Daily Trust (Abuja)

24 November 2012

Nigeria: Nasarawa Town Hall Meeting - a Post Mortem

Since the National Good Governance Tour (NGGT) commenced in September, 2012 with the Federal Capital Territory, (FCT), so much water has passed under the bridge.

Political office holders who preside over affairs in their respective areas of authority have had to answer and explain many issues that the people have been grabbling with. Most of those troubled with issues bordering on their welfare and under the control of public office holders had no avenues to express so.

The Town Hall meeting, a critical component of the National Good Governance Tour definitely served as an appropriate forum where issues were raised and addressed by the leaders. It is equally a vital component of democracy, as accountability and transparency are displayed with leaders being challenged through direct questioning by the audience or via the social media network.

Labaran Maku, the Minister of Information, who is also the chairman of the NGGT and his team, climaxed their 3 day tour of Nasarawa State on Saturday, November 3rd, 2012 with a Town Hall Meeting. This day ended the team's tour to the state which started on Thursday, November 1st 2012.

After a tortuous ride round the state inspecting federal and state projects, the team must have confirmed what Governor Umaru Tanko Al-makura told them during a courtesy call at the Government House along Shendam Road. Al-Makura had disclosed that the state made modest strides in the face of limited resources arising from a heavy debt burden and uncompleted projects.

Back to the Town Hall Meeting which venue was the Ta'al Conference Hotel, Jos Road, Lafia. The setting was one that attracted both the high and low. Those who call the shots in Nasarawa State had gathered as early as expected. Particularly interesting, is the fact that opposition parties were well represented at the meeting.

After the Minister's remarks as to the objectives of the NGGT, the stage was set for questions and answer session. These were directed at the Governor, Al-Makura and the Minister, Maku who had to respond to issues raised pertaining to state and federal projects. True to expectations, both personalities received a barrage of questions begging for answers.

Al-Makura stated that all through his days in the famous Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, he had never faced such tough questions in any examinations he wrote. This statement set the crowd into wild laughter. He confessed that due to his hearing impairment, he would have wished that the questions were given to him in writing so that he could do justice to them. He was determined to explain his administration's focus, feats and challenges to the electorate and all who watch or listen to the live transmissions on the FRCN and NTA.

The governor's response to the allegations of "money sharing by some of his kitchen cabinet" was instructive to the effect that such money was not just there, let alone being shared. He explained that if about seven of his cabinet members shared between N150million to N250million monthly, his administration would not have been able to pay salaries to civil servants in the state. This is even more so that Nasarawa State is one of the first to implement the N18, 000 minimum wage. It even went ahead to pay N18, 900 in the implementation.

He put the average monthly statutory allocation to Nasarawa State from the Federation Account at N2.6billion. The transparency which Governor Al-makura is noted for, came into the open as he read out the total monthly statutory allocation receipts within a span of 17months amounting to N66billion; expenses incurred stands at; recurrent expenditure (N44.9 billion), loan repayment inclusive of Paris Club refund to Plateau State (N16.1 billion), capital projects (4.8billion) and he left the public to judge.

On the question that the Governor was claiming credit on projects executed by previous administrations, he did not mince words in acknowledging that previous administrations embarked on such projects but were unable to complete them. It is important to note that the opposition parties, particularly the Peoples' Democratic Party,(PDP) had issued press statements on this matter too.

The joy about this Town Hall Meeting was the fact that one member of the team had commended Governor Al-makura for not abandoning projects initiated by his predecessors but completing same for the benefit of the people.

The 27 kilometers roads network in Lafia town in addition to that in Akwanga are there for all eyes to see and confirm. He also said that rural roads construction will begin in the three Senatorial Districts to do the construction of rural roads. Uncompleted rural roads started by Akwe Doma are to be completed and even improved upon in terms of quality.

Mr Maku defended the Federal Government's presence by saying that no administration from 1960 had given Nasarawa State attention like Goodluck Jonathan's. Never mind that Nasarawa only came into existence in 1996.

He at least shared in the disappointment of the people of Nasarawa State, and by extension other Nigerians who ply the Akwanga -Lafia road which "re-alignment" of just 6kilometers has taken over four years with little progress made. The Federal Government should expedite action on this road so that avoidable deaths are not recorded any longer.

Kwarra is Senior Special Assistant, Public Affairs, to Governor of Nasarawa State.

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