HE has an imposing personality not just because he is a very tall man. The seriousness of his office and his many accomplishments confer that aura which hides his amiability unless one peeps closer. Boss Mustapha, secretary to the government of the federation, is a man of many parts. Professionally, he is a lawyer. He is also a consummate politician, businessman and management consultant. He operates on a very busy and tight schedule that makes him difficult to track down for an elaborate press interview unless the tracker has a great dose of patience. This is what four journalists including Maureen Chigbo, editor of Realnews magazine, deployed when they set out to get Mustapha to review his more than one year in office albeit an assessment of President Muhammadu Buhari’s first term in office before it ended May 29. For four days, the journalists waited endlessly and anxiously, sometimes very late in the night before their hope was dashed and resurrected as they were told to come back again the next day.
Finally, at about 11pm on May 27, the interview with Mustapha, who is a repository of experience, having worked in many organisations, including being the managing director, Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority held. He has also worked with Messrs Onagoruwa & Co in Lagos, as counsel in 1983 and had a stint at an Italian consultancy firm, Sotesa Nigeria Limited earlier. In 1994, he established his own law practice firm, Messrs Mustapha & Associates and served as its principal counsel until 2000. He later worked in another law firm, Adriot Lex & Co. serving as principal consultant from 2000 to 2006.
The 62-year-old workhorse, who stays in the office till 2am in the morning going through a mountain of files on his table, from the 22 ministries and six departments he supervises, was boardroom czar. He served on several boards of companies in the manufacturing, financial services and oil and gas sectors both in Nigeria and international scene.
His foray into politics started in the 1980s. Between 1988 and 1989, he was a member of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Constituent Assembly, the body that drafted Nigeria’s 1989 Constitution. The Constitution was only partially used in running Nigeria’s Third Republic between 1993 and 1999. In 1989, Mustapha was the state chairman of the Peoples Solidarity Party, PSP, in defunct Gongola State, but the party was among the several political parties disbanded by General Ibrahim Babangida because they failed government’s “litmus test”.
Between 1990 and 1991, Mustapha was Adamawa state chairman of the Social Democratic Party, one of the two state-created political parties during Babangida’s regime. He later ran unsuccessfully for Adamawa State governorship in 1991 and again in 2014.
He was among the seven-man committee tasked by President Olusegun Obasanjo to probe Muhammadu Buhari-led Petroleum Trust Fund in 2000, but their report was never made public. He also served as the deputy director-general of the campaign organisation of Atiku Abubakar’s presidential bid in 2007 general elections.
He was the deputy national chairman of the Action Congress of Nigeria, which later merged with other parties to form the All Progressives Congress on February 6, 2013, in anticipation of Nigeria’s 2015 general elections. He later worked in the presidential campaigns and was among the members of the party’s transition committee in Nigeria’s 2015 election that brought Buhari into power. He is also a member of the board of trustees of the party.
Born in North Eastern Nigerian state of Adamawa, Mustapha attended primary school in Hong, Adamawa, and proceeded to North East College of Arts and Sciences in Maiduguri, Borno State, for his high school education and graduated in 1976. He bagged a Bachelor of Law Degree in 1979 from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and proceeded to the Nigerian Law School, Lagos, for mandatory one-year law school and graduated in 1980 before doing the mandatory national youth service between 1980 and 1981. He belongs to some professional bodies, including the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, African Bar Association, International Bar Association and Human Rights Institute.
Appointed to his current position on October 30, 2017, Mustapha, in this special interview, expresses his concern that the banditry in the North may turn into another insurgency. He also provides details of what the government is doing to tackle insecurity, curb farmers/herders crisis, unify the country and move the country to the next level in all spheres of life. Excerpts
What are the dynamics of the Office of the Secretary to the Government, OSGF, working with 22 Agencies and Six Departments?
One of the responsibilities of the OSGF is to head and co-ordinate policies that have been formulated by ministries and agencies. Twenty-two of the agencies reports 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 ensure their implementation. We have been able to handle it accordingly. Also, these offices provide the Secretariat for the Council of State, Federal Executive Council and other committees chaired by Mr. President. Also, we ensure that not only our government formulate policies, but that they are properly implemented. We provide secretariat services to track policies formulated, projects, programmes that have been approved and programmes that have been put in place to ensure that the policies are being implemented. There is a whole lot that takes place here. 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. There are quite a lot of establishments of government that have overlap functions in which case we provide direction when those kinds of things happen.
Could you further expatiate on the provision of synergies among the federating units while relating with state governments?
When I assumed office in November 2017, I realized that there is a statutory meeting that used to hold between the OSGF and those of the 36 states which has not been taken place for a couple of years. So I set out to revive that meeting because it is strategic. Whatever policies are formulated at the federal level, if it does not cascade to the states, then you have a disconnect. So for that reason, I revived that meeting which have been taking place on quarterly basis. We started here in Abuja. then moved to Yola, Calabar, then Lagos. There was interruption during the elections Period, but immediately after the regime council and new cabinet comes on board in various states and also here at the centre, I trust that we would follow up with that because it is very important that the Secretary to the Government of the Federation has a link with the offices of the secretaries to the government of various states because policy drive and direction is the key. When we started the meeting, I realized that so many things that were decided at the Federal level never took hold in the states. There was big communication gap. But that meeting provided us with a platform where we shared ideas, experiences of how things were done in different states and many of the states began to learn from the experiences of other states. So, it became like a platform for peer review for us and I believe that has helped us tremendously to create synergy. We didn’t stop there; to follow up on that because we provide secretariat services to the Federal Executive Council, we decided to extend it to the cabinet affairs offices of the various states. And we develop a handbook on how to manage a cabinet affairs office which was launched a couple of months ago. So we have been going about to ensure that my colleagues here in this office gets at least a link between the federal and state government for the purposes of pushing the change agenda.
Is there any kind of resistance from some state governments?
Surprisingly none, because they got to realize that there was so much that was going on at the federal level that states were not appropriately benefiting from. For example, when we started, when we got the central bank to speak about the Anchor Borrowers Scheme, a lot of the secretaries to the government at the states were amazed that there was so much money available that their people could access, but couldn’t because there was no information. When we started to talk about the school feeding programme, a lot of them were resistant. They asked: what are you talking about? Did such a thing happen? Some states that had logged into that programme began to explain what was happening in theirs in terms of school enrolment with the nutrition and health of the children and at the Federal school as a result of the school feeding programme that was being put in place. It helped them in convincing their state governments that they needed to key in and begin to appropriate the benefits that were coming to their state. Initially, the perception was that this is a political move to have a hole in our state, but by the time they realized that it was for the benefit of their people; they jumped in to be on the truck.
To what extent does political differences hinder this synergy?
It didn’t. Let me tell you why. Because when we started we went to Adamawa which was an APC controlled state, the next state that offered to host us was Akwa Ibom, which was a PDP controlled state. I was in Uyo for two days and the governor was extremely generous in his support for the meeting and subsequently we have gone to different places. There’s another dimension. In the OSGF, you have an office that is called SSO or special services office, which provides the secretariat to the office of the national security adviser. It is domiciled here. They deal 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 of this country. One of the most difficult when it comes to looking at architecture of security is that if there is no synergy then the security machinery, security personnel, security apparatus will be operated 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 lead 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 is supposed to co-ordinate that, provide information, logistics support in terms of intelligence with the different components of our nation so that we can effectively deal with the security challenges.
How do you drive synergy among the three arms of government, especially with the National Assembly playing a major role?
The National Assembly is a key partner because whatever government wants to do, anywhere in the world, it definitely needs the partnership of the National Assembly. And that’s why upon assumption of the office, barely a week in the office, I went to the National Assembly to knock at the door of the Senate President and the honorable Speaker of the House Representative. 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 to be able to do that. We submit the expense to the National Assembly, but the power of appropriation is vested in the National Assembly. If they don’t appropriate, we can’t even expend the money. So, however, the reproaches, if we do not get the support of the National Assembly in terms of appropriation. Today, (Tuesday) amazingly we signed the budget which was submitted in December (five months). If we really desire to work together that can be passed within a month. The second thing is, if you want to drive policy, some of the policies require legislation. 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 establishment or agencies to push a particular agenda. So, you need the legislature. So, we are very mindful of that, particularly because of my experiences. I have served in two constitution drafting committees in 1988 and 2005. So I know what gains that can accrue to government if we work in harmony and partnership with the legislature. So, I have tried as much as possible to do what needs to be done within the legislature and even the judiciary that we have all the relationship that is mutually beneficial to all.
Talking about creating synergy between the federal government and other tiers of governments, recently the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU, raised an order to establish local government autonomy and there was a push back by the governors. And we have it on good authority that your office has taken that up. If it is true, how far have you gone with that?
If we have intervened which I think other departments that deal particularly with that would have taken the steps to, it is because we do not want acrimonious relationship. We want a clear understanding of what the law says and its applicability. When Obasanjo came on board in 1999, he decided that funds that are for the local governments would go straight to the local Governments’ accounts that were opened in the central bank. Their share of revenue that is distributed after every federation account meeting and they were getting their money until Lagos states felt it was unconstitutional and you know the story. The current Vice President was actually the attorney general in Lagos state went to court and got the other states to support them until the Supreme Court decision came out that said all local governments are part of the state; that the administration of their funds is vested in the House of Assembly of their states. And it was at that point those accounts that were opened in central bank were closed and now a unit within the office of the Commissioner for Local Government was set up to administer Local Government funds through the joint Local Government accounts. So, whatever is approved for the local government is normally sent directly to the state and it goes into that account owned jointly between the Local Government and the state. They decide according to state laws as passed by the Houses of Assembly on how the funds are appropriated. Part of the resistance that is coming from them is the issue of taking us back to those days where you think the local government account does not have to be administered with the intervention of the state; that is what I think we need to manage very well. The NFIU law empowers them to monitor withdrawals, movements of funds, 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 on how funds are used because funds have become instrument of destabilization 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 destabilize the economy, security architecture of the nation. So we have to be very careful and that unit that used to be part of the EFCC has now receded and it is now 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 benefit of whatever policies or establishments that are put in place. We would try as much as possible to create a platform for the resolution for whatever issues that will arise.
Let’s move to the three cardinal promises of the Muhammadu Buhari Administration, which basically are tackling insecurity, fighting corruption and of course diversifying the economy. How does the OSGF impact on the three policies and their implementation?
One of the key functions of this office is to look out for public safety and security. It is very imperative for me to have an eye on enforcement agencies when it comes to public safety and security. And part of what we have been able to do concerns especially the challenges that we find in this country. We should not forget that when we came in, a substantial part of the local governments in the northeast were under the control of Boko-Haram insurgents. As a matter of fact, today I got a new figure that shocked me when the Governor of Borno State at a meeting mentioned that 22 out of 27 local governments in Borno State in 2015 were under the control of Boko Haram. Today, I can tell you not a single one of those 22 local governments is under the control of Boko Haram. We are not completely out of the woods yet, but I can tell you substantially all the local governments that used to be under the occupation of the Boko Haram have been liberated. People have returned to their homes. We still have challenges because of the level of indoctrination that has taken place. They still have some sleeper cells that come alive. What they do is that they look at soft targets. They get some small girls wrapped with explosives to go to churches, mosques, markets, schools. But there is no more occupation of any sizeable part of this country. But don’t forget, as Boko Haram is being decimated, in other regions of the country, in the North Central, we have had clashes between herdsmen and farmers; issues of kidnapping. We have had issues of banditry which has 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 they are coming in and taking territories and declaring lordship over those territories and they dare even the authorities and security agencies. There are many aspects of this crisis that are manifesting, but I can tell you that we have tried as much as possible to deal with those crises. You can see that relative calm even in the Southern part of the country and South-South, which were major
challenges at the time we came in 2015, but because of the interface, mediation, negotiation and 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 issues of self-determination as exhibited in 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 towing 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 them. Like the
President would always give assurances that we would work to avoid the conflicts which are needless, the office of the OSGF has done a lot in that area. 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. We have had series of meetings. Not long ago, I was in Kaduna, where we had a joint one for the Northern states and subsequently we had that of the South-East in Owerri. We are working to have that of the South West in Ibadan or Lagos, which we haven’t fixed the time and one for the South South. And to move a little bit further, some of these conflicts and clashes that we have had come from suspicion that has eaten deep into our psyche as a result of religious differences. NIREC, which is the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council which have existed before I came into office but for a period of about six years has held no meetings. I had to do a lot of spadework to convince the leadership that we needed to go back to the negotiation table and begin to talk. When the people outside begin to see the leaders of different faith talking, it encourages them to have a sense or feeling that our problems will be sorted out. And that has helped us tremendously and we have had segregated meetings in all the six geo-political zones where NIREC could be meeting at different levels. The same thing with the National Council for Traditional Rulers which is part of what we are doing in addition to what the government is doing as well as the OSGF because we have the responsibility for public safety and security. So we have to take these steps to ensure that our people are in dialogue, talking and trying to find solutions to the problems that have engulf our country. I am confident that as much as we do that it will reflect in our communities and we would find solutions to our conflicts and begin to accept that we need to resolve our conflicts than engaging on the shedding of blood that has really caused a stigmatization of our nation. In the area of fight against corruption, so much has been done in terms of recoveries.
But the basic thing is about going forward as we go into 2019-2023 what the government will be looking at is strengthening the institutions; putting in place mechanism that will help stop corruption from taking place at all because it comes with a lot of expenses which I know require a lot of paradigm shifts. One way you can do it too is to begin to create safety nets for the people that are involved in the work place. One of the things that is a motivation for corruption is the fear of the unknown; you are working today and you are not sure of the future, and you will be 60 very soon and you don’t have a home, a good car, still have kids in school; how will you cope with that kind of life and all these propel 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 stigmatized 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 places 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 and after they are disposed and the funds generated will be ploughed into treasury account. Because of the single treasury system that has been put in place, so much money can be accumulated and be used to fund projects, provide for social services for the people of this country. 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, in a better way, we have succeeded tremendously. Not only that, even in the area of agriculture, so much investments have gone into agriculture. The anchor borrowers’ scheme has provided so much resources. As at the time we went to campaign, it was about N86 billion that was expended from that and you know how many millionaires have come out through the scheme, particularly in the area of growing of rice. We grew the rice farmers population from 4 million to 12 million. So, it’s a mass of people that have benefited from that scheme. Then the social investment programme has, in the last two years, done so much in creating wealth for the small business people. Is it the farmer money or the trader money, market money, and so many of these programmes have helped generate employment for the people. The school feeding programme in the south has created wealth for a lot of people and so many people have gone back to the farms, millions are required to feed the students on daily basis, so much monitoring are required, so many food vendors, women have been employed as cooks servicing that particular industry. So I believe that to a large extent, we have diversified the economy. We realize that we came at a time when there was a major drop in crude oil prices, but we were able to navigate, despite that to come out of recession, I think we have done so well and therefore we can do better for the people of this country.
Based on the achievements you listed on security, of course, everybody agrees that there is tremendous progress in the area of fighting Boko Haram, but there are allegations that the government is being lethargic or even biased in tackling the issue of Herders/farmers clashes. Even people are alleging that the government is pursuing a Fulanisation agenda. Something tied close to this is also the banditry issue in the North West. There are fears that the crises are not getting the proper attention they should.
I think for anybody to accuse this government of being lethargic in dealing with herder’s-farmers conflict is quite unfair. Because we have been very decisive and even in the categorization of the Fulani herdsmen case. I am a herdsman, but not a Fulani. So particularly in the northern part of the country, it is a lie to say all herdsmen are Fulani. We are all herdsmen. We are all farmers. Some are arable farmers, some are herdsmen and all these are farming in the agricultural sense. One is animal husbandry, the other one is arable farming or crops, which are all farming and I think the dimensions of conflict in this country often time comes with different interpretations, and the farmers-herdsmen conflicts are not new. It has been with us. The communities were more intact. They did not have a lot of extraneous influences. They have a defined pattern in resolving their conflicts in a particular location. If the herdsman allows his animals to 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 the conflict. When I hear people talk about ranches and reserves, this has been in existence. In Adamawa, where I come from, there are several reserves established by law dating back to the days of Northern Nigeria with defined cattle routes. This 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, and partly economic with the growth in our population; with the growth in urbanization, we have taken some of those reserves and turned them into our residential areas. We have belt across those cattle routes because there is a traditional pattern of movement that have been established over the years. You see, we do so many things in this country not minding the consequences that will confront us in the future. We have built across those cattle routes with urbanization. We have taken the grazing reserves and apportion it 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. And this is a seasonal movement that’s why they are called nomads. We have nomadic fishermen. We have nomadic herdsmen. We have nomads in different people and that is why in the early part of the 1970’s, the military thought it fit to even build nomadic schools for them. There is a commission for nomadic education. Most of us do not think that it is important, but it was important then. 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 competition over land, over control of resources. So much has happened as a result of climate change that were not even factored into the whole thing, but that’s the dynamics to it. So, for anybody to say that the government has been lethargic in dealing with that crisis is totally being unfair on the government. There is a crisis. Government and the people must sit to proffer solutions to those crises and I think that is the attempt that the former Minister of Agriculture has been making when he spoke about colonies. He was almost lynched because people didn’t understand the concept. And colonies basically talk about a certain number of ranches clustered in the same place. It’s a language that is used in Brazil and several other countries, but because of the politicization of the matter, it is taken out of the context and blown out of proportion. In the midst of all these conflicts, we are unable to sit down and look at the reality of what is facing us as a nation that we must live together both farmers and herders must live together and pursue their businesses without infringing on each other’s rights. So, I would say we are doing our best, we are making provisions, so much money is being ploughed. States that have given out some portions of their land for creation of ranches, government is going to help them to ensure that those ranches are created. All over the world; that’s how most countries have transited from being nomads. The American cowboys in the US were nomads before moving from one place to the other, but today grazing in the US is restricted to a ranch. That’s what has happened all over the world. I don’t think that the Nigerian situation should be any different. We must move along that direction. So that is not true. Government is doing the best it can to ensure at least that those issue are mitigated. And there is a lot of mediation going on, if you notice there is some relative calm already coming into it, and in the North West it is not the application of the military force that will resolve that issue. It is deep because you won’t believe it that there is nothing to rustle now in terms cattle rustling in the North West because virtually all the cattle are inside the forest. They have all been rustled from the Fulani men and they are inside the forests like bandits. So, the Fulani man is left without cattle and he is being hunted. So the conflict in the North West is deep and it will require the collective effort of the government and the people to be able to deal with it and that is why I was saying that if we are not careful it will surface as an insurgency because it is deep and it will be worse than the Boko Haram insurgency. It deals with the livelihood of the people. You cannot abort the people. The people that used to live in those forest have all been uprooted now. The bandits have rustled all the cattle and taken them into the forest. So, there must be a systematic way of dealing with that conflict that requires the inputs of the traditional rulers, inputs of religious leaders, community leaders to confront that particular conflict; some of the killings that have taken place in the North West. People are just coming in to the towns and villages to kill people without even stealing anything. They just butcher people. We have that kind of killing in Kastina. So, there is a major problem and we have to, as a nation, look at these issues. We are not isolating because there are crisis erupting all around our borders. Mali is not quiet. Libya has come up in arms again, Sudan has erupted. All these things have a way of igniting more conflicts with countries that share similarities with them. So, it’s a complex situation and I know that government is decisive in putting apparatus in place to deal with it.
I would like to take you back to what you said about the economy, agriculture in particular, you said that Nigeria is becoming self-sufficient in agriculture. The point is that the local rice being produced is not seen in the market. What is happening?
It is there, as a matter of fact there a preference for the locally grown rice. Most people want to eat them. Let me tell you the truth, what is coming from abroad is what has been stored in their silos and warehouses for more than 10 years that are being pushing out. That is why it is tasteless. Go to the market and pick a bag of imported rice; its tasteless, but go home and pick your local rice. When you eat it you would know you have eaten rice. So it is nowhere comparable to ours. All we need to do is improve on our production methods to ensure that at least the milling is done and stored. It’s a very good quality rice and the way we are going, we would be able to start exporting rice. Right now, I know the Ministry of Agriculture is trying to start about 10 new 100 tonnes of rice mills all over the country in order to boost rice production and I think that will help us tremendously; truly we are almost 95% self-sufficient in rice production in this country.
In terms of new investments or through anchor borrowers programme?
Most of it came in through the anchor borrowers’ government scheme.
Did government bring them in?
Government is bringing them in. They are looking for partners. People have subscribed. They will help them organise through the Bank of Agriculture and help them set up. It’s an ongoing policy of the government, but I can assure you that it’s a partnership that if we allow it to endure, very soon we will be self-sufficient in most of our agricultural food stuffs.
How do you manage or forestall disputes between CEOs of agencies and management boards?
What we did at inception when I came into office, because at that point most boards were constituted, I had the responsibility of releasing the list of board members and chairmen. We partnered with the bureau for civil service reform and other regional agencies to organize retreats for the board members and the management. Because perception of working with a politician, who have 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 of their responsibilities. The first is to formulate policies in terms of day-day management of the organization that is vested in the management team. Often times, it is the managing director or a DG. 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 the notes that they took during the retreats which clearly define the two arms of the same organization. We have issued several circulars even before I came to the office as SGF with clear demarcation between the functions of the board and the functions of the management. So, we have tried as much as possible and often times, even the office of the permanent secretary general services is involved in the mediation. Sometimes the unions also bring their own and complicate the issues. But by and large, we have tried as much as possible to resolve these issues and where the issues are such that we cannot resolve, we seek for direction from the President on how to resolve it.
There are a lot of agencies now without boards or substantive chief executives and it affects the effective running of such agencies
I can’t really remember just at a glance how many agencies that don’t have boards. When we came, we constituted several boards. There are boards that have agencies that must go through a system – you have to seek for Senate screening and confirmation. If none is in place you can be rest assured that they are empanel now in such a way we will have them in place as quickly as possible. But with regards to where you have offices that are occupied on acting appointment, it is very clear that at the end of the expiration of the office of the chief executives and he leaves, my instruction is that he hands over to the most senior director in that establishment. We have a few not many that have these kinds of situations. They have handed over. Government is yet to constitute that board or to appoint a substantive, but in the meantime it is allowed that a director can act and take hold of that office until an appointment is done in that regard. But I don’t know outright of anywhere before the expiration of office that we have not appointed somebody. It takes time to get all the boards put in place at the same time because you have to search for competent people, you have to do due diligence; seek for security clearance, before you make presentation to the President, so you don’t end up with somebody who will not meet up with eligibility qualification to become a CEO; so these are the processes. Sometimes it takes up to some few months before you clear all these things. But by and large, we still have someone in acting capacity and you can be rest assured we are working towards getting qualified people to fill the offices.
On a lighter note, how do you feel about the re-election of Buhari?
It was a thrill because it was a hard earned victory. We worked very hard for it. In 2015, I was his director, Contract and Mobilization, so I know the amount of work that was put in even then. We had certain assurances because of how well he had done in the last three and half years, leading to the general elections that held in February. 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 the 2015. That gives me the satisfaction that the people of this country are quite happy and thrilled about his leadership style, his integrity, sincerity of purpose. He is a man that has no other agenda but the pursuit of better things for the good people of Nigeria. Presently, I am happy that it happened. It is a thing of joy for us.
How do you help your staff keep pace with your office?
As much as possible I remember when I resumed duties on 1st of November 2017, I told them that I didn’t come to this job with any special skills of my own, but the only thing that I believed brought that sustained me where I was coming from and by extension to where I am is the grace and favour of God upon my life and I felt that no special skill will be able to sustain me in this office except if trust in God and ask for enablement on daily basis as to how to operate. You will be shocked that I have been in this office a year and half and I have not changed a single staff. The people I met in this office are still the same people I work with. The driver I met driving the former SGF is still the same driving me. I have not changed one staff. I come 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 staffs 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 they can cope with my work ethics because it is as simple as that and I am here to work, so if I stay until 2:00 am, I don’t see any reason they cannot stay. They are much younger than me, so I don’t see the reason why they can’t except for staffs that are housewives that I allow to go at about 8 or 9 pm so they can attend to their families. But for the men I never concede to them that they can leave anytime. That’s all we do. We work and I don’t think they have found it reprehensible in any manner. They believed that they are being trained for the future because after our time off the stage they will be the ones to replace us and need to begin to think about working for this country and give it their best. But for anybody that has a privilege out of 180 million of Nigerians to serve as Secretary to the Government is such an honour and privilege; not because you are qualified and not for any other reason, but probably because as 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 many people, who 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.
Are there any challenges in this office?
No challenges that are insurmountable. 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 of government activities demand the use of discretion 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 might be the right decision, it will be decision based on facts or information that are not available to you. So sometimes I get a little bit constraint, 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 Nigerian project sometimes it brings to bear on what you can and cannot do in the office. That I do not consider a challenge because that is the only way you can build a nation by going through the problems that confront the country and finding solution. That is the job that has been given to me to do and I am glad doing it.
I can’t leave without asking you to maybe celebrate your major achievements in office. What would that be?
A couple of them. When I came on seat, 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 and I can tell you that to a large extent, we have succeeded in doing that. Also, to help government track its policies and programmes and sometimes last year, I had the courtesy of launching a compendium of about 1,042 pages of council’s memos initiated by this administration from the assumption of office in 2015 all the way to December 2017. How did I do it? I got the President to authorize that for the first months to three months of 2019, every cabinet member will come in and do a physical representation 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 was 1,048 pages 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 and if there were challenges; 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 am able to look at the plans to see how the government was moving. In the history of this country, in one week we held three Federal Executive Council meetings last week as we were coming to the end of the tenure. I got the President to approve Wednesday, which is our statutory day, Thursday and we were going to meet on Friday, which we couldn’t but did it on Monday and within that process we considered well over 100 memos and sealed up the first stage of the president in a grand way because after he has signed the budget today, expenditure on the 2018 estimate of the budget seizes. So, you can see that because of the work that we did, and the first day we started before the president travelled, we sat for 10 hours. He was fasting but we sat for 10 hours. We went and broke the fast and came back and continued to deliberate on the affairs of the nation. 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 that they should be proud of themselves because of what we have been able to achieve. Never in the history of this nation have any Federal Executive Council been able to achieve within a short period of time what we were able to achieve in the last one week. It was so amazing and I believe that these are some of the things I give myself a pat on the back. And the general celebrated thrill is the seamless transmission of information and document in coordinating government activities and as much as possible the liaison have also created a very favourable atmosphere of work between ourselves and the National Assembly and these are some of the things I will look back 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 responses that we get.
What are your expectations come May 29, when a new administration begins?
I can tell you that I am one Nigerian who is very optimistic and full of expectations that as President Muhammadu Buhari takes oath of office on the 29th of May and looking into the future, there are great things that will come to the people of Nigeria. I know that his focus will remain solidly on the three things that he had promised because we have not gotten 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 by giving him a second mandate.
– June 5, 2019 @ 15:37 GMT |