Wins in Parliament Vote Strengthen Hand of Nigeria's Leader

(Bloomberg) -- Wins in Nigeria’s parliamentary vote look set to strengthen the position of President Muhammadu Buhari after his re-election last month, as he bids to boost a listless economy and defeat Islamic State fighters during his second and final term.

The former general’s party, the All Progressives Congress, has won more than 60 of the 109 Senate seats and is heading for a majority in the lower House of Representatives, according to partial results announced by the election commission.

Wins in Parliament Vote Strengthen Hand of Nigeria's Leader

The APC controlled the upper chamber during most of Buhari’s first term. But he regularly sparred with senior members, not least Senate President Bukola Saraki, which hindered his economic reforms and delayed the passing of budgets for months. Saraki’s loss of his seat in the Feb. 23 general elections and Buhari’s emphatic victory -- he won by a margin of 56 percent to 41 percent over opposition leader Atiku Abubakar -- mean the 76-year-old leader may have an easier ride from the legislature this time.

“The elections have strengthened Buhari’s parliamentary majority,” said Amaka Anku, the head of New York-based Eurasia Group’s Africa practice. “The upcoming battle for parliamentary leadership presents an opportunity for Buhari to forge a better relationship with the legislature and improve executive-legislative coordination. That could quicken the pace of routine governance tasks, like budget passage and confirmation of ministers.”

Buhari will need the help of lawmakers if he’s to make headway tackling Nigeria’s most pressing problems. While the constitution gives plenty of power to the president, many decisions -- including appointments of ministers and senior positions at the central bank -- have to be approved by the National Assembly.

“He is looking forward to a mutual and effective working relationship with the National Assembly toward improving the budgetary process and restoring the country to the January-December fiscal cycle,” the presidency said in a statement Monday. “The delay in the passage of budgets hindered timely execution of projects across the country.”

The economy, which is yet to fully recover from a 2014 crash in oil prices, and jobs will be a priority for Buhari. Growth accelerated to 1.9 percent last year, but it’s still far below the average of 7.4 percent during the first 15 years of this century. Unemployment almost tripled to 23 percent during Buhari’s first four years in power.

Islamic State

He’s also facing security threats, including an insurgency in the northeastern state of Borno being waged by Boko Haram and Islamic State and clashes between farmers and herders over grazing land that killed 2,000 people last year, according to Amnesty International.

“Buhari’s second term in office is unlikely to yield many surprises,” said Malte Liewerscheidt, an analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London. “Rather, Buhari 2.0 can be expected to double down on his well-known social intervention programs alongside a focus on infrastructure investment and protectionist policies. Moreover, major changes to the monetary and foreign-exchange policy seem unlikely, barring sustained shocks to global oil prices or domestic crude production.”

The central bank operates a system of multiple exchange rates and tightly manages the value of the naira, which the International Monetary Fund has said deters investors. Abubakar, Buhari’s main rival in the elections, pledged to float the currency if he won.

Nigerians also voted for governors in 29 of the country’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory last weekend, and results are still coming in. The APC won Lagos, the commercial capital. The European Union said there were “systemic failings” and condemned security agencies for barring citizens from counting centers in oil-rich Rivers state, which is held by Abubakar’s People’s Democratic Party.

Even if Buhari gets a strong majority in parliament, there’s no guarantee he’ll make decisions quicker, according to Eurasia. Critics say he’s responded slowly to crises since coming to power in 2015. And lawmakers, including those in his own party, may continue to defy him.

“It should not be taken for granted that just because they belong to the same party they would take the same position on issues,” said Kemi Okenyodo, executive director of Partners West Africa-Nigeria, an organization that lobbies for good government.

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