Town hall meetings: Frantic move to halt popularity slide

buhari… Stakeholders point out missing link

The fanfare and popularity that heralded the victory of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and President Muhammadu Buhari in the 2015 general elections appears to be dwindling as Nigerians groan under the hash economic and uncertain political atmosphere in the last one year.

Before the defeat of the former ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, it was obvious that Nigerians were completely disenchanted and disconnected with the PDP as a result of the persistent downturn of the nation’s economy. They therefore went into the poll with great expectations from the change agenda and promises offered by the APC.

Unfortunately, 11 months after the APC’s victory, the economy situation in the land appears to have deteriorated more than it was under the former administration without any sign of relief in the nearest future.

The Guardian also reliably gathered that some members of the ruling party were already fretting and uncomfortable with the dwindling popularity of the party. They are unable to voice out their fears particularly as Nigerians were beginning to be impatient and were calling APC’s integrity to question over the epileptic power supply, the lingering fuel crisis, budget controversy among others.

In fact, the APC government has been finding it difficult to explain the lingering fuel crisis, epileptic power supply, delayed budget, Fulani herdsmen crisis, workers salaries and many other issues that affect the living condition of the average Nigerian.

These among other factors, The Guardian gathered prompted the Town Hall meeting organized by the Alhaji Lai Mohammed-led Ministry of Information and Culture in Lagos on Monday with the aim of interfacing with the people and apprise them with some of the achievements of the government ahead of its one-year anniversary in office.

First on the burning list of factors affecting the Buhari’s administration popularity is the lingering issue of the fuel scarcity, which many stakeholders attested to has not been this bad in the country.

Although, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu did explained that over 30 per cent of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) otherwise known as petrol was being diverted to neighbouring countries, including Chad and Cameroon, his explanation did not translate to any relief for angry Nigerians who would rather want solutions to their plight based on the APC promised change agenda.

On power, the Minister of Housing, Power and Works, Mr. Babatunde Fashola simple explanation was that Nigeria lacked enough electricity supply to go round it’s 170 million population but assured however that efforts were being made to deliver sustainable power.

While the issue of power remained a big popularity challenge to the administration almost a year in office, another popularity test the government was battling with was the ongoing Fulani herdsmen crisis, which unfortunately was gradually pitching the North against the South.

Former Spokesman of the PDP’s Presidential Campaign Organisation, Femi Fani- Kayode once called for a ban to be placed on the activities of Fulani herdsmen in the entire south.

Throwing his weight behind the likes of Yoruba socio-cultural organization Afenifere, a Niger Delta activist, Dr. Ankio Briggs, and the South East, Fani-Kayode called for the ban of herdsmen in the entire South because of their nefarious activities.

A participant at the Town Hall meeting specifically warned the government against over rating it success in the ongoing fight against the Boko Haram insurgent in the North East saying, “what you have in hand on the issue of the Fulani herdsmen activities in the South currently is a waiting catastrophe that must be nipped in the bud.”

Unfortunately, the government appeared to be silent and lackadaisical about the activities of the Fulani herdsmen prompting many to accuse the government of nepotism as it was allegedly turning its eyes away from the issue. This, they argued was impacting negatively on the integrity of the ruling party and its acceptance by the people.

A politician who did not want his name on print told The Guardian: “I wonder which group of Ibo or Yoruba traders will constitute themselves to threats in any parts of the North without being completely wiped off. I could recollect this same President led a delegation to Oyo State in those days to protest the killings of some northerners to former governor of the state, Lam Adesina. What is he doing now that Fulani herdsmen are killing innocent people on their land?”

The presidency eventually broke its silence on the issue two days ago.

The delayed 2016 Appropriation Bill

Wherever the delay is coming from up till this moment appears not to be the concern of many Nigerians who felt the Buhari government should and must find a way around the issue and check the slide of the nation’s economy.

If Fashola was quoted right at the town hall meeting, when he said bad roads could only be fixed when the 2016 budget is passed, then there was cause for serious concern.

According to him, “The delay in signing the budget was affecting plans to repair dilapidated roads across the country. There’s a plan to deal with the road challenge, but unfortunately as I speak, there is no budget. Those of us that are tuned to public service will understand that budget is the article of faith, without appropriation, you can’t spend money.”

But the response of Nigerians to Fashola’s excuse as well as his colleagues who were also on the same page over the budget was that: “Nigerians voted for change and not for delayed budget. Many businesses are paralyzing, business is standstill and the economy isn’t moving only for the APC, with majority lawmakers in the National Assembly coming up with flimsy excuses on reasons budget is delayed.”

Another daunting reputation issue affecting the government was the workers salary. Many states of the federation are battling to settle their workers salaries.

A stakeholder at the meeting bluntly told the government delegates, “we voted for change and not to be owed salaries.’
She was blunt in telling the Buhari’s government not to take Nigerian workers for a fool or for granted due to the fact that things are becoming harsh, even more than it used to be under the last administration.”

Tasking the government on its anti-corruption programme, a renowned Professor of Mass Communication, Ralph Akinfeleye asked when the lists of those the government alleged to have stolen Nigeria money would be released?
To some Nigerians it appears the only blue print the Buhari’s government has, when it assumed power was the anti-corruption drive but same has been faulted to be one sided and lacked transparency.

Critics however complained that critical stakeholders in the private sector were conspicuously missing in the town hall meeting. In particular, they expected the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria to have been present to address issues surrounding foreign exchange, which has been a major bane of the economy.

But the former Federal Minster of Works, Alhaji Femi Okunnu, who was also at the meeting pleaded with Nigerians to give the administration two more years to put its policies in order. “One year is too short,” he said as he also suggested that the government should take critical look at construction of the coastal road from Lagos to Calabar.

Speaking in the same vein, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, in his briefing urged Nigerians to be patience and show understanding with the government, saying: “Very soon the government will deliver on the Lagos to Kaduna rail line, which will run through Lagos-Ibadan-Ilorin-Minna-Abuja-Kaduna-Kano. Imagine the enormity of jobs this alone would create when it is completed.”

The Chairman Lagos State chapter of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Apostle Alexander Bamgbola said the Buhari administration must be careful about the way it handles religious affairs.

In his intervention, Convener of the Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reforms (CODER), Mr. Ayo Opadokun said it was a right observation that hope was already waning on the Buhari’s government. “I will not say Nigerians do not have their right to imagine that this government is not fast enough to deliver on its promises. On the side of the government, I wish that Nigerians will appreciate that whatever has been the errors, deficiencies prevalent in the country before Buhari came cannot be reversed, turn over or changed completely in a twinkling of an eye even though that is what the public is expecting.”

To shore up the administration’s popularity, Mohammed explained that bringing the officials of government in direct contact with the people to discuss issues affecting the polity was the best form of participatory democracy.

He said that will not only ensure that the government heard directly from the people on how its decisions affected them, but would ensure that it carried them along in the efforts to keep its electoral promises, enthrone good governance and make life abundant for all Nigerians.

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