Lagos and Ado-Ekiti — Financial market operators and investors, both local and international, are waiting anxiously to take dramatic investment decisions as President Muhammadu Buhari makes his first official speech on the economy in 105 days.
The wait is based on an assessment by financial experts that the socio-political economy of the country has recorded significant progress in Buhari's absence, which stands to be validated or reversed by his speech today and subsequent decisions.
Specifically, the Niger Delta threats have been managed, resulting in increased oil production and earnings; the foreign exchange market has witnessed changes that brought about relative stability of the naira; and businesses are gradually rebounding with improved numbers as reforms pick up.
In a statement, Buhari's Special Adviser on Media, Femi Adesina, said: "President Buhari is expected to speak to Nigerians in a broadcast by 7 a.m." today.
Frontline economist, Bismarck Rewane, said everything was pegged on his broadcast today, which would be highly priced as long as it is in a positive direction.
"Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has done a great job so far, Buhari only needs to sustain it, perhaps building more on it. By his speech today, we would need to get a new sense of direction in plugging leakages.
"The market is ready to respond and it will be positive as long as the content of the speech is positive too. So, let the activities begin," Rewane said.
The Managing Director of Afrinvest Securities Limited, Ayodeji Eboh, said the market was anxious to know the content of the broadcast, as investment decisions are always responsive to information and its meanings.
He said an articulate presentation, admittance of economic progress during his absence and practical new directions would surely impact market activities from today and translate to a validation of decisions reached before now.
"The market needs reinforcement of promises made earlier, clear support for foreign exchange reforms, expressed zeal to pursue infrastructure projects and an affirmation of the level of implementations so far, re-invitation to private sector partnership, and continued drive against corruption, with new clear strategies.
"Perhaps, the best way to go is to formally empower the vice president to charge the economy, while the president tackles the corruption aspect. The economy needs drastic decisions and the vice president seemed to have mastered the art," he said.
But a financial expert, Egie Akpata, said he was doubtful if anything substantial would happen in the market, given that Buhari's return might have been priced into activities already in the recent past days.
"Although his return on Saturday was not anticipated, judging from pictures of various visits, videos and reports about doctor's confirmation of his health status, it was obvious that he would soon be back. Everything might still go back to status quo, but let's get the broadcast first," he said.
At the weekend, the financial market that had long been in high gear, saw the interbank's overnight lending rate falling to an average of 12 per cent from 60 per cent a week ago.
This was a result of the repayment of matured treasury bills and a refund of excess cash deposited by banks to buy dollars by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
CBN had sold $100 million at its special intervention auction in the foreign exchange market earlier in the week, less than the amount demanded by banks, leading to a refund of the excess deposits.
Consequently, the parallel market rate remained at N366 per dollar, while the interbank official rate remains below N306 per dollar and the investors and exporters' window priced the naira at N367 per dollar.
Also, the All-Share Index of the Nigerian Stock Exchange rose by 1.66 per cent at 36,920 points after bargain hunters returned to take positions in the financial sector stocks.
Meanwhile, mixed reactions are trailing the return of Buhari at the weekend after over 100 days of medical vacation in London, United Kingdom.
While the Deputy National Chairman (South) of the APC, Segun Oni described the home coming as a soothing balm on the fragile political atmosphere in Nigeria, an industrialist, Olusegun Aderemi said the president should apologise to Nigerians who have been aggrieved by his absence.
In a statement by his media aide, Mr. Steve Alabi in Ado-Ekiti yesterday, Oni said that "seeing Buhari in good health has put a lie to the wishes of those who don't wish the nation well."
Oni advised those he called Buhari antagonists to stop playing politics with every issue, especially when it touches on health, saying, they are not God.
But Aderemi who spoke with newsmen at his country home in Aramoko Ekiti, said Buhari should not blame those who are aggrieved by his long absence, noting that it was their right as citizen to do so.
He said that though it was not the wish of President Buhari to stay away from the country for over 100 days, as a democrat, he should apologise to those who felt strongly about his absence.
"As president, and having survived such a critical health condition, it is expected that he should apologise to Nigerians who have been aggrieved by his absence.
"I know that no reasonable leader would want to go away for a long time and leave his duty behind if not for his health challenge. It has been a situation beyond the president's control and so we have to bear with him," he said.