Just nine months into his term, Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari is under pressure. Under his leadership, the currency has reached record lows and inflation has reached the highest level since 2012, while Nigeria currently has a budget deficit of over $10bn.
With almost 90 percent of Nigeria’s export earnings tied to oil, the low oil price has had a devastating impact on his country, the world’s eighth-largest oil exporter and Africa’s largest oil producer.
In an interview with Martine Dennis on Talk To Al Jazeera, Buhari questions the current policy of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to prioritise market share over the price of a barrel of oil.
“OPEC has to work together to save the situation. If you can produce less and earn more, why produce more and earn less? I have never been able to understand it but the market forces are influenced by a lot of political decisions, both regional and global, and we have to live by it.”
He calls on OPEC to be mindful of the diverse economic conditions in its member countries. “In Nigeria, we were unable to diversify our economy, so we are much more disavantaged by the lower oil prices. OPEC may try to help us, but basically it is our own fault.”
He dismisses the idea of Nigeria withdrawing from OPEC. “Under my leadership, Nigeria will not withdaw from OPEC. Between 1976 and 1979, I served as petroleum minister, so I value the institution of OPEC. Nigeria will make the necessary sacrifices to remain in OPEC.”
With a chorus of voices, including from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), calling for the Nigerian government to devalue the naira, Buhari says he will not reconsider his insistence on freezing the currency. Buhari says as Nigeria “virtually imports everything, from rice to toothpicks,” it cannot afford to devalue its currency.
“If it is against our national interest, why can’t we go against the IMF advice?” Buhari asks.
Buhari dismisses criticism of his foreign exchange policies, which have placed pressure on everyone from traders to parents who can no longer afford to send their children to study overseas. “Nigeria can only afford to live within its means,” he says.
Similary, he dismisses the current unrest in Biafra. “For the last 16 years, [oil] cost from over $140 a barrel, now to sometimes under $30. So the system of allocation has to correspondingly affect them. Why shouldn’t it affect them when it’s affecting the whole of Nigeria?”