World News

Nigeria's President Buhari slams calls from militants to split country

Key Points
  • Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari returned to the country Saturday following a 103 day absence for unspecified medical leave
  • In his first speech since arriving on Nigerian soil, Buhari called for unity but said little about solving the country's economic problems
  • Time is ticking to implement financial reforms, which analysts tell CNBC should be completed before the end of the year, after which focus will shift to 2019's presidential election
Nigerian President Mohammadu Buhari arrives in Abuja on August 19, 2017.
Sunday Aghaeze | AFP | Getty Images

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has called for "settled and not negotiable" unity in the country in his first speech following a 103 day absence.

Buhari landed on Nigerian soil Saturday after seeking medical treatment in London for an undisclosed illness.

The Nigerian government is juggling calls for independence among the Islamist Boko Haram group in the north of the country, Biafra separatists in the south east, and militants in the oil-rich southern Niger Delta region. Such calls for division are "a step too far," Buhari said.

The speech only made fleeting mention to Nigeria's struggling economy, which has been troubled by the drop in the price of oil. Nigeria has officially been in recession since the second quarter of 2016, its first in 25 years.

According to Malte Liewerscheidt, senior analyst for Africa at Verisk Maplecroft, swift action is needed to turn the country's economic issues around. "The window for reform is closing," he told CNBC. If these are not implemented by the end of 2017 it will be "too late," he said, given that at the start of next year focus is expected to shift to the upcoming presidential election in 2019.

Reforming the country's currency system, which currently incorporates multiple exchange rates, is a priority.

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Gillian Parker, Nigeria analyst at Control Risks, said to CNBC that the economy was "on the minds of most Nigerians," but added that both Buhari the Central Bank of Nigeria were reluctant to float the naira because of the spike in inflation that would result from the currency's subsequent devaluation.

Inflation is currently at 16 percent though the figure has fallen from nearly 19 percent in January of this year.

According to the World Bank's website, the Nigerian economy is expected to grow 1 percent in 2017, and 2.5 percent in 2018. This rests on increased oil output and investment on the part of the government.

Parker said that Buhari had caused a "distraction by his absence," and that she expected "decisive action" from the president in the coming weeks to "shift the perception that he is too frail to govern."

Liewerscheidt added that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had been "in charge of most of the day to day governance in the country," but was a loyal supporter of Buhari. "He definitely has ambitions," with regards to future leadership, Liewerscheidt added, though explaining that Osinbajo would need to grow a power base of his own.

Buhari's return to Nigeria marks the end of the second unexplained period of medical leave he has taken away from the country. The Nigerian president was elected in March 2015 in the first peaceful transfer of power from one party to another in the country's history.

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