The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, in this interview, speaks on how the Buhari administration has fared in the last four years especially in the areas of the economy, security and anti-corruption fight. Specifically, on the herders/farmers conflict across the country, he tells critics to perish the thought that his principal is lethargic in addressing the challenge that has claimed thousands of lives.

Boss Mustapha, herdsmen
Boss Mustapha

On 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. 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.

On relationship and synergy with state governments 

When I assumed office in November 2017, I realized that so many things that were decided at the federal level never took hold 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 a cabinet affairs office which was launched a few months ago. State governments now realize that there was so much going on at the federal level that states were not appropriately benefitting from. For example, when we got the Central Bank to speak about the Anchor Borrowers Scheme, many secretaries to the government at the state level 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 to convince other state governments to key in and appropriate those benefits. Initially, the perception was that this is a political move to have a hold in the states, but by the time they realized that it was for the benefit of their people, they jumped in.

Political differences as possible hindrance

In the OSGF, you have the Special Services Office which provides the secretariat to the office of the National Security Adviser. It deals with security matters. We meet with states permanent secretaries who oversee security matters in their respective states because if there is no synergy, the security machinery at the federal and state levels will operate at cross purposes. That enables us to discuss the security implications of what is happening all over the country.

On coordinating the three arms of government

Upon assumption of office, I visited the Senate President and Speaker of the House Representatives to extend my hand of fellowship to them.

Many government 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? 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.

On the objectives of the guidelines from the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit

The NFIU law empowers it to monitor withdrawals, movements of funds, everything that deals with finances as it affects our nation. We have to keep a watch of 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 destabilization in many countries. So, it is important that we too monitor how funds are moved within our system. That unit that used to be part of the EFCC has now been moved out of the commission. But what I am saying is that in doing its job, we have to manage it in such a way that we are all partners. We will try as much as possible to create a platform for the resolution of whatever issues that may arise.

On the performance of the Buhari administration on three key promises 

When President 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 just got a new figure that shocked me when the Governor of Borno at a meeting mentioned that in 2015, 22 of 27 local government areas of the state were under Boko Haram. Today, I can tell you that not a single local government is under Boko Haram. We are not completely out of the woods yet, but I can tell you that 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 are battling banditry which has taken a new dimension altogether. And kidnapping is becoming a commercial enterprise.

There are many aspects of insecurity 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 mediation, there has been relative peace even with the issues of self-determination as exhibited in the south-eastern part of the country. So much is being done in terms of interfacing with the governors and the leadership of the South-East trying to dissuade people from toeing that path that will not be of benefit to anybody. Still on security, we have tried as much as possible to interface with traditional rulers being the first respondent in most communities through the National Council of Nigeria Traditional Rulers which is co-chaired by the Ooni of Ife and the Sultan of Sokoto.

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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 convince the leadership that we needed to go back to the 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 geo-political zones at different levels. The same thing is going on with the National Council for Traditional Rulers because we are all responsible for public safety and security.

In the area of anti-corruption fight, 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 to stop corruption from taking place at all. One thing we can do is to create safety nets for the people in the work place. The motivation for corruption is the fear of the unknown. You’re working today but you don’t know the future. But once you are able to create a safety net; something that can take care of people in terms of accident, insurance packages that can cover them and their families, people will indulge less in corrupt practices. No government in Nigeria’s history has recovered the kind of money that we have recovered from looters, the kind of properties that have been seized.

On diversification of the economy, I think we have done very well particularly in the area of development of infrastructure. And 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 had been expended and you know how many millionaires have come out through the scheme, particularly in the area of growing rice. We grew 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 small business people. Farmers Money, Trader Money, Market Money have helped to generate employment for the people. The School Feeding Programme is creating wealth because so many people have gone back to the farm to feed students on daily basis. I believe that to a large extent we have diversified the economy. We came at a time of a major drop in crude oil prices but we were able to navigate and come out of recession.

On the accusation of lethargy in tackling herders-farmers conflict and banditry in the North-West

I think for anybody to accuse the Buhari government of being lethargic in dealing with herders-farmers conflict is quite unfair because we have been very decisive. The generalization 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. The farmers-herdsmen conflict is not new. They have a pattern in resolving their conflict 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 destruction, then the herdsman will be asked to pay. And if, unfortunately, a farmer kills an animal that belongs to a Fulani man or a 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 conflict. Ranches and reserves have 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. 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 urbanization, we have taken some of those reserves and turned them into residential areas. We have built 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 1970s, 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 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.

On 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, 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 three and a half years leading to the last general elections. 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.

On his major achievements in office

When I came on board, I noticed that there was so much 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, to help government track its policies and programs, 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 in the first three months of 2019, every cabinet member will do a presentation of what he’s been able to do since his appointment.

It was like a mid-term report and the compilation of what this government has been able to achieve, how much money is expended, what was the status of the projects, what was outstanding 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 in one week as we were coming to the end of the tenure.

Expectations of Nigerians

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 gotten over all the issues yet. 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 see. I am confident and really expectant that as our resources improve in the area of revenue generation, rise in the crude oil prices, making more money available and the tax net expanded to bring in more resources, 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.


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