By Austine Uche-Ejeke
It was a thing of great impact the resolution of this government to hold what they call Town Hall meetings with the people from time to time.
Like any other initiative Nigerians are praying that the noble idea will not go the way of previous government intentions that at the end of the day was being watered down to frivolities.
How to know the success or otherwise of this initiative is majorly in the composition of those that will attend or participate at the town hall meetings. Such meetings should actually be assemblage of the real people at the grass root and not convocation of party stalwarts and bootlickers. It should also be made of technocrats and those that have answers to the mood of the nation and the pungent issue troubling the citizens. It should not convocation of political jobbers that will come and praise sing the government but those that feel the action or inaction of the government. That is on the side of the government. On the side of the people it should comprise those that are able to articulate the pains of the people and present it succinctly in form of probing questions to the powers that be. They must of necessity appreciate efforts of the government where necessary and also knock the government in areas where they feel they have not lived up to expectations. Secondly the agenda setting of such Town Hall meeting should be such that it will be all encompassing dealing with those extant issues that trouble the citizens and that can move the nation forward.
With this background the happiness of most Lagosians nay Nigerians knew no bounds when the vice-president Professor Yemi Osinbajo led a powerful delegation of the federal government to the first Town Hall meeting in a popular Lagos Hotel recently.
Among the issues discussed by the vice-president was the issue of payment of N5000 to vulnerable Nigerians. Good as this may sound as it is obtainable in other advanced climes under various nomenclatures but this singular policy thrust of this government has received severe knocks and rebuttals even from President Buhari who at one point claimed ignorance of this very electioneering promise to the people. It is our duty as the governed to impress it upon the government to have a trial of this programme. But we must serve a caveat that this should not go down the way of previous attempt by government under the name of poverty alleviation programme. Such attempts were replete with party heavy weights hijacking the initiative to stuff the list of recipients with names of their relatives, proxies, girlfriends and even factious names.
Another pressing issue that the vice-president handled was the issue of the perennial fuel scarcity. As usual Professor Osinbajo recounted the old story of fuel importation by NNPC and the non-functional refineries. While Nigerians appreciate the efforts of the government to make fuel available, much is left to be desired that the first four months of this year have been bedeviled with horrendous pangs of excruciating fuel scarcity. No rhetoric, demagogue or excuse will be good enough to assuage or cushion the hard times Nigerians are passing through to have fuel to run their automobiles and power their generators. It is our duty to remind this government that came through the mantra of change and integrity that they should discard the old ways of doing things. They should confront these oil thieves/marketers frontally.
A situation where government officials will open their mouth and tell us that fuel loaded for filling stations find its way to other neigbouring countries is totally unacceptable. There are allegations of graft, bribery and corruption going on at the fuel loading terminals. Recently a marketer openly came on air to accuse officers of civil defence of collecting bribe of two hundred thousand naira before they could allow them sell above pump price. All these constitute factors that shoot up the pump price of fuel. I can provide free consultancy services to the government by advising them to ensure that each loaded fuel truck is accompanied by at least two soldiers who will ensure that fuel is offloaded at designated filling stations. After that they will inform media practitioners who in turn will escalate it and enforce actual dispensing of the petroleum products to motorists.
We have been hearing stories of efficiency of private refineries as against the obsolete public ones we presently have. The government can jump start the building of at least six private/public refineries in each of the six geo-political zones of the country. This they can do by providing the seed capital, land and other requirements that will make for a takeoff of such new refineries. No need to belabour the point that the final cure for this perennial fuel scarcity is a functional refinery that will not only satisfy internal consumption but also for export.
Closely related to this issue handled by the vice-president is the vexed issue of epileptic power supply. The vice-president dwelt more on the unending recounting of achievement of 5000 megawatts. Telling Nigerians how many mega watts the country has achieved without translating it to actual power supply amount to nothingness. What Nigerians need from the government is to work out a template that will tell them that when the country achieve for instance 6000 mega watts that most Nigerian homes will have at least six or eight hours of uninterrupted power supply per day. I totally support the ruthless approach in dealing with economic saboteurs who usually truncate the drive of the government towards power supply by bursting of gas pipelines. Government should deal with them decisively but that should not be the excuse of the government from not performing. If previous government was branded weak, clueless and ineffective this is the time this government should show the difference of the sterner stuff it is made of. Other major sources of power generation should be explored so that we don’t put our entire eggs one basket.
Another major point Professor Osinbajo raised was the controversial issue of the Lagos-Calabar and Lagos-Kano Rail projects. It is gratifying that the vice-president admitted publicly that the two life changing rail projects are captured in this year’s budget. There is no need to over flog the importance of the rail projects as its completion will be revolutionary and advance fortunes of this country in an unquantifiable manner. For instance movement of goods and people will be much easier as our over laboured and dilapidated roads will have some respite. Even the haulage of these petroleum products that are often diverted will be a thing of the pastas the train will bring the products down near the point of delivery to the final end users.
To cap it all the vice-president hammered on the provision of security of lives and property to all citizens. This is usually the refrain of politicians and government officials as professor Osinbajo did not elucidate on how government will go about its actualizing that. It is disheartening that insecurity has continued to dominate our landscape irrespective of the fact that a former army general is in the saddle as the president and commander-in-chief. With minimal achievement in containing the dreaded Boko Haram to kidnapping and now the rave of the moment, the brutal attack and senseless killing of Nigerians by herdsmen even in their native communities.
Government should do more by preventing such attacks and also being honest in dealing with culprits when they are caught. There is no need to play hide and seek game on issue of security as it is key and paramount to the survival of this country. If government has dealt with Boko Haram decisively, let it not be that they have metamorphosed to another brand new name known as Herdsmen/cattle rearers brandishing AK 47 and other dangerous weapons instead of their traditional stick and water bottles for their grazing activities. It is the duty of us to always call on the government to act immediately we have information of any security breach in any part of the country.
In essence the whole idea of Town Hall meeting will succeed and make much impact to the people if government is taken periodically on issues/promises they made during such meetings. Let it not be a time wasting outing that will gulp several millions of naira to organize only to pontificate by politicians and government officials in which they afterwards recline to the comfort of their Abuja abode while most of the issues raised will be left unattended to. It may not be out of place to advocate a sort steering committee by civil societies to articulate the major policy thrust of any Town Hall meeting, draw realizable timelines for its deliverability and constantly remind the government of the non-fulfillment of any of them. In situation where accomplishment is achieved on any of them, the committee will give due kudos to the government and also inform Nigerians that government has delivered on such items.
By so doing Nigerians and indeed government will benefit from the whole idea of periodic Town Hall meetings with the people!
Austine Uche-Ejeke, a Public Affairs Analyst wrote vide firstname.lastname@example.org
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