Why I lobbied Saraki, Dogara —Boss Mustapha

AS Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha is regarded as presiding over the ‘engine room’ of the government. In this interview by some journalists, he provides an insight into the inner workings of the Buhari administration, its relationship with state governments, and schism over policy direction, insecurity, among other contentious issues.
JACOB SEGUN-OLATUNJI was there. Excerpts:

HAVING been in the saddle for almost two years, you should be conversant with the dynamics of the office. In specific terms, what are the roles of your office working with six departments and 22 agencies?

One of the responsibilities of the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF) is to co-ordinate policies formulated by ministries, departments and agencies. A total of 22 agencies report directly to the OSGF. Six permanent secretaries are charged with the responsibility of overseeing these offices. It’s quite a lot of responsibility to co-ordinate government policies and to ensure their implementation. This office provides the secretariat for the Council of State; Federal Executive Council and other committees chaired by Mr President. We provide secretariat services to track policies, projects and programmes that have been approved and put in place to ensure that the policies are properly implemented.  Generally, we provide co-ordination for government and we ensure that government does not work at cross-purposes; that synergies are provided and they inter-link.


Such huge task no doubt, will come with certain challenges. What is the relationship and synergy between state governments and your office? 

When I assumed office in November 2017, I realised that so many things that were decided at the federal level never took place in the states. There was a big communication gap. Since we provide secretariat services to the Federal Executive Council, we decided to extend it to the Cabinet Affairs Offices of the various states. We developed a handbook on how to manage the Cabinet Affairs Office, which was launched a few months ago. So, we have been going about to ensure that my colleagues in this office get at least a link between the federal and state governments for the purposes of pushing the change agenda.

State governments now realise that there was so much that was going on at the federal level that states were not appropriately benefitting from. For example, when we got the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to speak about the Anchor Borrowers’ Scheme, a lot of the secretaries to the government at the state were amazed that there was so much money available that their people could access.  When we started to talk about the School Feeding Programme, a lot of them were reluctant. They asked: what are you talking about? Some states that had logged into that programme began to explain what was happening in terms of school enrolment with the nutrition and health of the children. It helped them in convincing their state governments that they needed to key in and begin to appropriate those benefits that were coming to their states. Initially, the perception was that this is a political move to have a hold in the states, but by the time they realised that it was for the benefit of their people, they jumped in to be on the truck.


To what extent do you think political differences could serve as possible hinderance to your set goals?

In the OSGF, you have the Special Services Office, which provides the secretariat to the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA). It deals with security matters. We have a meeting of permanent secretaries at the different levels of different states with their permanent secretaries that oversee that there will be synergy in dealing with security matters. We all agree, when it comes to the architecture of security that if there is no synergy, the security machinery, security personnel, security apparatus will operate at cross purposes. That can spell danger for the country. So, we try as much as possible to create that synergy, by having this office co-ordinate a routine meeting as often as possible; sometimes monthly, sometimes quarterly, depending on the need, so that we can discuss the security implications of what is happening all over the country. We are being threatened by different dimensions of security challenges. So, this office co-ordinates that; it provides information and logistics support in terms of intelligence with the different components of our nation, so that we can effectively deal with the security challenges.


The three arms of government — executive, legislature and judiciary — are required to collaborate without compromising their individual independence. But how would you rationalise working relationship among all arms, especially with the National Assembly?

Upon assumption of office, I went to the National Assembly to knock at the door of the immediate past Senate President and the Honourable Speaker of the House Representatives. I extended a hand of fellowship and partnership and I said, ‘look, you know that we can’t do this business alone; we need your support, in-as-much as whatever we want to do, we need money.’  Many government policies require legislations. If you don’t have a very good working relationship with the National Assembly, how do you get the legislation to back the policies? The President has signed a couple of Executive Orders but, the executive orders are different from proper legislations that will drive policies, create establishments or agencies to push a particular agenda. So, you need the legislature. I have tried as much as possible to do what needs to be done with the legislature and even the judiciary, so that we have all the relationships that are mutually beneficial to all.


There are protests in certain quarters over the new guidelines from the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU). What is the real intention and objectives behind the guidelines?

The NFIU law empowers it to monitor withdrawals, movement of funds and indeed, everything that deals with finances as it affects our nation. We have to keep a watch on the movement of funds all over the world. The tendency is for government to be interested in how funds are used because funds have become an instrument of destabilisation in most countries. So, it is important that as Nigerians, we are to follow up and keep in mind how funds are moved within the system. It can destabilise the economy and the security architecture of the nation, so we have to be very careful.  The NFIU that used to be part of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has now receded and it is at the moment trying to do its job. But, what I am saying is that in doing their job, we have to manage it in such a way that we are all partners. We are working for the same system to ensure that our people will get the benefits of whatever policies or establishments that are put in place. We would try as much as possible to create a platform for the resolution of whatever issues that will arise.


Nigerians are divided on the performance of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, on his three key promises to the populace: revamping economy, war on corruption and fight against insecurity. What would be your honest assessment of the government based on those three grounds?

When President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office, a substantial part of the local governments in the North-East were under Boko Haram insurgents. As a matter of fact, I got a new figure that shocked me when the governor of Borno State, at a meeting, mentioned that in 2015, a total of 22 out of the 27 local government areas in the state were under Boko Haram. Today, I can tell you not a single local government is under Boko Haram. We are not completely out of the woods yet, but I can tell you substantially that all the local government areas that used to be under the occupation of Boko Haram have been liberated. People have returned to their homes.

We have had incidents of banditry, which have taken a new dimension altogether. It is no more kidnapping just for the sake of it. Kidnapping is becoming a commercial enterprise and the banditry in the North-West, if care is not taken, will be another insurgency because the bandits come in and take territories and declare lordship over those territories and they dare even authorities and security agencies. There are many aspects of these crises that are manifesting, but I can tell you that we have tried as much as possible to deal with them. You can see there is relative calm, even in the southern part of the country. The South-South was a major challenge at the time we came in, in 2015, but because of the interface, mediation, negotiation and by extending a hand of fellowship and assuring people that they are part of Nigeria and they can make claims for which the government is obligated to listen to them, there has been relative peace, even with the issue of self-determination as exhibited in the south-eastern part of the country. So, much is being done in terms of interface with the governors, with the leadership of the South-East, trying to dissuade people from toeing that part which will not be of benefit to anybody. So, as much as possible, in the area of securing the nation, issues of security as they manifest in different dimensions, we are doing as much as humanly possible to ensure we contain it. We have tried as much as possible to interface with the traditional rulers, being the first respondent in most communities, through the National Council of Nigerian Traditional Rulers, which is co-chaired by the Ooni of Ife and the Sultan of Sokoto.

The Nigeria Inter-Religious Council existed before I came into office, but for a period of about six years held no meetings. I had to do a lot of spadework to convince the leadership that we needed to go back to the negotiating table and begin to talk. When the people outside begin to see the leaders of different faiths talking, it encourages them to have a sense or feeling that our problems will be sorted out. That has helped us tremendously and we have had   meetings in all the six geopolitical zones at different levels. The same thing with the National Council for Traditional Rulers, which is part of what the government is doing, as well as the OSGF because we are responsible for public safety and security.

In the area of fighting corruption, so much has been done in terms of recoveries. As we go into 2019-2023, government will be looking at strengthening the institutions; putting in place mechanisms that will help stop corruption from taking place at all because it comes with a lot of expenses which I know requires a lot of paradigm shifts. One thing we can do is to begin to create safety nets for the people in the work place. One thing that constitutes motivation for corruption is the fear of the unknown. You’re working today and you don’t know the future, and you will be 60 very soon. The worker says: ‘I don’t have a home, a good car and still have kids in school; how will I cope with that kind of life?’ That propels you into quest for wealth and generally, that is the thing that propels people to want to acquire more money as much as possible. But once you are able to create a safety net; something that can take care of them in terms of any major accident, insurance packages that can cover them and their families, people will have less tendency in indulging in corrupt practices. Nobody wants to be stigmatised with corruption, which is the truth, but I know it is this fear of the unknown that normally propels people into doing that. Going forward, we should strengthen the institutions and build capacities for them; make sure too that we create safety nets around the whole place so that people can have a bit of comfort. No government has ever recovered the kind of money that we have recovered, the kind of properties that have been seized, now going through the processes of temporary forfeiture and eventually permanent forfeiture.

The other aspect of it is the diversification of the economy. I think we have done very well in that area, particularly in the area of development of infrastructure. Most countries, long time ago, knew that if they could provide roads, provide rail, then they would open up their countries; there will be influx of businesses and I think in that area, we have succeeded tremendously.

Not only that, so much investment has gone into agriculture. The Anchor Borrowers’ scheme has provided huge resources. As of the time we went to campaign, about N86 billion was expended and you know how many millionaires have come out through the scheme, particularly in the area of growing rice. We grew the rice farmers’ population from four million to 12 million.  So, it’s a mass of people that have benefitted from that scheme.

The Social Investment Programme has done so much in creating wealth for the small business people. Is it the Farmers Money or the Trader Money, Market Money, so many of those programmes have helped generate employment for the people? The School Feeding Programme has created wealth for a lot of people that so many people have gone back to the farms; millions are required to feed the students on a daily basis, so many food vendors, women that have been employed as cooks servicing that particular industry. I believe that to a large extent we have diversified the economy. We realised that we came at a time when there was a major drop in crude oil prices but we were able to navigate to come out of recession and I think we have done so well and therefore, we can do better for the people of this country.


The Buhari administration is being accused of lethargy in tackling herders-farmers conflict and the banditry in the North West. Why such attitude from the government?

I think for anybody to accuse this government of being lethargic in dealing with herders-farmers conflict is quite unfair, because we have been very decisive. The categorisation of the Fulani as herdsmen is improper. I am a herdsman but not a Fulani. So, particularly in the northern part of the country, saying all herdsmen are Fulani is a lie. We are all herdsmen, we are all farmers; some are arable farmers, some are herdsmen and all this farming, in the agricultural sense, is one. One is animal husbandry; the other one is arable farming or crops.

The farmers-herdsmen’s conflict is not new. They have a pattern in resolving their conflicts in a particular location. If the herdsman allows his animals go into a farmer’s plot and there is destruction, the local community used to sit down; there will be an assessment of the level of destruction, then the herdsman will be asked to pay. If unfortunately, the farmer kills an animal that belongs to a Fulani man or herdsman, then the community will sit and establish the justification for that action and if there’s no justification, you will be asked to pay. So, we have a communal way of resolving conflicts.

Ranches and reserves have been in existence. In Adamawa State, where I come from, there are several reserves established by law dating back to the days of Northern Nigeria, with defined cattle routes. Abuja is a cattle route defined and gazetted in the laws of Northern Nigeria and similarly in several parts of this country. There is a major contention going on now; partly economic with the growth in our population. With the growth in urbanisation, we have taken some of those reserves and turned them into residential areas. We have a belt across those cattle routes because there is a traditional pattern of movement that was established over the years. We have taken the grazing reserves and apportioned them among elite farmers. We have fenced over the places, and these animals will have to feed and would have to get to a source of water in a seasonal movement. That’s why they are called nomads.

We have nomadic fishermen; we have nomadic herdsmen. In the early part of the 70’s, the military thought it fit to build nomadic schools. There is a commission for nomadic education. Most of us do not think that is important.  People move across a certain area at a certain time, so we needed to establish schools that will go along with them. We did that and even set up a commission, but we did not look at the economic aspect that is now rearing its head. There is a competition over land, over control of resources. So, much has happened as a result of climate change that was not factored into the whole thing. So, for anybody to say that the government has been lethargic in dealing with that crisis is totally being unfair. By and large, there must be a systematic way of dealing with that conflict. It   requires the inputs of traditional rulers, religious leaders and community leaders to confront that particular conflict. So, it’s a complex situation and I know that government is decisive in putting apparatus in place to deal with it.


How have you been managing disputes between heads of agencies and management boards since assumption of office, since no system is insulated from occasional challenges?

When I came into office, most boards were already constituted. I had the responsibility of releasing the list of board members and chairmen. We partnered with the Bureau of Public Service Reforms and other regional agencies to organise retreats for the board members and the management. There is the perception of a politician that has just been given a position as a member or chairman of a board; sometimes you come with a sense of entitlement. So, we decided that we needed to put everybody in their rightful compartment and the retreats were meant to acquaint chairmen and board members with their responsibilities. The first is to formulate policies in terms of day-to-day management of the organisation that is vested in the management team. Oftentimes, it is the managing director or a director general. We had a lot of skirmishes here and there and we have tried as much as possible to resolve them by asking them to go back to their notes that they took during the retreats, which clearly define the two arms of the same organisation. We have issued several circulars, even before I came into office as SGF, with clear demarcation between the functions of the board and the functions of management. So, we have tried as much as possible to stabilise the system. Oftentimes the office of the permanent secretary, general services, is involved in the mediation. We have tried as much as possible to resolve those issues and where any issue is such that we cannot resolve, we seek for direction from the President on how to resolve it.


Yes, the election has come and gone, but how did you react to the re-election of President Buhari?

It was a thrill because it was a hard-earned victory. We worked very hard for it. In 2015, I was his director in charge of contact and mobilisation, so I know the amount of work that was put in then. We had certain assurances because of how well he had done in the last three and half years leading to the last general election. We were confident that he was going to win. I was pleasantly surprised that he won with a much larger margin this time than in 2015. That gives me the satisfaction that the people of this country are quite happy and thrilled about his leadership style; his integrity and sincerity of purpose. He is a man that has no other agenda but the pursuit of better things for the good people of Nigeria. I am happy that he was re-elected. It is a thing of joy for us.


How have you been keeping pace with demands of your office?

When I assumed duty on November 1, 2017, I didn’t come with any special skills of my own. The only thing that I believed I brought and sustained me was where I was coming from, and by extension, where I am, is the grace and favour of God upon my life. I felt that no special skill would be able to sustain me in this office except if I trust in God and ask for enablement on a daily basis as to how to operate. I came with a leadership skill that if you are ready to work, you can work easily with me. For more than one year, I have not changed the secretaries and security staff I met in office, even the directors and permanent secretaries except for the new ones that were brought. I have not requested for anybody to be changed because I believe in the ability of every Nigerian to put in his/her best if the enabling environment is created. They have performed tremendously well and that is why they can cope with my work ethics. It is simple. I am here to work, so if I stay until 2 am, I don’t see any reason they cannot stay. They are much younger than me, so I don’t see reason why they can’t except for staff members that are housewives that I allow to go at about 8pm so they can attend to their families. For anybody that has a privilege, out of 180 million Nigerians, to serve as Secretary to the Government, it is such an honour and privilege; not because you are qualified but probably because like I said, the favour of God upon my life is what drove me to this office using the instrumentality of the hands of the President to select me from among the lots of people that are eminently qualified to occupy this office. So, I see it as an honour and trust which is the way I apply myself in this office. I work any time of the day, anytime of the week, anytime that there is anything to do, I just have resolved in my heart to give it the best.


Then what are some of the challenges of the office?

The truth about it is that in every working place, you come across challenges. Probably, the speed at which you want to move might not be the speed that is allowed by the system. You know we have a bureaucratic system that helps, which is not bad because it puts checks and balances to enable you use your discretion well. Most government activities are done based on the information that is available to you. But if you do not seek for the information, which sometimes takes time, you will not get the information. And whatever decision you decide to take may not be the right decision; it will be a decision based on facts or information that is not available to you. So, sometimes I get a little bit constrained; sometimes a little bit frustrated, but I have learnt to be a process man. The truth is that the Nigeria project is a very complex project and because of the complexity of the Nigeria project, sometimes it brings to bear on what you can and cannot do in office. That, I do not consider a challenge because that is the only way you can build a nation: by going through the intractable problems that confront the country and finding solution. That is the job I have been given to do and I am glad doing it.


What do think are your major achievements in office?

When I came on board, I noticed that there was so much I needed to do to create synergy, to create coordination with my colleagues in council, with the ministries and agencies. I can tell you that to a large extent, we have succeeded in doing that. Also, I realize that I needed to help government track its policies and programmes. Last year, I had the courtesy of launching a compendium of about 1,042 pages of Council memos initiated by this administration from the assumption of office in 2015 all the way to December 2017. I got the President to authorise that for the first month to three months of 2019, every cabinet member will do a presentation of what he’s been able to do since his appointment as a minister. All the cabinet ministers, including me, had to do physical presentation of the policies that were initiated by the ministries, the contracts that were approved by the cabinet and the programmes that were executed in order to give details and at the end of the exercise, we saw where we were.  It was like a mid-term report and the compilation of what this government has been able to achieve: how much money was expended; what was the status of the projects; what were the outstanding ones and what were the challenges. That for me was a big sense of satisfaction of some of the things that we were able to achieve and because of that, I’m able to look at plans to see how the government was moving. In the history of this country, in one week, we held three Federal Executive Council meetings as we were coming to the end of the tenure. I got the President to approve Wednesday, which is our statutory day, Thursday and Monday and within that process, we considered well over a hundred memos and sealed up the first stage of the President in a grand way.

I find that quite satisfying that I was able to drive my colleagues in that way and achieve the kind of end we were able to achieve. I believe that most of the ministers that will be leaving the cabinet, like the President said in his speech, should be proud of themselves because of what we have been able to achieve. Never in the history of this nation has any Federal Executive Council been able to achieve within a short period of time what we were able to achieve in our last sitting. It was so amazing and I believe that these are some of the things I give myself a pat on the back. The general thrill is the seamless transmission of information and document in coordinating government activities and creating a very favourable atmosphere of work between my office and the National Assembly. These are some of the things I will look back on and say ‘probably, I could have done it better but I did my best.’ And I think I can appreciate some of the achievements and the response that we get.


What are the expectations of Nigerians from May 29, that is, the second tenure of Mr President?

I can tell you that I am one Nigerian that is very optimistic and full of expectations that looking into the future, there are great things that will come to the people of Nigeria. I know that President Muhammadu Buhari, in his second term, will keep his focus on the three things that he had promised because we have not got over all the issues. He is going to concentrate on that and probably drive it even much harder so by the time he leaves in 2023, there will be legacies that you say, because of what he did, this has become sustainable as a future and as a hallmark of our nation. I am confident, really expectant, that as our resources improve in the area of revenue generation, rise in crude prices, making more money available, the tax net expanded to bring in more resources, I believe that we will be able to deliver substantially on some of the promises that he has made and I am very confident that the people of Nigeria will not regret their actions of giving him a second mandate.