.
In a 2021 digital report, social media management firm Hootsuite estimates Nigeria has 33 million active social media users. Twitter is the sixth most used platform, behind WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook Messenger.
Hootsuite says a Twitter ad in Nigeria has a potential audience of 3.05 million people. But it adds that audience figures “may not represent unique individuals or match the active user base”.
The firm says its data was gleaned from several third party providers, including Statista, GlobalWebIndex, GSMA Intelligence, Statcounter and Alexa.
We don’t have Twitter’s own user numbers, but the available data suggests the PDP figure is so overblown as to be inaccurate.
Estimate appears to be from a faulty poll
The PDP’s 39.6 million seems to come from NOIPolls, an opinion polling website. In October 2019 the pollster interviewed 1,000 phone-owning Nigerians aged 18 and older, randomly selected across the country. One of the questions asked was: “Do you have a Twitter account?”
About 20% of respondents said yes. This share was then applied to the National Population Commission’s 2018 estimate that Nigeria had a population of 198 million, producing the figure of 39.6 million Twitter “subscribers”.
The problem with the poll was not its sample size but the conclusion, Dr Isiaka Olarewaju, a statistician, told Africa Check. He was the head of household statistics at the country’s National Bureau of Statistics.
“Going by the methodology, they cannot say 39.6 million Nigerians use Twitter. They sampled adults, 18 years and older, which is a fraction of Nigeria’s population,” Olarewaju said.
“It is wrong to apply the 20% to the entire population. Also, it needs to be narrowed down to social media users."
The United Nations Population Fund estimates Ghana’s population as 31.7 million in 2021. The country will hold a census in June 2021. Before that, the Ghana Statistical Services’ most recent census was in 2010.
Most estimates put Nigeria’s monthly active Twitter users at about 3 million – less than 10% of Ghana’s population. We therefore rate the claim as incorrect.
In light of the data available so far, we also rate this as incorrect.
Research firm Statista says Egypt has about 3.7 million active Twitter users, which tallies with a 2021 estimate by social media management firm Hootsuite. Egypt is ranked 18th globally for the number of users. Nigeria is not even in the top 20.
The PDP said that the ruling party had done little to improve a worsening economy, making many Nigerians poorer.
In 2018, Nigeria was declared the “poverty capital” of the world when the number of its people living in extreme poverty, defined as less than US$1.90 a day, exceeded those in India. This was based on data from the World Poverty Clock developed by the World Data Lab, a research firm focused on the UN’s sustainable development goals.
Is the ruling party to blame?
The PDP was in power from 1999 to 2015. It blamed president Muhammadu Buhari and his APC for the state of the economy.
But poverty in Nigeria was due to the actions of successive governments since the country’s independence in 1960, Gafar Ijaiya, professor of economics at the University of Ilorin in north central Nigeria, told Africa Check.
Ijaiya, who is currently researching poverty, said the country’s high poverty rates had built up gradually. Agricultural output and many industries – such as steel and textiles – had declined, he said, while inequality had also grown.
“Should we be surprised that there are so many living in extreme poverty in the country? It didn’t start in 2018. Yes, the APC is to blame, but the PDP is also to blame,” Ijaiya told us.
“Economic research takes a long time, especially on issues such as poverty, which is micro-economics and affects individual households. It’s a trend; you can’t single out one regime."
The PDP correctly quoted Nigeria’s most recent unemployment rate published by the National Bureau of Statistics.
Bureau data for March 2021 puts the unemployment rate at 33.3% in the fourth quarter – last three months – of 2020.
The country’s workforce — people aged between 15 and 64 who are able and willing to work — was estimated to be about 69.7 million. The rate means that about 23.2 million of the workforce did not work that quarter.
The high unemployment rate means the Nigerian economy is not absorbing all of the graduates from tertiary institutions such as universities and polytechnics. That’s according to Pam Dung Sha, a professor of political economic and development studies at the University of Jos in north central Nigeria.
“For instance, in the context of employment, Twitter setting up in Ghana is a missed opportunity for Nigeria,” Sha told Africa Check. “Twitter having its Africa headquarters in Nigeria would have brought jobs and businesses. The setting up of such big firms in a country has multiplier effects."
Is it possible that more than 40 million thriving businesses in Nigeria have closed shop in the past six years of APC rule, as its rival claimed?
It is unlikely the “vibrant businesses” the PDP referred to were registered.
This is because the Corporate Affairs Commission, which is in charge of listing businesses, announced in March 2019 that it had registered only 3.1 million businesses since its inception in 1990. These are registered in any of three categories: limited liability companies, business name, and incorporated trustees.
The 2017 micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSME) survey shows the country had 41.54 million small businesses. These were defined by how many people they employed and the value of their non-property assets.
No data on closure of unregistered businesses
Without data there’s no way to prove that some 40 million Nigeria-based businesses have closed in the past six years, Sha told Africa Check.
“Nigeria, like most developing countries, has a large informal sector. Getting data for the informal economy is difficult. I know that many businesses have closed and some have left the country for Ghana and other destinations, but many businesses have also started here or come into the country.”
Ijaiya agreed that data was needed. “It is true that businesses have closed for different reasons. But to put a number to it, we need a properly done survey.”
We therefore rate the claim as unproven.
CLAIMS BY THE APC
The APC said that Twitter’s decision was its own to make and other tech giants were opening offices in the country. The ruling party’s statement then name-checked some that have chosen to do business in Nigeria.
In September 2020 Facebook announced that it was opening its second African office in Lagos, Nigeria.
That same year, Kellogg Tolaram Nigeria Limited, a joint venture between the US-headquartered Kellogg company and the Tolaram group of Singapore, opened a cereal factory in the Lekki Free Trade Zone in Lagos. This was estimated to be worth N6 billion.
And in May 2021, Microsoft and the Nigerian government announced a partnership on projects to create a more digital economy.
The APC cited the 2020 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) investment trends monitor as the source of this claim.
The International Monetary Fund defines foreign direct investment as a resident in one economy obtaining a lasting interest in an enterprise in another economy.
The UN’s investment data gives foreign direct investment into South Africa as $2.5 billion in 2020, some $100 million less than the amount Nigeria attracted.
This was the evidence the APC provided in asserting that “Nigeria as Africa’s biggest economy, remains a top investment destination.”
Not the full picture, though
But this data does not tell the whole story about FDI inflows into the two countries since Buhari took power in Nigeria.
For instance, the UNCTAD figures also show that in 2019, South Africa attracted $4.6 billion, much more than Nigeria’s $3.3 billion.
Replying to the PDP, the ruling APC claimed that Nigeria’s current status as Africa’s largest economy was achieved under Buhari, who took office in May 2015 and was re-elected in 2019.
But Nigeria was officially declared Africa’s largest economy in 2014 when the country’s statistics office adjusted how it calculated its gross domestic product, a widely used measure of the size of an economy.
“The previous base year was 1990. This meant that sectors such as the film industry, Nollywood, and mobile telecommunications that rose after that year were not counted,” Dr Baba Madu, head of national accounts at the National Bureau of Statistics, told Africa Check.
“The rebasing exercise began in the current base year, 2010 and was concluded in 2013. We published the GDP figures in 2014. So technically one can say Nigeria became the largest economy in Africa in 2010."
Photo: Olivier DOULIERY / AFP