A Boss for a Time Like This

Boss Mustapha

Kalu Akpala

One of my favorite biblical miracles is when a boat in which Jesus and his disciples were traveling was hit by a furious wave that threatened to swamp them. His disciples were agitated and turned to him in the corner where reclined. They woke him up and wondered why he was still calm in the middle of a tempest.

“Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” they asked. Then Jesus got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. The disciples were pleasantly shocked and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

As President Muhammadu ended his first term in office and began the second term last week, I couldn’t help but recall this biblical miracle. Boss Mustapha, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, was appointed into office in October 2017 at a time of political tempest for the Buhari administration. His predecessor had been consumed by a contract scandal exposed by the Nigerian Senate, forcing his removal from office.

It was a time that tested the political elasticity of the Buhari administration. The National Assembly had gone into full gear as an adversary of the executive, and especially the presidency. The ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) was embroiled in an internal war of attrition while the opposition intensified its brand of corrosive politics. Amid all of these, President Buhari was going through a most debilitating health challenge, and it all appeared the ship of state had come under a severe storm.

Supporters of the president and the big wigs of the ruling party had become concerned and worried. Thus, when the opportunity came for another SGF, many of the president’s supporters asked for a man who understands the nuances of public service and the politics of the country.

Boss Mustapha was the man the cap fitted and his appointment excited not a few Nigerians who set the social media on fire with their comments. He came into office with a resume that showed his vast experience in public service, private sector and politics-a fact which needs no elaboration.

But what has distinguished Mustapha within the short time he has been SGF is not his professional pedigree but how he has used it to serve his office and the country. The office of SGF coordinates the implementation of Government Policies and Programmes and serves as frontline advisory institution of the Presidency.

Not only has Mustapha delivered on the mandate of his office, but he did so to the admiration of all supporters of the Buhari presidency. To his credit, he has efficiently driven the processes of coordinating policy design and formulation for ministries, departments and agencies for approval by government, competently served as secretary to the council of state, the federal executive council and other constitutional councils, which are chaired by the president.

Under his guidance the country has also witnessed renew vigour and timely execution of various projects across the country especially in the areas of massive road constructions, development and expansion of rail tracks, agricultural revolution, and economic decisions which have changed the narrative of the country for better.

He has strengthened the bureaucracy and effectively played his role as a linkman between the presidency and the MDS leading to speedy execution of government policies and stability in the administration in the discharge his duty with utmost sense of responsibility.

His interventions in the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) dispute with the federal government over minimum wage and the crisis at the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) are two of the events that would make his tenure memorable if by any chance he’s not re-appointed as SGF.

The meticulous ways and manner he had coordinated government activities and his other assigned responsibilities as the engine room of the government have endeared the administration to many, especially those who had initially doubted the administration’s capacity.

Mustapha has no doubt been an invaluable asset to the Buhari administration as he was able to bring stability to the machinery of government. His hands-on experience as a political player and astute administrator was handy for an administration that was in urgent need of an effective clearing house. He became the Man Friday of the administration, acting as an efficient liaison between the presidency and other arms of the executive on one hand and between the executive and the other arms of government.

Mustapha took his role seriously, partly because he shared the passion and vision of President Buhari and partly because he was prepared for the job. When Buhari recently revealed he would take “tough” decisions in his second term without giving details, it was Mustapha who waded in perfectly.

He told reporters who besieged him in Yola, Adamawa State, “When we came to power in 2015, about 27 states couldn’t pay salaries; we had to take tough decisions like giving them bailout and Paris Club refund. “These are tough decisions,” Mustapha said.

He also identified the ban on rice and fertilizer importation as one of the tough decisions taken by the government and which yielded positive results by boosting local production, among other things.

“By such tough decisions we are able to raise the number of rice farmers from 4 million to 12 million and we are about 98 per cent self-sufficient in rice,” he stated.

There is also a reason why he’s able to serve Buhari as a bridge builder, holding together a disparate group of support bases that translated into resounding electoral victories for Buhari in 2015 and 2019. He revealed this himself during an interview with reporters where he described Buhari’s recent electoral victory as “hard-earned.”

“We worked very hard for it. In 2015 I was his director of contacts and mobilisation, so I know the amount of work that was put in it,” he said, adding that they expected victory but never knew it would come with such huge margin.

Well, whether he wants to take credit or not, Mustapha is one of the reasons for that margin of victory.

*Akpala wrote in from Umuahia, Abia State