Nigeria's President Appoints New Budget Head After Errors

  • Yahaya Gusau fired after only six months leading budget office
  • Nigeria's Buhari has proposed a record 2016 spending plan

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari appointed a new director-general for the budget office, firing Yahaya Gusau only six months since he took the role after civic groups said the 2016 spending plan was riddled with errors and provisions.

Tijjani Abdullahi, a former banker, will replace Gusau, Buhari’s office said in a statement on Monday. Abdullahi will work with the minister of budget and national planning. Ben Akabueze, a former budget and economic planning commissioner in Lagos under Babatunde Fashola, the former governor of the commercial capital and now power and works minister, was also selected as special adviser on planning to the budget minister.

Gusau’s “removal was probably because of how the budget mess unraveled and how the current budget is nothing reflective of the zero-based budgeting that was championed,” Oluseun Onigbinde, co-founder of BudgIT, a pro-transparency group which highlighted the errors, said by phone from Lagos. Buhari didn’t give a reason for the changes.

Buhari has proposed a record 6.1 trillion naira ($30.6 billion) spending plan this year to help revive an economy reeling from the impact of the low price of oil, the source of about two-thirds of government revenue. Onigbinde’s organization highlighted “suspicious and wasteful” allocations in the spending plan, which have sparked public outrage and criticism of the government.

‘Zero-Based Budgeting’

The budget controversy began last month when lawmakers alleged that the original document presented by Buhari on Dec. 22 had been substituted. The president said in a Jan. 19 letter to lawmakers that the original document contained errors. The government was the first to detect initial errors in the budget and Buhari wrote to lawmakers to correct them and welcomed further criticisms, Garba Shehu, his spokesman, said on Feb. 11.

Under a new “zero-based budgeting” approach introduced by the government, spending plans were made afresh without building on the preceding budget, according to Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun. The budget ministry blamed the errors and discrepancies on the new system that bureaucrats have been grappling with and said it has “zero tolerance” for any wrongdoing.

“What zero-based budgeting simply does is start from the scratch so every single line has to be justified,” Adeosun told lawmakers in October. “The only problem is that it’s extremely complex and needs a lot of time.”

Nigeria’s Parliament will pass the budget no later than the second week of March, Abdulmumin Jibrin, chairman of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Appropriation, said on Monday in the capital, Abuja.

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