Nigerian President Buhari Returns From Medical Leave in U.K.

  • Vice President Osinbajo will remain acting leader: Buhari
  • Muhammadu Buhari arrives in capital after seven weeks away

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari arrived in the capital, Abuja, after spending more than seven weeks on sick leave in the U.K. and said his deputy will remain in charge of the government for the time being.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo will continue to act as the executive of Africa’s second-biggest oil exporter in the coming days, Buhari told reporters on Friday at the presidency. Osinbajo has been running the government since Buhari left on Jan. 19 for a vacation and “routine” medical checkup in the U.K. for an undisclosed ailment, before extending the holiday on the recommendation of doctors.

Muhammadu Buhari

Bloomberg

“I deliberately came back towards the weekend, so that the vice president will continue and I will continue to rest,” Buhari said. He said he’ll need follow-up tests “within some weeks.”

Buhari will send a letter to lawmakers on Monday to make “his return to work formal and constitutional,” presidential spokesman Femi Adesina said on his Twitter account.

Buhari, 74, has been confronting growing opposition in a nation suffering an economic recession amid a slump in the production and prices for oil, its main export, and an Islamist insurgency in the nation’s northeast that he’s failed to quell. His long absence fueled concern about government paralysis and speculation that he wouldn’t be able to continue in office.

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“Nothing much will change in terms of governance; the vice president is still very much likely to be going around more frequently than Buhari,” Olusegun Sotola, senior researcher at the Initiative of Public Policy, said by phone from Lagos, the commercial hub. “I see more activities coming from Osinbajo; Buhari will stay more in the background.”

Buhari’s government is facing a raft of economic challenges. Even as the central bank holds the naira around 315 per dollar on the official market, it’s tumbled to 462 on the black market amid a dearth of foreign investment and as shortages of foreign-exchange mount. Gasoline prices that were to be slashed by two-thirds have risen about 67 percent since he took office. The economy contracted in 2016 for the first time in a quarter century, while inflation has accelerated to almost 20 percent.

Since his departure, Nigerian stocks have fallen about 3 percent to an almost one-year low. They’ve dropped 39 percent in dollars over the past year, the world’s worst performance among 96 primary indexes tracked by Bloomberg. The benchmark index rose as much as 1.5 percent on Friday.

With the next general elections due in February 2019, time is running out for Buhari’s administration to show voters it can turn around the economy, said Antony Goldman of London-based PM Consulting, which advises on risk in West Africa’s oil and gas industry.

“There is a fairly narrow window of opportunity to deliver,” he said. “Change has to come in the next few months, or it becomes much more difficult 12 months to go to an election.”

— With assistance by Paul Wallace, Ana Monteiro, and Dulue Mbachu

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