A Town Hall Meeting or Circus Show?

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Joseph Ushigiale subjects to rigorous analysis, the rationale behind the recent town hall meeting held in Lagos by some ministers of the Buhari administration

The first nationwide town hall meeting initiated by the All Progressives Congress-led (APC) administration of President Muhammadu Buhari started on Tuesday in Lagos to commemorate Buhari’s first year in office. According to a programme outlined by the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the meetings are billed to hold in the six geo-political zones of the country to afford both the administration and Nigerians the opportunity to interact, score the administration on its performance so far and make recommendations on the way forward.

Interactions through contributions from the audience and the various reactions from the ministers present at the inaugural meeting pointed clearly to the fact that Nigerians were angry at the level of sufferings and the apparent inaction by the Buhari’s administration to their plight. In response, the ministers pleaded to Nigerians for patience and understanding on the premise that things would get better.

Is the timing for this town hall meeting right? Analysts believe that if Nigerians had any doubt about how insensitive the present administration is to their plight and how far it is out of touch with the realities on the ground, the town hall meetings, which kicked off Tuesday were a clear example.

Most people, who attended the live event left with the conclusion that, the current roadshow that would involve ferrying the ministers around the country for the simple task of begging Nigerians to be patient with the administration, is at best a circus and a highly misplaced priority task that should have no place in the agenda of an administration that promised Nigerians Eldorado and yet delivering hell.

At the end of yesterday’s event, Nigerians, who attended the event came away with neither new information, nor even a quotable quote, detailing what the administration was doing to alleviate the mounting daily pains being experienced by Nigerians in long fuel queues, unemployment arising from the shutting down of companies that depend on forex for the import of their raw materials and the growing poverty in the country.

There was hardly anything the ministers said that was new or directed at changing the state of things as they are at the moment.

Nigerians all know that generation capacity had hovered between 3000Mw to 5000Mw and sometimes dropped to somewhere around 2000 plus megawatts at the worst of times. It is therefore the height of an insult for Minister of Power, Works and Housing to tell Nigerians that they deserve more than the 5000Mw that is currently being generated.

Mr. Fashola also blamed his ministry’s inability to fix bad roads on the non-passage of the 2016 budget by the National Assembly. But Nigerians know that the former Lagos State governor was only being economical with the truth. Even as governor, would Fashola vouch that in his entire eight years in the saddle, he never had cause to invoke relevant sections of the 1999 Constitution to spend in anticipation of budget approval? If he has, why is this different and why has he chosen rather to hoodwink Nigerians with this fable?

The tale by the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, whose promises to end the perennial fuel shortage have become almost uncountable, is quite ridiculous. In the last two months, the minister had set timelines within which to clear off the long queues from fuel stations; and the more he makes these promises, the longer the queues resurface with greater vengeance and Nigerians are particularly unhappy with the man on whose table the buck stops regardless of the fact that Buhari maintains the ceremonial title of a substantive Minister of Petroleum.

Apart from his promises of wiping fuel queues off from Lagos and Abuja, Kachikwu told Nigerians that the refineries were back on stream and are set to augment fuel importation to ease the queues. But the persistent fuel shortage across the country and the attendant pains and sufferings by Nigerians put a lie to this barefaced propaganda.

In case the ministers have forgotten, they should be reminded that Nigerians already knew that the economy and the country generally were in very bad shape, which was why they had high expectations on a new government that would lift them to a new high. Fortunately, these expectations coincided with and got latched onto the APC/Buhari change mantra.

The partnership which crystalised in the defeat of erstwhile President Goodluck Jonathan immediately propelled Buhari to the status of a cult figure, whose main mission in the next four years was to play a messianic role of truly embedding change in the true sense of the word not the current sissy footing that is being displayed in the last one year in office.

Let it be assumed that the administration has lost focus or put differently, was unprepared for the task of repositioning Nigeria. Nigerians have been told how many trillions the administration has saved and how it is working silently to achieve it set objectives and so on. What Nigerians indeed need is not for trillions to be saved and left languishing in banks’ vaults; this money should be put to work for them with utmost urgency.

Before now, Nigerians knew that private interests were fleecing the country dry from the payment of unjustified petroleum subsidy. They also knew that power supply had defied all imaginable interventions under previous administrations. It was also public knowledge that the road network was a death trap going by casualty figures from the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) and worse of all, Nigerians were aware that despite the huge earnings from crude oil sales, the proceeds were frittered away on frivolities with some stolen.

Nigerians were therefore hoping that a new leadership would fish out who these private interests are, prosecute them and end the long reign of impunity on Nigerians, put in place a dependable refining and distribution network for petroleum products to end fuel shortages and also adopt alternative energy sources, including coal, wind, solar and geo-thermal.

If the government is working silently, of course, let its result show tangibly so that Nigerians would be able to feel that in the disappearance of long fuel queues, job creation, the security of lives and property, affordable and qualitative education, medicare, housing and also in the deployment of an integrated, dependable and affordable world class transport system.

Therefore, the president should as a matter of urgency, recall these ministers from the current circus back to their respective offices to begin to work in earnest for Nigerians so that they can deliver what they promised them. The roadshow is a complete waste of tax payers’ scarce resources and a jamboree that the country, in its present state, can ill afford.
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If it must continue, the president could direct the Minister of Information, who had succeeded ‘in selling coal to Newcastle’ to continue his job of propagating the policies of the administration.
Nigerians are angry and demand action and results. They are not prepared for appeasement through begging as the town hall meeting indicates. Doing so would amount to insulting their intelligence and further widening the gap and alienating itself far more than it is now from the same people it is claims to be working to protect.