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The Rate of Unemployment in Nigeria and Its Effect on Socioeconomic Development

Unemployment has become a household name in Nigeria because it appears it has come to stay and even reign in our dear country. Its rate is alarming and worse is that it keeps increasing. It is an indisputable fact that the socioeconomic realm feels the pangs of unemployment the most as it is the core of every nation’s development.

The purpose of this essay is to discuss what unemployment is, its prevalence in Nigeria over the years till the present, and its effect on the socioeconomic development of the country. In the course of that, the causes and types of unemployment will be touched and recommendations will be made as to how to effectively tackle the menace and reduce it to the barest minimum.

The Rate of Unemployment in Nigeria and Its Effect on Socioeconomic Development


Unemployment has been defined by various authors and there is an agreement on the major issues. Authors agree that unemployment occurs when:

  • People capable and willing to work cannot get jobs
  • They must have actively searched for jobs

Perhaps the most acceptable definition is that of the International Labour Organization (ILO) which rather defines the unemployed instead of unemployment. The unemployed, according to ILO, are those who are currently not working, but are willing and able to work and have actively searched for work.

Thus, since the labour force age range is 18-64, under-18 citizens cannot be considered unemployed since they are regarded as dependents (not working) while over-64 citizens are regarded as having retired from employment (unable to work). Also, full housewives are not considered unemployed since they are not actively searching for work.

Causes of Unemployment in Nigeria

Causes of unemployment in Nigeria include widespread corruption in both the private and public spheres, flawed educational system, neglect of the agricultural sector, poor leadership and governance, globalization, advancement in technology and so on.

Types of Unemployment

There are many types of unemployment. They include cyclical, frictional, classical, structural etc. However, there are two broad categories of unemployment: voluntary and involuntary.

Voluntary unemployment occurs when a person leaves his former job willingly in search of another one perhaps of higher pay. Meanwhile involuntary unemployment occurs when a person has been dismissed, fired or laid off from his job and the person is looking for another job. Involuntary unemployment is more common in Nigeria.

A similar phenomenon as unemployment is underemployment. However, they are different and should be distinguished. Underemployment, according to James Harold Wilson, occurs when a person is employed only on a part time basis at a work that is ineffective or unproductive, with a corresponding low income which is insufficient to meet basic needs. Underemployment also occurs when a person works outside his area of specialization due to lack of jobs in his field and so, cannot earn as much as his qualification deserves. For instance, an engineering graduate working as a sales boy in a supermarket.


The unemployment rate is a measure of the prevalence of unemployment in a particular place. It is calculated as a percentage by dividing the number of unemployed individuals by the total number of the labour force. The unemployment rate is usually calculated quarterly in Nigeria by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS). International bodies like the World Bank and the ILO also measure the rate of unemployment. Sadly however, the figures released never correspond.

For instance, according to the NBS, the Nigerian unemployment rate in 2009 was 19.7% whereas the World Bank statistics shows it was 28.57%. The discrepancy may be attributed to the fact that each body applies different practices. For instance, World Bank measures the labour force from ages 15-64 whereas NBS uses 18-64. Another reason may be the fact that World Bank treats underemployment as a form of unemployment, meanwhile NBS doesn’t.

The rate of unemployment according to NBS continued to rise continually from 11.9% in 2005 to 19.7% in 2009. In 2014, it dropped to 9.7% and rose to 10.4% before the end of 2015. As at 2016, the unemployment rate in Nigeria stood approximately at 14% compared to that of Ghana circa 9% and South Africa 27%.

The figures released by NBS are however disputed by Nigerians in different quarters particularly the Nigerian Labour Congress who maintain that the figure is too low considering the millions of unemployed youths in Nigeria.

Others argue that since the Nigerian population census is flawed, the digits required to calculate the unemployment rate must be flawed as well: therefore, the unemployment rate is flawed. The World Bank figures constitute another catalyst fueling such rejection because its figures (circa 40%, 2016) seem more reasonable to Nigerians.


The ILO once stated that unemployment is one of the biggest threats to social stability in any country. Nigeria is not exempted. It must also be stated that the rate of unemployment shows how healthy the economy of a country is: hence, if a country is plagued by unemployment, its economy is regarded as unhealthy and vice versa. The effects of include:

1. Increase in social vices and crime rate: This is the most relatable effect of unemployment on youths. The growing crime rate in Nigeria must first be attributed to unemployment before any other cause. Armed robbery, fraud, prostitution, kidnapping, terrorism, militancy etc. are all offshoots of unemployment. Oftentimes when perpetrators of these crimes are caught, they blame it on joblessness. An idle hand is truly the devil’s tool.

2. Vicious cycle of poverty: There is a vicious cycle of poverty when an individual cannot afford the basic needs of life: food, shelter and clothing. This might sound unbelievable but unemployed people hardly have three square meals every day. They often squat in shacks and wear unbefitting clothes. Such level of poverty exposes victims to diseases and reduces their life expectancy. Little wonder why the life expectancy in Nigeria is low (52 years).

3. Inequality leading to anxiety and depression: Feelings of inequality among the unemployed when they cannot afford the basic necessities of life, not to mention luxuries often leads to anxiety, depression, mental stress and illness. This gives a leeway to escapist thoughts such as suicide and crime.

4. Domestic violence: This occurs usually when the man of the house is unemployed. Unemployed men usually apprehend a threat to their role as breadwinners and thus, can become unnecessarily assertive and defensive. Any sort of protest from wives may not augur well. This in turn leads to divorce. In fact, according to a 2008 research by Covizzi, unemployment is one of the leading causes of divorce.

5. Underemployment: This manifests in the under-utilization of human resources and low output in GDP. Underemployment also causes loss of specialization skills since being out of job for a protracted period renders one outmoded and consequently redundant.

6. Unrest such as xenophobia: A classic example is the xenophobia in South Africa which the Human Research Sciences Report Council reported is primarily caused by the stiff competition for jobs. South Africans feel the high rate of their unemployment and its effects are caused by immigrants: so, their go violent to send them back to their countries. Other unrests resulting from high unemployment rate include protests, boycott etc.


  • A rigorous and vigorous fight against corruption.
  • Educational reforms.
  • Unemployment benefit to the unemployed till they get a job.
  • Encouragement of Small and Medium enterprises.
  • Resurrecting the agricultural sector and encouraging youth participation.

Read More: 10 Ways to Reduce Unemployment in Nigeria

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Chidi Obialor

Chidi Obialor is an easy-going, smart and versatile law student who just loves to write! InfoGuide Nigeria is a team of Resource Persons and Consultants led by Ifiokobong Ibanga. Page maintained by Ifiokobong Ibanga. If you need a personal assistance on this topic, kindly contact us.

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