Yusuf: Meetings will be meaningful if government addresses hardship

Muda Yusuf

Muda Yusuf

Muda Yusuf is the Director General of the Lagos Chambers Of Commerce and Industry (LCCI). In this interview with DAVID OGAH, he insisted that the town hall meetings would be another jamboree if all segments of society are not represented.

The Federal Government is embarking on town hall meetings to explain efforts so far. Does that address your issues?
The Town Hall meeting is not a bad idea. It is good for feedback, for accountability and for information. It is even more so at this time given the high expectations of citizens from the current administration and the fact that these expectations have been largely unmet. It is also clear that there has not been sufficient engagement between the citizens and the political leadership at the federal level. These meetings, therefore, would appear to be an attempt to make up for this gap in communication.

However, the structure of the meetings does not appear to have been designed for a serious engagement and feedback. First, the participants were mainly party faithful, traditional rulers and students. There was no evidence of good private sector representation that one could reckon with. At a time when the economy should be the main focus of discussions, the private sector should have been more effectively represented at such forums.

However, the structure of the meetings does not appear to have been designed for a serious engagement and feedback. First, the participants were mainly party faithful, traditional rulers and students. There was no evidence of good private sector representation that one could reckon with. At a time when the economy should be the main focus of discussions, the private sector should have been more effectively represented at such forums.

Secondly, is the agenda of the meeting. At a time like this, the agenda should reflect the mood of the nation. Issues of Foreign Exchange policy, fuel scarcity, unemployment, internal security, poor power supply and issue of budget should be top on the agenda. Many of these critical issues did not feature in the discussions. This for me is another shortcoming. Given the critical importance of economic issues at this time, it was important that the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Minister of Finance be part of the Town Hall meetings.

Does a government that has done so well need town hall meetings; won’t its performance speak for it?
The meeting has its benefits. It is the first major interaction between the executive and the people. Feedback and dialogue are very important ingredients of a democracy. Even where a government’s performance has been good, it is still important to create a platform for engagement. Therefore, for me, it’s not out of place.

Do you think it is a better way of communicating government’s change agenda?
I will say that the town hall meeting is a good channel of communicating with the citizens. But it is not the only channel. There are other channels that could also be used. For instance, there could be sectoral engagements along the lines of the various sectors of the economy. There could be engagements along the lines of political constituencies. There could also be engagements using the Social Media and other electronic media. All these channels of communications are not mutually exclusive. They could complement one another.

If anything, it provides an opportunity for the citizens to express their feelings directly to those who are at the helms of affairs and governance. The town hall meeting offers a platform for impactful communication of the disillusionment or disappointments that the citizens may wish to express. Therefore, I believe it is still of great value even to those who are disillusioned.

If the meetings are properly designed in terms of its representation, composition and its agenda, it will not be a jamboree. It will create an opportunity for a frank exchange of ideas and feedback. It is important for the government to know exactly how the people feel about the present administration. I believe that such frank exchange of ideas is good for the economy.

If the design were right, it would benefit them.  There could be adequate grass root representation. It is a question of getting more rural communities to be represented. I think it’s a question of designing the Town Hall meetings to achieve their desired results.

If you happen to address the town hall meetings, what are the likely issues you will raise, supposing it is made interactive?
As a private sector representative, I would engage the meeting on the need to urgently review the current foreign exchange policy, which has caused considerable setback for the economy. There are more losers than winners under the current forex policy regime. I would request an urgent review this policy. Secondly, I would request the meeting to urgently liberalise the Petroleum downstream sector in order to expand the scope of private sector participation in the sector. I take this position because the current difficulty being suffered is as a result of the current fuel scarcity has arisen as a consequence of public sector dominance in the sector and some inexplicable policy rigidities. I will submit that it is not in the best interest of the citizens and the economy for the current model to continue.



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