Oil price on agenda as Buhari visits Saudi, Qatar

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President Muhammadu Buhari is to visit the Gulf for a week-long tour, with a focus on ending the global slump in oil prices that has hammered Nigeria’s crude-reliant economy, his office said on Sunday.

Buhari, accompanied by Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, the junior oil minister and head of the state-run oil firm, begins his trip in Riyadh on Monday, meeting King Salman bin Abdulaziz and senior Saudi officials.

“Ongoing efforts by Nigeria and other members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to achieve greater stability in the price of oil exports are expected to be high on the agenda of discussions between President Buhari and the Saudi monarch,” a statement read.

Oil prices rallied on Wednesday and Thursday last week following talks by major producers on a potential agreement to limit production in response to the fall in prices since mid-2014.

Saudi Arabia and Russia agreed to freeze production if other producers followed suit but prices dropped again on Friday because of market scepticism.

Nigeria, which is Africa’s number one oil producer, has been hit hard by the slump, which has squeezed government revenue and severely weakened the naira currency.

Inflation is rising and stringent foreign exchange controls have hurt business.

The government and central bank have come under repeated pressure to devalue the currency but Buhari again resisted the calls on Saturday.

“Developed countries are competing among themselves and when they devalue they compete better and manufacture and export more,” he told an Africa economic summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

“But we are not competing and exporting but importing everything including toothpicks. So, why should we devalue our currency?” he added.

Buhari, who wants to diversify the economy away from a reliance on oil, instead called for greater domestic production to improve self-sufficiency, including in food.

But he has been criticised for his approach to the economic crisis, including the submission of a botched budget proposal to stimulate growth that had to be redrafted.

In Saudi, his office said he will visit the Muslim holy cities of Medina and Mecca “to pray for greater peace, prosperity and progress in Nigeria”.

As well as economic woes, Nigeria is facing multiple domestic security threats, not least the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency in the northeast, which is now in its seventh year and has killed at least 17,000.

Buhari’s Gulf visit will also see him travel to Doha next weekend, where he will again talk “crude oil prices and market stability” with the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.

In Riyadh and Doha, he will try to encourage Saudi and Qatari investment in sectors including mining, agriculture, power, infrastructure, transport and communications.

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