Nigerian joblessness at all-time high? Checking a politician’s claims


Two claims on unemployment in Nigeria

Source: Presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar (July 2018)



One unproven, one correct

  • Presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar claimed Nigeria’s jobless rate was the highest yet, and more than 10 million youth were unemployed.
  • The way unemployment is calculated has changed, so it’s not possible to prove it’s at its highest rate in Nigeria’s history.
  • Labour force data confirms that more than 10 million people defined as “youth” are unemployed.

Joining the presidential race, former Nigerian vice-president Atiku Abubakar took aim at the ruling party for what he said was its poor management of the economy.

“Today, we have the highest unemployment rate in the history of this country,” Abubakar said at a July 2018 rally in Adamawa state. “More than 10 million youth are unemployed.”

Abubakar was in office from 1999 to 2007. He is running on a Peoples Democratic Party ticket for the election set to be held on 16 February 2019.

A reader asked us to check if his claims about unemployment were accurate.

Africa Check sent queries to Abubakar, to his campaign office as well as to Nathaniel Otaba, who handles his online media campaign, but we have not received any response. (Note: We will update this report should we get a response.)


“Today, we have the highest unemployment rate in the history of our country.”



Nigeria’s latest unemployment data is for July to September 2017. It shows that the country’s unemployment rate increased to 18.8% from 16.2% in the previous three months.

This was the 12th consecutive quarterly rise since the last three months of 2014, when joblessness stood at 6.4%. (Note: Nigeria’s economy slowed down in 2014 and officially entered recession in 2016, which it only exited in the second quarter of 2017.)

But in 2011, the unemployment rate was higher – at 23.9%. This is according to the National Bureau of Statistics’s 2011 Annual Socio-Economic Report.

Case closed? No, because the bureau revised how it calculated unemployment in 2014. This means the two periods cannot be compared.

In the old calculation method, anyone working fewer than 40 hours was considered jobless. Now, the statistics bureau counts people working fewer than 20 hours a week as unemployed. People who work only 20 to 39 hours a week are seen as underemployed.

Nigeria’s job market ‘still fragile’

“It is undesirable for a presidential hopeful to make such a claim because the methodologies have changed,” said Sarah Anyanwu, a professor of development economics at the University of Abuja. She chaired the committee that reviewed unemployment statistics in 2014. “So you cannot compare unemployment rates just like that.”

She added that the claim would only be true if the comparison were for a period after the methods changed.

Still, if the old method were used to calculate the current rate, unemployment may well be higher than the 23.9% seen in 2011, a director at the statistics bureau, Isiaka Olarewaju, told Africa Check.

The statistics body explained in its latest report: “Consequently, [the] unemployed population under the old [method] equals [the] unemployed population under the new method plus the underemployed population under the new method.”

In the most recent data, unemployment is at 18.8% and underemployment at 21.2%. Under the old method the two figures would be combined to produce a jobless rate of 40%.

“The increasing unemployment and underemployment rates imply that although Nigeria’s economy is officially out of recession, [the] domestic labour market is still fragile,” the report notes.

As official definition of unemployment has changed, we rate the claim as unproven.


“More than 10 million youth are unemployed.”



The statistics bureau considers the youth labour force to be people aged 15 to 34.

The most recent data shows 25.5% of people in this age group were unemployed in the third quarter of 2017 – an estimated 10.96 million people. A further 11.68 million young people were underemployed, meaning they worked under 20 hours per week.

“Young people are more likely to face difficulties securing full time employment and are more likely to be completely idle or take up part-time, leisure, voluntary, or otherwise menial work which is under 20 hours a week, and are thus more likely to be considered unemployed and underemployed,” the December 2017 labour force report states.

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