The Nigerian vice-president, Yemi Osinbajo, has visited the country’s ailing president, Muhammadu Buhari, in London.
Mr Osinbajo, who has been acting president since Mr Buhari left Nigeria for the UK for the second time in 2017 in early May for medical leave, met the 74-year-old Nigerian leader on July 11th at the country’s High Commission where he has spent much of the past two months. The acting president claimed after the meeting that Mr Buhari was quickly recovering and would be working again soon, but many, including The Economist Intelligence Unit, are sceptical. Mr Buhari’s long absence from Nigeria for medical reasons, for the second time this year, has fuelled much speculation in political circles and social media about his medical condition and fitness to resume his duties as president. The fact that government officials have not disclosed any details of Mr Buhari’s illness has only fuelled speculation and concern about his condition.
Mr Buhari’s medical leave has not disrupted the operation of government, as before his departure from Nigeria he formally handed power to Mr Osinbajo, who has overseen the introduction of some important reforms, including measures to ease the conduct of business in Nigeria and a tax amnesty programme to boost revenue collection. However, Mr Buhari’s long absence from Nigeria has led to some politicians to begin positioning themselves to take advantage of the prospect that the ailing leader will not seek re-election in the 2019 presidential elections. In a Facebook post Aisha Buhari appears to echo this concern by warning powerful politicians in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) against manoeuvring for leadership while her husband is ill. We do not think this will stop the political jockeying, which we continue to expect to be a major distraction in dealing with political and economic challenges currently facing the country. Given Nigeria’s long standing geopolitical divide, politicians from the north of the country are unlikely to accept Mr Osinbajo (a southerner) staying on as president beyond the 2019 elections given the truncated time in office of Mr Buhari (a northerner).
We continue to expect significant political instability surrounding the presidency in the coming months and years. We assume Mr Buhari will be unable or unwilling to stand for re-election in 2019, meaning a damaging internal battle within the APC for the nomination and a big distraction for policymakers.