The COVID-19 crisis is not over for workers in Nigeria

The labor market is the main vehicle through which the proceeds of growth are distributed among households and individuals. That is why insight into the labor market is essential for poverty reduction. This topic is crucial in Nigeria, where the government is striving to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty by 2030—an ambitious target as, even before the pandemic, around 4 out of 10 Nigerians lived below the national poverty line.

COVID-19s”double shock– health and economics – has increased the need for new evidence to understand jobs and livelihoods in Nigeria. Because social protection was limited, households resorted to negative coping strategies, including: reduce food consumption— which harm their present and future well-being.

A new report, COVID-19 in Nigeria: Frontline Data and Pathways for Policy, uses high-frequency data to investigate impacts on human capital, livelihoods and well-being. The report is based on the Nigeria COVID-19 National Longitudinal Phone Survey (NLPS), a distinctive, nationally representative survey that collected key socioeconomic information from households over 12 consecutive rounds between April 2020 and April 2021.

Employment during COVID-19: rapid decline, rapid recovery

NLPS data shows that employment in Nigeria plummeted at the start of the COVID-19 crisis. The proportion of top respondents in each household that worked fell by more than half between mid-March 2020 and April/May 2020, from 86 percent to 42 percent (Figure 1). During this period, most strict lockdown measures were in effect, and restrictions on mobility have prevented people from going to work. This also sounds strong worldwide proof from other labor markets.

Despite the initial decline, employment in Nigeria recovered rapidly. By August 2020, the proportion of top respondents in each household in work was back to pre-pandemic levels. In that sense, the Nigerian labor market echoed the V-shaped recovery observers hoped for in the global economy as a whole, following the COVID-19 crisis.

A closer look: many people work, but not good jobs

However, when we look at the kinds of jobs Nigerians have chosen, a less positive picture emerges. Later rounds of the NLPS – which have been implemented in September 2020 and February 2021—extensive interviews with all members of the working-age household, collecting more detailed and inclusive information about the Nigerian labor market. The proportion of working-age Nigerians in employment increased between January-February 2019 and February 2021, but this was mainly concentrated in retail and trade (or commercial) activities in non-agricultural household enterprises. Such activities are usually: small scale— with only about 1 in 10 non-agricultural households employing someone outside the household, it is unlikely that households will help avert or escape poverty. Indeed, NLPS data directly shows that: Non-farm income remained the most precarious– more than contract work or farming – while COVID-19 continued.

In addition, COVID-19 heralded significant churning in the labor market activities of Nigerians. Employees lacked stability and security in their work: instead, they took on all activities that could help them cope with the consequences of the COVID-19.

Learning losses jeopardize future growth

Given its implications for human capital development, in particular education, the crisis also threatens future generations. School closures in 2020 reduced the attendance rate of children even after reopening, especially in older children. Dropout rates were also higher in the households most affected by income shocks, suggesting that households took children out of school to support income-generating activities. As the human capital performance in Nigeria was good below average for sub-Saharan Africa even before the pandemic, the country cannot afford these learning disadvantages.

COVID-19 also threatens to increase inequalities in learning, as access to distance learning was uneven across households. Young children from non-poor households had better access to distance learning opportunities – via television, computers and smartphones or tablets – than children from poor households (Figure 2).

Access to distance learning options: worse for children from poor households

A window for policy action

Reclaiming the learning experience lost during the COVID-19 crisis is therefore a key policy priority for Nigeria. While encouraging children to go back to school – the preferential policy among Nigerians themselves will be vital, resuming personal learning requires preventive measures to be taken to prevent the spread of the virus. With lingering uncertainty about the path of the pandemic, remote options that really work for the poor are needed. High-tech options can’t reach the poor, so low tech solutions perhaps more appropriate. Examples include involving students, parents and teachers through mobile phones or broadcasting lessons by radio. Further initiatives can support recovery during learning, both in person and at a distance: for example, there is increasing evidence that: Teaching at the right level (TaRL) can support basic learning by carefully assessing children’s needs and tailoring education accordingly.

The crisis also gives new impetus to the implementation of the policies necessary for good job creation in Nigeria. In addition to investing in human capital, this partly depends on the effect macroeconomic reforms drive structural transformation and generate productive wage jobs. But as agricultural and non-farm domestic enterprises will dominate employment in Nigeria for many years to come, policies to increase their productivity – through developing crop varieties, invest in infrastructure, improve market access, and ease credit restrictions– should also be carefully considered.

The country’s large youth population makes it even more important that Nigeria’s leaders adopt evidence-based policies to emerge from the crisis and support the country’s workers today and tomorrow.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *