Nigeria’s economy is the “biggest challenge of all” for government, the acting president said at an event to celebrate two years of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, whose repeated periods of medical leave have raised concerns.
The economy has contracted for five quarters in a row, data showed last week, in Nigeria’s first recession in 25 years. The downturn has been driven by low global oil prices, low production levels – output has fallen by as much as a third – and a shortage of hard currency.
Buhari’s absence is adding to the tension and last week the ruling party’s leader, Bola Tinubu, warned against coup threats. Buhari has been in Britain on medical leave for large chunks of the year, most recently leaving on May 7, handing over duties to his Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
“Let me first express just how concerned we have been, since this administration took office, about the impact of economic difficulties on our citizens,” Osinbajo said at the event, marking the halfway point for Buhari’s first term, in Abuja.
Government is trying to lift Nigeria out of recession by shifting away from dependence on oil and imports, investing heavily in infrastructure and focusing on industries like agriculture, Osinbajo said.
Economists have expressed scepticism over the scheme known as the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, saying it amounts to little more than a wish list rather than a roadmap offering concrete solutions.
The acting president also said the budget for 2017 would soon be signed into law.
Officials had promised the process this year would not take as long as last year, when the 2016 budget was signed in May, but government missed those targets.