Nigeria Says 3.67M Nigerians Lost Their Jobs In One Yr. The harsh economic situation currently facing the country may have forced about 3.67 million Nigerians into the unemployment market within a one-year period, figures obtained from the National Bureau of Statistics have revealed.
According to an analysis of the unemployment report for the period, which was obtained by our correspondent in Abuja, the number of unemployed Nigerians rose from 7.51 million in the beginning of the October 2015 to 11.19 million at the end of September 2016.
The unemployment report for the fourth quarter of last year covering October to December 2016, which is still being prepared by the NBS, is due for release on March 29 based on the data release calendar of the bureau.
The report added that while the number of those employed rose from 55.21 million in the beginning of the fourth quarter to 69.47 million as of the end of September, the labour force population rose from 75.94 million to 80.66 million.
A breakdown of the 3.67 million unemployed Nigerians showed that about 522,000 people became jobless within the fourth quarter of 2015; while 1.44 million people joined the labour force in the first quarter of 2016.
For the second and third quarters of 2016, further analysis of the unemployment report of the NBS showed that about 1.16 million and 550,000 people entered the labour market in search of jobs.
The NBS report explained that unemployment rate was highest for persons in the labour force between the ages of 15-24 and 25-34, which represents the ‘youth’ population in Nigeria.
Sitting on the pavement outside the Lagos state government secretariat, Empero flicks through newspapers, looking for jobs. “We are smiling and we are dying,” says the 36-year-old, a town planner by trade. Nigerians are known for their dramatic turn of phrase. But recent events may justify such rhetoric. The economy shrank by 1.5% in 2016. Inflation has more than doubled to 18.7% in 12 months. Meanwhile, the president, Muhammadu Buhari, has been out of the country since January 19th, receiving treatment for an undisclosed illness. There could hardly be a worse time for the 74-year-old former military dictator to be incapacitated. But much of the blame for Nigeria’s current economic troubles can be laid at his door.
It is the troubled economy that looms largest now in Africa’s most populous country. Mr Buhari was inaugurated soon after the collapse of global oil prices. But instead of accepting reality (exports and government revenues are dominated by the black stuff), he reverted to policies he implemented when last in power in the 1980s, namely propping up the currency.
This has led to shortages of foreign exchange, squeezing imports. The central bank released the naira from its peg of 197-199 to the dollar in June 2016, but panicked when it plunged, pinning it again at around 305. Exchange controls are still draconian. Consequently, many foreign investors have left, rather than wait interminably to repatriate profits. “The country is almost uninvestable,” says one. Importers that can’t get hold of dollars have been crippled. “To take a bad situation and make it worse clearly takes a bit of trying,” says Manji Cheto, an analyst at Teneo Intelligence, part of an American consultancy.
By February 20th the naira had sunk to 520 on the black market. It has since recovered by around 13% after the central bank released dollars and allowed posh Nigerians to buy them cheaply to pay for school fees abroad. The reprieve is likely to be temporary, though. Most analysts agree that the naira should float freely. Egypt, which devalued the pound in November in return for a $12bn IMF bail-out, is an oft-cited example. After falling sharply it found a floor before rebounding as the best performing currency in the world this year.
However, Nigerian officials worry that the inevitable inflationary spike could lead to unrest, particularly if they are forced to raise subsidised petrol prices. It is also anathema to Mr Buhari, who is thought to blame an IMF-advised devaluation for the coup that ejected him from power in 1985. “They all know what needs to happen,” says a Western official of the nominally independent central bank’s leadership. “But somehow they don’t dare to [do it].”
The IMF predicts Nigeria’s economy will expand by 0.8% this year. That would lag far behind population growth of around 2.6%. But the government will tout any recovery as a victory. “That’s the real danger, that they will take that as validation their policies are working,” says Nonso Obikili, an economist. Meanwhile, Nigeria continues to take out expensive domestic and foreign loans. While debt remains relatively low as a proportion of GDP, at around 15%, servicing it is eating up a third of government revenues. After a $1bn Eurobond issue was almost eight times oversubscribed last month, it plans to issue another $500m one this year. Officials have also said that they want to borrow at least $1bn from the World Bank. That remains contingent on reform.
If Mr Buhari remains in London much longer, his absence could provide a window for Nigeria’s technocratic vice-president Yemi Osinbajo to push through a proper devaluation. Mr Osinbajo, currently in charge, has proved an energetic antidote to his ponderous boss, visiting the Delta for peace talks and announcing measures intended to boost Nigeria’s position in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings, in which it currently ranks a lowly 169 out of 190.
Mr Buhari called the governor of Kano during a prayer meeting on February 23rd to say he was feeling better, the first time Nigerians had heard from their president since he left the country. But the state of his health is still unclear (aides have said only that he needs more rest). Mr Osinbajo’s appointment as acting president has followed constitutional protocol. In 2010, by contrast, it took three months for Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner, to be cleared to rule while Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, the northern president, lay dying in Saudi Arabia. There are ghosts of that power struggle in rumours that Mr Buhari’s closest allies are manoeuvring to try to keep the presidency with a northerner should their boss die or be forced by ill health to step down. That could split the ruling All Progressives Congress into three or four factions, destabilising policy-making. Nigeria’s best chance of reform in the short run, then, is probably for the president to rest up in London a while longer.