Nigeria’s unemployment rate has more than tripled in the last five years

One in every two Nigerians in the country’s labor force is either unemployed or underemployed. That grim stat was one of the key highlights of the latest unemployment report published by Nigeria’s Bureau of Statistics, which shows the most recent data as of Q2 2020.

While Nigeria’s unemployment rate has climbed to 27.1% (up from 23.1% in Q3 2018, when the unemployment report was last published), the country’s underemployment rate — which reflects those working less than 40 hours a week, or in jobs that underutilize a person’s skills, time, or education — has increased to 28.6%.

With a labor force of 80.2 million, that means about 21.7 million Nigerians are unemployed, a figure that exceeds the population of 35 of Africa’s 54 countries. Among young Nigerians aged between 25 and 34, the largest bloc of the labor force, the unemployment rate currently stands even higher, at 30.7%.

The report is particularly damning for the administration of Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari, which has struggled to deliver economic policies to drive growth and create jobs. The unemployment rate has more than tripled since Buhari first took office in May 2015.

Worse days ahead

Nigeria’s job crisis does not exist in a vacuum. Perennial under-funding of education in the country has resulted in a significant decline in both the quality of teachers and infrastructure in schools. The problems are compounded by recurring strike actions by public university lecturers amid protests over low wages and benefits. The deficit in Nigeria’s education system is highlighted by the fact that only one in four Nigerians applying to university will get a spot.

As jobs and economic opportunities disappear, wealthy and middle-class Nigerians are increasingly sending their children abroad for university degrees, either to give them an edge in Nigeria’s job market or allow them compete elsewhere. In the US alone, the economic impact of spending by Nigerian students reached $514 million in the 2018/2019 academic year, according to data from the Institute of International Education. That exceeds the economic impact of students from countries including France, Germany, and the United Kingdom in the same period.

The lack of jobs in Africa’s largest economy and most populous country is unlikely to get better soon. The World Bank predicts Nigeria’s flailing economy is set for its worst recession in four decades as the effects of the coronavirus pandemic continue to manifest. Nigeria has been badly hit by the near total shutdown of the global oil economy, given its dependence on the commodity as its biggest revenue source.

Bleak economic growth and the rise in unemployed Nigerians will only compound the country’s long-running problem with lifting citizens out of poverty. Despite sustained high oil prices in the 2010s, Nigeria overtook India in 2018 as the country with the most people in extreme poverty.

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