Nigerians on Tuesday tackled members of President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet about poverty and rot in the country at a dramatic town hall meeting in Abuja.
The Sultan of Sokoto and Chairman of the occasion, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, set the tone for the interactions between Buhari’s nine ministers and members of the public when he said in his opening remarks that government policies should be reviewed if they were not working.
He said, “If policies don’t work, there is nothing wrong in reviewing them. The government must be open to suggestions.
“If the people say they are hungry, the government should listen to them.”
The Sultan said there were 11 ministers in the hall even though they were nine.
He was jokingly referring to the multiple portfolios occupied by the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN).
In his speech, the Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, said, “There is a cry in the air that Nigerians are hungry and we hear them loud and clear. There are also unbelievable stories about people taking their children as human collateral for food with no intentions to pick them up.
“This situation in Nigeria today was going to happen; whether it is this administration or another. We headed this way a long time ago.
‘‘In 1986, we were forced to devalue and deregulate. We were forced to open our doors to importation. We began devaluing the naira. We have done it steadily for 30 years. We are now N400 to one dollar and we are told to continue devaluing; that devaluation will bring wonders. I don’t believe it.
“I hope we don’t hit N1,000 to $1 someday because the demand for dollars is $2.5bn a week and I have this from high authorities within the system.
“We simply don’t have it. We don’t print dollars, but the people are angry that we are not making dollars available. We became importers of rice; $5m a day; wheat, $6m a day; tomato paste, $400m a year; and $20bn a year on food.’’
One of the participants, the Vice-Chancellor of the Bingham University, Nasarawa State, Prof. Leonard Kursim-Fwa, expressed worry about the state of education, infrastructure deficiency and poor electricity, among others.