Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has vowed to punish all those involved in “padding” the 2016 national budget. Addressing members of Saudi Arabia’s Nigerian community on Tuesday night, Buhari said unauthorized revisions to the proposed budget had completely changed the document from the one he presented to Nigeria’s National Assembly in December, according to Nigerian newspaper Premium Times, which cited a statement from the presidency.
“The culprits will not go unpunished. I have been a military governor, petroleum minister, military head of state and headed the Petroleum Trust Fund. Never had I heard the words ‘budget padding,’” Buhari reportedly said during his official visit to Saudi Arabia. “Our minister of budget and national planning did a great job with his team. The minister ...was working night and day to get the budget ready, only for some people to pad it. What he gave us was not what was finally being debated. It is very embarrassing and disappointing.”
The 2016 budget has been a point of controversy since media reports revealed allocated funds were allegedly absent in the revised version. In late January, the Nigerian Medical Association, a professional group of more than 35,000 registered Nigerian doctors and physicians, lamented that more than $301 million of consolidated revenue guaranteed by the National Health Act to fund basic health programs was missing from the proposed budget, according to Nigerian newspaper Daily Post.
Other media outlets claiming to have seen leaked copies of Buhari’s proposed budget have reported the document includes steep allocations for wasteful government spending. For instance, Premium Times reported in February that some $19.4 million was set aside in the 2016 budget for capital projects at Nigeria’s State House Medical Center, which is used only by the families, friends and personal staff of the president and vice president. That amount was allegedly more than the total sum allocated to all 16 university teaching hospitals in the West African country.
Buhari, a former military ruler, came into office in May with promises to clean up corruption and prosecute crooked officials. The 72-year-old Nigerian leader, who is also visiting Qatar this week, reaffirmed those campaign promises to Nigerians in the Saudi capital of Riyadh on Tuesday night.
“We have zero tolerance for corruption and other unethical practices. We will deal decisively with anybody found wanting,” he said, according to Premium Times.
The Nigerian leader is visiting Saudi Arabia and Qatar for talks with both Persian Gulf nations on acheiving greater stability in oil prices. Buhari was also scheduled to meet with top Saudi and Qatari businessmen in the capitals of Riyadh and Doha to discuss investment opportunities in Nigeria as part of efforts to diversify the oil-dependent economy, which is grappling with record-low oil prices.
The price of a barrel of crude has plunged more than 70 percent since June 2014 due to an oversupplied market and a global economic slowdown. The price of crude fell again Wednesday, settling at $31.87 a barrel. Oil executives predict it will take years before crude returns to $90 or $100 a barrel, according to the New York Times.