Najeem Folasayo Salaam heads the Osun State House of Assembly and is the number three person in term of governance in the present administration in the state. The former Chairman, Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures, a native of Ejigbo State Constituency, in this interview, speaks on the parliament and state of affairs in response to the opposition’s allegation against the executive. Excerpts:
In the last three years, the State Assembly under your leadership has been peacefully conducting its affairs; does that mean there is no cause for any settlement among members and with the executive arm of government headed by Governor Rauf Aregbesola?
Let me start by saying that I have a peculiar parliament under a peculiar government at a peculiar time. Peculiar parliament in the sense that the house comprises 26 members of the same political platform, All Progressives Congress, to be precise. Naturally, it is convenient for a cynic to say that our operation is to rubber-stamp the decision of executive on any given issue. But I make bold to say that no parliament with same party members is more vibrant and robust in debate. This is because arguments are always objective, not sentimental, unlike a divided house where you have lawmakers arguing along the line of political wavelength.
Besides, the resultant effect of our unity of purpose is that we are able to point to a fact that only laws that would have positive and direct impact on the welfare of the people would be considered for passage, and that has been our lot since.
So, what are those laws that the parliament under your watch has passed, and what is their impact on the society?
We have passed many laws in the last three years. In terms of numbers, we have passed close to 25 of them. For instance, the Osun State HIV/AIDS Agency law that we passed is to assist people living with AIDS and HIV to be comfortable and free from stigmatization by the society. It also defines and describes how the funds accrued to the superintending agency would be managed. Besides, we have law on State Security Trust Fund, which was enacted to energize the security regime of the state government, and all stakeholders were mobilized for public hearing to make input before its passage. Today, Osun is not only peaceful, but also secure for any given investment. Ask any of the banks in all parts of the state; ask the people on the street or stakeholders in financial institutions, they will tell you that things have changed.
How much has changed?
Before the advent of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola’s administration, it was always a field day for armed robbers. Let the banks and people of Osun confirm or deny this. Do you know that some of the banks that closed shop and fled in my home town, Ejigbo, have not returned up till now; it was just because they have not recovered from the shock of persistent robberies that took place.
Also, we passed a law re-organizing the name of the state to State Government of Osun from Osun State, our flag which symbolizes our collective history, and crest that depicts our identity, all these were not there before.
We equally amended the public procurement law when we found out that the repealed or amended law was structured around one man, the governor. The new law now gives room for tender board, where things could be done without unnecessary bottleneck. Today, the result is springing up everywhere: roads, bridges, schools, infrastructure, and beautification here and there.
There is this allegation by the opposition that the state government has borrowed up to N300 billion to finance its projects. As the head of the legislative arm of the government that must have been in the know, what is your reaction to that?
Well, the allegation is not only unfounded, but also defied all rules of logics, because I could not fathom how the so-called opposition comes about the funniest figures thrown up. In the first premise, I say no to that. But let us assume that the information has element of proposition, how would such debt profile be kept under wraps? Tell me of a bank or consortium of banks that will make the facility available to a state, because loan has rule of engagement. One of them is that you cannot get what you cannot earn. So, can Osun earn N300 billion in two years? So, it is no issue, please confine it to the dustbin.
By virtue of your position, could you volunteer how and where Governor Rauf Aregbesola is getting money to executive all his ambitious projects?
Get one thing straight, Aregbesola is a symbol of possibility, and his intellectual capacity dwarfs riddles of his critics and cynics. This is a man who had drawn his blueprint long before he got the mantle of leadership, he had done his homework perfectly well, and he knew methods to apply in sourcing funds. Yes, he indicated one time the need to source credit line, which has calculated interest from what you draw not obtained as a whole, but it was obtained to buy off the N18.3 billion loan that was obtained to build six stadia with 30 percent completion. But our state regained its balance to the best of my knowledge through the financial engineering of Aregbesola. So, the way and manner he is getting funds for all projects is spectacular but open to whoever cares a hoot to know. One of them is plugging leakages in governance, and prudence that separates political office holders of today from yesterday’s men.
Is it true that Governor Aregbesola once proposed to Islamicise the state?
I would want to answer your question this way. Yes, he wants to Islamize the state along these lines: Aregbesola threw himself into the electioneering campaign of the 26-member House of Assembly, where 15 members are Christian faithfuls. Aregbesola selected 10 Christian commissioners out of 14. He selected nine Christians as Special Advisers out of 10. He had hosted more Christian leaders, and participated in several Christian conventions and revivals, as a statesman. If these are the characteristics of a man with Islamization agenda, I think he wanted to, but if they pointed to leadership with sense of responsibility, the insinuation can be said to be product of idle opposition that is earnestly seeking relevance, having lost power disgracefully.
In the last three years, what would the state House of Assembly under your watch celebrate as milestone?
The last two years has been very eventful, aside from being partners in the ongoing progress and developmental drive in the state, the infrastructural structures of this parliament have witnessed unprecedented attention. We have succeeded in moving our analogue chamber to digital, and the qualities of laws we have made available have manifested positive results. So, we have a lot, depending on what you want.