Buhari Healthy, Will Easily Win Nigeria Vote, Minister Says

(Bloomberg) -- Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is healthy and his policies will “easily” win him re-election in the vote planned for February, Information Minister Lai Mohammed said.

“He is very strong and well,” Mohammed said in an interview on Sunday. “I have never lost sleep over the re-election. Buhari will easily win.”

Buhari Healthy, Will Easily Win Nigeria Vote, Minister Says

Buhari, 75, announced this month that he’s seeking re-election, putting an end to speculation on his plans after he spent five months in the U.K last year for treatment of an undisclosed ailment. That, as well as continuing attacks by Islamist militant group Boko Haram, herdsmen-farmer clashes, an economic slump in 2016, and an anti-corruption crusade critics have called partisan prompted some politicians such as former President Olusegun Obasanjo to urge him not to run again.

Buhari must also rebuild the coalition of the ruling All Progressives Congress that brought him to power in 2015, after some defections to a similarly fractured opposition People’s Democratic Party. He defeated the PDP by tapping into public anger over its record for corruption and mismanagement while governing Nigeria since the end of military rule in 1999.

While the PDP hasn’t announced its candidate for the elections, a likely contender is Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president who defected from Buhari’s party last year. The 71-year-old, whose has business interests including a stake in a local oil-services company, lost to Buhari in the APC primaries but supported him as the candidate in 2015.

Boko Haram Talks

Buhari’s government points to some progress against Boko Haram militants, such as breaking their grip on territory. Still, attacks continue almost daily.

The government is using diplomatic means to convince Boko Haram to cease hostilities that may involve an amnesty for fighters of the group whose nine-year-old insurgency has claimed the lives of millions of people and threatened the northeast with famine.

“We are using third parties, including foreign parties, through back channels,” Mohammed said. “But the challenge is that there are many factions.”

Those efforts helped secure the March 21 release of more than 100 schoolgirls abducted from the northeastern town of Dapchi in February. While he couldn’t put a time frame on further development of the negotiations, Mohammed said he hoped they would make some progress soon.

Farmers-Herdsmen Crisis

“The talks are looking good,” Mohammed said. “Some people will criticize this and say how about all those people they killed. But we cannot continue to be stranded in the past forever. We should think about the future, and want a peaceful future.”

Buhari’s administration wants state governments to take leadership in dealing the farmer-herdsmen crisis, by helping develop ranches for the nomads, and the crop-growers adapt technologies that improve yields, Mohammed said.

The issue is not ethnic or religious, but a problem of diminishing resources, a growing population and climate change that’s dramatically reduced the size of Lake Chad and disrupted the economy in the region, he said.

Economic Growth

Nigeria’s economy is looking brighter too. The International Monetary Fund forecast growth of 2.1 percent this year as oil output remains stable, and prices rebound, providing more foreign currency for manufacturers to import inputs. The central bank wants to further increase foreign reserves from about $47 billion now in the event anticipated U.S rate hikes trigger capital outflows.

This month, lawmakers are set to vote on expanding this year’s spending plans to a record 8.6 trillion naira ($23 billion), a third of which is planned investment in roads, rail, bridges, ports and power.

The economy showed a sharp decline in growth in 2015, the year Buhari was elected, and “was destined to go into recession,” Mohammed said. “We got out soon, and will be growing even faster. Foreign reserves are growing, and foreign investment is increasing.”

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