The National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, on Tuesday came under criticism on Twitter over its failure to release its quarterly report on the nation's unemployment data.
The NBS, largely regarded as one of Nigeria's most vibrant agencies of government for its timely reports, was lampooned by many social media users with some suggesting that its failure to release unemployment figures may be borne out of political considerations.
Trouble started Tuesday when a twitter user, Cheta Nwanze, a researcher and data analyst, tweeted that the agency stopped releasing the figures since the third quarter of 2017 when the nation's unemployment figures ballooned.
Mr Nwanze, lead partner at SBM Intelligence, a research outfit, also suggested that the nation is worse off since the last figures were released.
"These are facts: Under this government, Nigeria's economy has shrunk," Mr Nwanze tweeted via his handle @Chxta. "Under this government, unemployment has doubled from 9.9% in mid 2015 to 18.8% in Q3 2017. Since then, no more unemployment reports. They will try to distract you, but eye on the ball. We are worse off."
The tweet would soon go viral, drawing scathing remarks and criticisms among Nigerians on twitter and other social media platforms.
In his response, a twitter user tweeting via @BBoason suggested that the reports would be released once the federal government completes its ongoing Trader Moni cash transfer to Nigerian petty traders, ostensibly to generate positive results.
"We dare not publish our quarterly #Unemployment Report," he tweeted. "By the time Trader Moni is well circulated, you will see the millions of new jobs figures that would be rolled out."
But in a swift reaction, Yemi Kale, the nation's Statistician-General and head of the NBS, said the agency's failure to release unemployment figures had nothing to do with politics. Mr Kale, tweeting via his verified handle @sgyemikale, explained that the agency has failed to release unemployment data because it has been unable to access budgetary releases.
"U guys need to stop this. I know it's election time but I've said this repeatedly," he tweeted. "Nobody is calling me to manipulate any data or not to release any data. The work can't be completed due to budgetary releases. It's not hard to confirm when last we got data funding and how much."
The last time the NBS released data on the nation's unemployment status was in December 2017.
The report, detailing the nation's unemployment figures for Q3 2017, showed that Nigeria's unemployment rate worsened from 16.2 percent in the second quarter of 2017 to 18.8 percent in the third quarter of the year.
The report also showed that the number of people within the labour force who were unemployed increased from 13.6 million in the second quarter of the year to 15.9 million in the third quarter of same year, with more than two million people unemployed within the period.
Similarly, the number of underemployed increased from 17.7 million in the second quarter to 18.0 million in Q3 2017. Data released by the NBS also revealed that the rise in the rate was occasioned by the economic recession that saw the nation's growth decelerate until September 2017 when Nigeria finally exited recession.
In the absence of verifiable data, analysts say the figures may have worsened even as the government struggles to reposition the nation on the path of economic recovery and sustained growth.
As the nation moves toward another election season, it is generally expected that such data will be used as weapons of campaign and voter inducement by government handlers and members of the opposition--depending on how favourable it is to either parties' campaign agenda. The same sentiment was expressed by many twitter users Tuesday, prompting suggestions that the NBS may have been compelled not to release the figures.
But the agency dismissed such insinuations, saying it has generally not released reports in a while.
In a separate response to another twitter user on the same thread Tuesday, the NBS via its verified handle @nigerianstat said it has not released unemployment data and other relevant reports because it has not received funds for research like other agencies of government.
"The same reason why if u check we haven't released any data in a while," the bureau said in response to the question on why its unemployment data has not been released since Q3 2017. "We haven't received funds like many other MDAs (Ministries, Departments and Agencies)."