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Tue, 12 Feb 2019 13:02 - Updated Tue, 12 Feb 2019 13:02

Sluggish economy haunts Nigerian president at ballot box

LAGOS - Timi Soleye returned home to Nigeria from the United States to set up a gas logistics business six years ago, encouraged by predictions of growth and an expanding middle class.

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Three years later, Nigeria plunged into its first recession in a generation following a sharp fall in the price of oil, which accounts for 90 percent of its foreign exchange earnings.

Infrastructure projects on which Soleye’s business relied were shelved. He kept afloat by doing consultancy work, but others weren’t so lucky.

“I know lots of people whose companies shut and laid people off,” said Soleye, a 31-year-old Harvard graduate and president of CRYO Gas and Power.

Soleye didn’t bother to vote in 2015. But this year, he says he has a reason to do so: he doesn’t want President Muhammadu Buhari to win a second term on Feb. 16. “Enough is enough,” he said.

Buhari’s critics accuse him of failing on a number of issues, including promises to tackle corruption and defeat an Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands since he took the helm of Africa’s most populous nation. But his handling of the economy could cost Buhari more votes than any other issue.

Although Nigeria returned to growth in 2017, the economy expanded by 1.9 percent in 2018, compared with 5.5 percent when Soleye returned to Nigeria in 2013.

Inflation has been in double digits for the last three years, rising to a seven-month high of 11.4 percent in December. And nearly a quarter of the workforce - 23.1 percent - is unemployed, up from 18.1 percent a year earlier.

“People are still worse off after four years in power,” said Charles Robertson, chief economist at Renaissance Capital.

    “It’s not all Buhari’s fault. It’s mainly to do with oil. But nonetheless, it’s made it difficult for people to be positive about the economy.”

For Clement Nweke, who sells electrical appliances in a Lagos street market, the last few years have been hard. Inflation and a weaker currency mean 100,000 naira ($330) will only buy one of his air conditioning units, compared with three back in 2015.

    “The purchasing power from the public is lower,” he said. “It affects my own business because I don’t push out the many (units) I used to.”Reuters

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