TOWN HALL MEETING WITH NIGERIA’S VICE PRESIDENT: #UACmeetsOsibanjo

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There is no doubt that our Vice President is an intelligent man; after all, he’s a professor of Law for a reason! This afternoon I was opportune to be in a town hall meeting organized by the United Action for Change at the Airport Hotel Ikeja during which Professor Osibanjo was hosted as the guest of honour. As typical of such events, the man was barraged with a number of questions (twenty difficult ones in total ), the responses to which this piece is about. Read through to see the efforts and policies this administration is making towards curbing unemployment, providing amenities and ensuring better lives for the Nigerian public as well as the encumbrances militating against the change agenda.

 

The Vice President had decided not to give an official speech. But in the cause of responding to the questions fielded to him by civil society groups he gave what is [perhaps] the most powerful speech of the year. Reiterating the present administration’s commitment to change (which he also posited as the Nigerian Dream) he declared that the need for change is imperative. Now is the best opportunity to change Nigeria he said, and nothing else occupies the Government but bringing about change in all aspects of Nigerian life.

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He said the Federal Government is working hard to ensure a wholesome national health insurance scheme for every Nigerian and that a special security fund would enable the FG uplift about twenty five million poorest Nigerians out of poverty. According to the Vice President, there are two basic ways this administration intends to rid Nigeria of unemployment. The first one is through direct government involvement which will provide what he called “palliative measure “, including the much talked about 7800 teachers’ recruitment scheme. The second method is through intensive training in technology (especially for women) during which there will be “tech demos” by the students which will guarantee that the best of them [students] are given contracts and grants. He believes that improvement in technological know how is a must for Nigeria and that is why the Government is already partnering with an organization called CISCO to train these young people in technology.

 

Reacting to a question about the impact of religious differences in the Nigerian political space, the VP noted that religion is not actually the major plight of our polity. This is because for him Nigerians collaborate very well in every everything including corruption irrespective of their religious differences. He noted however that what we need in the country is collaborative effort for developmental purposes and the good of the country; putting aside our differences.

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Meanwhile, moving on to the all-important issue of fuel scarcity in the country, Professor Osibanjo gave a reasonable [but not so welcomed] explanation as to what is causing the problem. He said that prior to this time, the importation of petroleum products into the country was carried out by both the NNPC and the private marketers. Unfortunately, due to the recent global oil crash and the subsequent negative impacts it had on Nigeria’s foreign reserve as well as Government’s restrictions on FOREX, the private marketers are unable to import the products as they cannot afford foreign exchange. This thereby leaves the bulk of importation of fuel on the NNPC who simply cannot handle it all. And to contribute even more to the challenge, the NNPC, (after importing the products into the country ) sells to the private marketers who in turn resell to the filling stations and often times even resell outside the country to places like Benin and Nicer where they reportedly make extra profits. But he gave good by saying that Government is considering ways to put a definite end to the challenge of fuel scarcity…soon.

 
One of such is probably by  ensuring that the current refineries [and the new ones hoped to be constructed] become functional. But even at that, Mr. Osibanjo outlined the major problem facing the actualization of functional refineries to include the fact that they are publicly-owned by the state. As such he noted the need for privatization even as he pointed out that the private investors are reluctant to come into agreement due to uncertainty about how to fix the right prices in order for them to make profit as the current prices for the refined products will certainly not favour the private business people.

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Answering a question about what the FG is doing about railway construction across the country, he reiterated the FG’s commitment to construct the Lagos-Kano and Lagos-Calabar railroads in order to ensure easy transportation of goods and services. He also hinted on the agreement between the FG and the Chinese government to help in this regard.

 

Vice President Osinbanjo agreed with a comment that the Federal Government could make a lot more money from the Maritime sector even more than it makes from oil. However, he insisted that a lot of improvements in the sector will need to occur (especially as regards ICT) before that happens. He also agreed with a call for the incorporation of local engineers when carrying out major engineering projects instead of just contracting the jobs to foreign contractors. But even at that, he demanded that there must be standard on the part of the Nigerian engineers before this happens.

 
He explained the reason for shortage in power supply, citing pipeline vandalism and reduction in dam water as major causes. In the same vein he explained the need for the increment in electricity tariff, saying that it was to ensure sustenance as “the CBN does not have a limitless source of income…” This statement was also a reaction to a request that the CBN resort to pardoning old loans in order to encourage entrepreneurship as Malaysia supposedly did once. He noted that although AMCON had done this before, it cannot continue doing it as the government is nearly 3.2 billion (dollars or naira) in debts…

 

The VP then talked about the recent trade agreement between Nigeria and China, citing its advantage as the facilitation of Nigeria’s foreign trades especially during this difficult economic times as the country struggles with FOREX. Here is his explanation- the Yuan naira agreement provides a financial facility that enables the naira trade against the dollar without the negative impacts associated with such trades…

 
Finally, the VP agreed with musician Kenny Saint Brown and the master of ceremony Kofi that the entertainment industry in Nigeria (especially Nollywood) provides a lot of youth with employment opportunities. This should never be undermined, he said. However, he pointed out that the Government does not need to set up government agencies solely dedicated to entertainment matters in order to validate it’s efforts in empowering those in the entertainment sector.

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The town hall meeting was attended by various dignitaries including the Convener of the meeting Dr. Muiz Banire (Senior Advocate of Nigeria )  Mr. Pat Utomi of Lagos Business School, Honourable minister for Solid Minerals Dr. Kayode Fayemi and others.

Emmanuel Benson reporting.
*The authour chose to report this in a not so typically news format because this is not a news platform. The story will more appeal to the readers of this blog when presented this way…

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