Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has removed 184 government officials over their alleged roles in “padding” the 2016 national budget. The Nigerian leader flushed out the officials from their budgetary duties Thursday and immediately reassigned them to other posts. An official in the budget office told Nigerian newspaper Vanguard that 22 top officers in the department were among those redeployed.
The move comes just weeks after Buhari vowed to punish all those involved in the so-called padding of the 2016 national budget, in which unauthorized revision had completely changed the document from the one he presented to Nigeria’s National Assembly in December. The scandal has been “very embarrassing and disappointing,” said Buhari, who has made fighting corruption a top priority since taking office in May.
“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 said during his official visit to Saudi Arabia in late February, according to Nigerian newspaper Premium Times. “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 national 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 proposed Nigeria’s biggest budget yet, to the tune of 6.08 trillion naira ($30.1 billion) for the 2016 fiscal year during an emergency meeting Dec. 7. The all-time high expenditure is 15 percent greater than last year’s budget and will be spent on infrastructure projects in the West African nation, which is reeling from low oil prices due to an oversupplied market.
Speaking at a press conference after the meeting in Abuja, the budget and national planning minister Sen. Udoma Udo Udoma said the larger budget would be sourced from an increase in non-oil revenues and a reduction in government spending. He said the government had pegged the crude oil price benchmark at an all-time low of $38 per barrel due to the uncertainty in global prices.
However, since then, oil prices have dipped even further to a record low of $26 per barrel in February. U.S. crude oil futures traded just below $39 per barrel Friday. The International Energy Agency said prices may have hit their lowest point and have “recovered remarkably” in recent weeks due to supply outages in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates and Nigeria, Africa’s top oil producer.
“There are signs that prices might have bottomed out,” the agency said in its monthly oil market report obtained by CNN.