Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

It's the economy

While Nigerians and observers worry about the absence of President Buhari, the economy might be more worrisome.

Who’s running Nigeria?
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… 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…

On national security he has made progress: Boko Haram, now splintered into two factions, no longer controls any big towns. But it is far from defeated…

Elsewhere, clashes between Muslim Fulani herdsmen and largely Christian farmers in southern Kaduna, in Nigeria’s fractious Middle Belt, have killed at least 200 people since December. Oil production has not fully recovered after money-hungry militants attacked pipelines and rigs in the Niger Delta last year. When it comes to corruption, a number of bigwigs have been arrested and bags of seized money paraded before the media. Yet there have been no high-profile convictions… The state may be led by a former strongman, but it is still fundamentally weak.

It is the troubled economy, though, that looms largest now in Africa’s most populous country…

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..

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 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.

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