President Obama was not among the heads of state at the inauguration of incoming President Muhammadu Buhari on May 29, 2015. However, in his private conversations with Nigeria’s new president, he might offer Mr. Buhari some encouragement that, beyond the friendship between their nations, they share something else in common.
They both inherited an economic mess when they took office. For Mr. Obama it was the great recession precipitated by the collapse in real estate. For Mr. Buhari, it is the recently patched-over fuel crisis precipitated by the plunge in oil prices and the long simmering tension over fuel subsidies.
In the weeks before inauguration, Nigeria was slowly grinding to economic gridlock as petroleum marketers and the outgoing government of President Goodluck Jonathan argued over nearly $1 billion in outstanding payments. Banks shortened their opening hours. Mobile phone companies warned they would cease service. Planes were grounded and citizens queued for hours at the gas station. The root of this economic paralysis? A combination of the fuel subsidy and the exchange rate the out-going Jonathan government used to calculate what it owed crude traders.