There was a collective sigh of relief when President Muhammadu Buhari decided at last to fill the vacant post of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). The sigh of relief became even more audible when it was learnt that Boss Mustapha, the Managing Director of Inland Waterways Authority, was the new SGF. He has been a familiar face in the government circle since the beginning of the 4th Republic. A politician with an impressive presence in his home state Adamawa, Boss Mustapha paid his dues at the grassroots before making his debut into the Federal Government in 2000 as a member of the management team put together by President Obasanjo to wind up the affairs of the Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund (PTF), then one of the largest Federal Government Parastatals intervening into virtually all sectors of the economy.
He later became the administrative head of the management team up the end of the assignment in 2007. Endowed with a keen legal mind, Boss, along with his colleagues were able to clear up all the contractual obligations, hand over unfinished projects to relevant federal ministries and state governments and neatly transfer all the PTF staff into the federal government bureaucracy. Today many of the PTF staff would be found holding key posts in the Federal Bureaucracy as Directors and Permanent Secretaries.
In a series of articles in the Daily Trust starting with the one captioned, April – A month of renewal, published in the edition of 25th April 2017 and on to the next two, with the caption, The SGF The Nation Deserves, issued on 2nd and 9th May 2017, I wrote extensively on the SGF office, its importance, the pedigree of those who held the office and the need to find someone suitable to fill the post without delay. I had written that, ‘the office of the SGF is too central, too important in the scheme of things, to be left to amateurs. It is the engine room of the government, the clearing house, the sounding board of policies and the secretariat of all major meetings, – – (also) the most convenient link with all ministries and parastatals as well as all states and local governments. In effect it is the one-stop-shop of the government. That is why anyone saddled with running this office must be a seasoned bureaucrat. It is not the kind of job for the boys or for any enthusiastic card carrying member of the party. To appoint anyone less qualified and endowed would be a great disservice, not only to the government itself but to the nation at large’.
Boss Mustapha came to an office whose image has been so degraded particularly by his predecessor. The allegations of contract abuse against the last holder of the office, was patently the last straw. And the fact that the matter was left to linger for so long without a resolution must have impacted a lot on the stature of the office vis-a-vis other offices contending for supremacy in the Presidency. It is therefore obvious to most observers and analysts that the assignment for Boss as SGF has been cut out for him – to restore the relevance and dignity of this high office that has been so badly eroded.
It is no wonder then that the SGF took off at full throttle in the first few days on assumption of duty. The steps he took to quickly extend an arm of friendship to the National Assembly must have won a round of applause. It was relieving to see pictures of Boss on prime television holding talks with both Senate President Bukola Saraki, and Speaker House of Representative Yakubu Dogara, on their own turf. It was a magnificent gesture signifying new ways of doing business in relation to the National Assembly. I say it was also the most physical demonstrative act of a new Pharaoh on the throne who knows Joseph.
One of the most noticeable shortcomings of the Muhammadu Buhari’s Presidency had been its inability to come to terms with the leadership that had emerged in the National Assembly and the haughty contemptuous attitude it assumed towards it. For a Presidency that had come to office seeking to clear security challenges, battle sordid corruption in the public service and provide sorely needed infrastructure one would have thought that engaging the National Assembly leadership would be a first step because they would the other arm of government to give legal teeth to all these set of activities.
It was true that the Presidency did not get the leadership of the National Assembly it wanted. But to adopt what amounted to a warlike stance towards the National Assembly was self-destructive to the Presidency as for the past two years many activities of the Federal Government were slowed down due to delays in passing budgets and the appointment of much needed key officials, a function of the National Assembly.
Activities were paralyzed in Federal Government offices for many months of the year due to lack of an operating budget which the National Assembly dilly-dallied with till about the mid of the year to release. In fact the budget of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) was only finally approved by National Assembly this November.
Now if Boss faces the issue of strained relationship with the National Assembly as a one point agenda and gets to straighten it, he would be writing his name in gold. A good working relationship with the National Assembly at this time would facilitate a quick approval of the 2018 budget and might even spell out a return to the much-desired January to December budgetary circle. It would be a win-win situation for the nation and the APC-led government in case it wants to return to power for the second time.
Another gesture that was heart-warming as well, were his utterances when he met the staff of the SGF office where he admonished them never to refer to him as Your Excellency, but just plain Boss or SGF. Boss was reported to have said, “I will make a passionate appeal – – I want to be addressed as SGF, please”. Many regard this as a demonstration of an uncommon humility that should give him a good start with the staff, gain their confidence and win their support for the tasks ahead.
May be as a final note one could add that Boss should equally face the task of convincing the President to reconstitute the Governing Boards of most of the Federal Government Parastatals that are now without. It amounts to a great deal of scandal that for over 2 years about half of the Federal Government Parastatals have been languishing without Governing Boards. Just yesterday Daily Trust reported the number of federal agencies affected and one is shocked to find that even strategic agencies as Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC), Nigerian Customs Services (NCS), Nigerian Electricity Regulation Commission (NERC) and several others have been without governing boards. It is even worse in certain institutions. For example, National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) had been without both a Chief Executive and a Governing Board for the past two years. Obviously this cannot be good for the smooth running of these agencies, as it would only encourage impunity by Chief Executives of these institutions if left without a governing board so for long.