Nigeria cuts 23,000 'ghost workers' from government payroll

Falling oil prices hit Nigeria's economy
Falling oil prices hit Nigeria's economy

Nigeria has removed 23,846 employees from the government payroll, after an official audit revealed they don't exist.

Cutting out these "ghost workers" will reduce the government's monthly wage bill by 2.3 billion naira ($11.5 million), Nigeria's finance ministry said in a statement.

The anti-corruption audit uses bank verification numbers to crack down on public salary fraud. Auditors have so far checked roughly one third of Nigeria's 1.2 million government employees. They have discovered that 7.6% of them either don't exist or receive multiple salaries under different names.

The authorities are aiming to finish the audit by the end of the year. The government is now trying to retrieve money from the bank accounts associated with the deleted workers.

The initiative is part of an effort by Nigeria's president Muhammadu Buhari, whose strong anti-corruption stance was a big part of his election success last May.

The Nigerian economy is plagued with fraud. The country ranks 136 of 168 countries on Transparency International's corruption perception index. The global watchdog said its survey revealed 85% of Nigerians believe corruption has increased in recent years.

Related: Nigeria is running out of cash

The government is hoping the anti-corruption drive will help bring down its growing budget deficit. Public wages add up to more than 40% of Nigeria's total government expenditures, the finance ministry said.

Nigeria is Africa's largest economy, but it has been hit hard by the slump in oil prices. The sector accounts for about 35% of GDP, 75% of government revenue and 90% of export earnings.

The government said it is considering asking the World Bank, the African Development Bank and other international organizations for help to plug a hole in this year's budget created by the low oil prices.

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