Bamidele Salam is a journalist, lawyer and entrepreneur who believes in social re-engineering through active participation in community development efforts, including politics.
At different times, the 49-year-old has worked as a Media Assistant to Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola (2003 – 2007), Chairman Egbedore Local Government (2008 – 2011) and head of media in the office of the Senior Special Assistant to President Goodluck Jonathan on Public Affairs (2012 – 2015).
In this interview with Kemi Busari, the accomplished journalist, now contesting for the House of Representatives seat of Ede North/Ede South/Egbedore/Ejigbo Federal Constituency of Osun State, speaks about his plans.
PT: When and why did you join politics?
Salam– My entry into partisan politics happened in the year 2005. I can say it was circumstantial because I really never had much regard for politics and politicians in Nigeria. I had been actively involved in students unionism as an undergraduate at the University of Ilorin and in Trade Unionism at the level of the Nigeria Union of Journalists.
So, in 2005, I had some youth from my local government coming to invite me to join the race for the chairmanship of our local government. I gave it a deep thought and prayed over it and felt convinced that I have a purpose to fulfill in political leadership.
That was how I registered as a member of the PDP in my ward. Let us take it that I came into ‘competitive’ politics around the year 2005 when I launched my ambition to become the chairman of Egbedore Local Government.
I can tell you certainly that I am in politics because of my love for service. I seek out every opportunity to serve my people in increasing capacities and that has always been the reason behind all of my actions, in and out of politics.
PT: Why are you vying for a seat in the House of Representatives
Salam– You see, to each man, there is a proven capacity at every level of endeavour. I have had the opportunity to serve my people as chairman of my local government and God helped us to make a lot of impact in that capacity. I can say with all measure of assurance that my tenure as local government chairman redefined governance at that level and the achievements of that time are still bearing testimony till date.
If we could redefine public governance at the local government level, the question is why not a notch higher go and serve the people of my federal constituency?
Let me also remind you that I am a Barrister at Law and that means the understanding, interpretation and institution of laws is my forte. So, combining my experience as a local government chairman, with my knowledge of the law and my competencies as a Journalist, I am well cut out for legislation.
PT: What are your manifestoes?
Salam– My manifesto is under three broad areas and we may not have time to go into deep details. But, let me share with you as much as space will permit us.
There is the legislative agenda with a specific focus on job creation and youth empowerment, access to education, equal opportunities for women and the socially disadvantaged, enhancing access to credit for small businesses, restructuring to cater for devolution of powers and finally, access to justice for the poor.
These areas will form the basis for the bills and motions that I will be presenting and sponsoring on the floor of the house.
There is also the advocacy programme. I intend to use my position as a member of the House of Representatives to advocate for the wellbeing and welfare of children and women, senior citizens, teachers, awaiting trial inmates, the sick and physically challenged, labour unions and student unions.
Then, there is the community development and social welfare agenda.
This agenda encompasses my plans to facilitate major federal government projects in the four local governments that make up my federal constituency.
I will also be initiating and sustaining a quarterly mobile clinic programme within my first year in office while also using the position to connect young graduates to jobs locally and internationally.
PT: If you eventually make it to the House of Reps, which major bills do you plan to sponsor?
Salam– My first major area of interest in lawmaking is in amending the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Act 2003 to enhance the capacity of agencies to create jobs for our youths. All over the world, small businesses are the biggest employers of labour.
Unfortunately, there is a painful neglect of this sector due to legal and regulatory defects. Our laws must guarantee access to capital and technical support for SMEs.
Anyone below the age of 35, with bankable ideas should be able to obtain zero interest loan using their certificates as collateral.
Secondly, I will also be sponsoring bills to create a new pool of resource to fund public primary schools in Nigeria. It is very unfortunate that public primary schools have become comatose in Nigeria. This is partly responsible for the over 12 million out of school children we have in the country.
If we are able to create a Primary Education Trust Fund as we currently have in TETFUND, the problem of funding will be substantially solved. We can then invest more in teacher-training, improve emoluments and revamp schools infrastructure.
Another major area of legislation I will be interested in is in restructuring the Nigerian federation to make our states have more responsibilities and resources.
PT: One of the major projects in your constituency is the MKO Abiola Airport that has been abandoned by several governments. Do you have any plan for this project?
Salam–Let us put this issue in proper perspective first. There is a lot of difference between abandoning a project and using a project as a conduit pipe to siphon state funds. The previous administration in Osun State had no intention of constructing that airport; it only needed a white elephant project to execute its capital flight intentions. This became evident with the (number) of billions expended on the project, the number of times it was awarded and the level of work eventually done.
That said, my focus is bringing pragmatic development to the people of my federal constituency.
Since that is a federal government project to which a substantial resource has been committed by the state government, we will not allow the monies go down the drain. I will, together with other stakeholders, explore funding alternatives in addition to whatever budgetary allocation we can influence in the federal budgets.
PT: Lawmakers’ constituency projects are prone to poor, and sometimes non-implementation. What are your strategies to ensure you deliver quality works to your constituents?
Salam– This question will take me into a bit of history. While I was the chairman of Egbedore Local Government, we undertook a number of projects in the areas of electrification, water supply, road construction and so on.
To the glory of God, the projects have endured because they well well-conceived and faithfully implemented.
One of the reasons why projects are poorly done is corruption in awarding contracts and in supervising their execution. I had many instances as a local government chairman when contractors tried to compromise us to overlook their shoddy performance.
In one case, a contractor supplied used electricity transformers and tried to bribe the supervisors to pass them off as new. The head of the department knew what I would do if I detected and insisted that the transformers be returned and replaced with new ones as specified in the contract.
The nickname I was given as local government chairman was ‘Mr. Actual’ because I would insist on the actual cost of contract and delivery of actual specification. Even though as a legislator, I will not be involved in awarding contracts, I will have an oversight function to perform on the supervising ministry and the contractors.
My strategy towards delivering quality service is simple – we focus on needs and not political propaganda. Whatever project we will embark on will particularly target certain needs of the people in such localities. I want to return to communities where we execute projects some years after I may have left office and listen to testimonies of how our achievements are bettering their lives.
PT: What are your plans for education, health?
Salam– As I spelled out in my manifesto, I plan to expand my scholarship and education aid scheme, particularly for students of public schools. This will help the poorest of the poor in our societies get access to quality education.
On health, I have plans to run a quarterly mobile clinic programme that will provide healthcare for people in the towns and villages within my constituency. I also plan to assist at least 1000 people in my constituency to enroll in the National Health Insurance Scheme in the first two years in office.
PT: How do you want Nigeria to be restructured?
Salam– I spoke about the devolution of powers earlier on. My experience as a local government chairman showed that the closer you bring service to the people, the more effective it is to deliver on those services.
Requiring states to get federal consent to explore and exploit mineral resources in their domain is unhelpful. Appointment of a Chief Judge for a state should never be the business of a national body just as states should be able to have their police and prison service to facilitate access to justice.
Creation of wards and local governments shouldn’t be subject for federal authorities just as value-added taxes ought to be domiciled in their states of derivation. These are just some of the examples of issues which should be addressed if we are truly desirous of development. What we run at the moment is certainly not federalist in any form.
PT: Do you agree that our democracy is expensive? Why or why not?
Salam– Our democracy is expensive because we made it so. Political parties have to survive through the funds raised from sales of forms and that has led us into the very high costs of party nomination forms. If our politics mature to the point where members of political parties are willing to pay membership levies, the cost of nomination will reduce. That is one part.
The cost of our democracy is also high because of the prevailing poverty in our society. Poverty has made our people expectant of money for votes. Little as the monies they receive during campaigns may be, it helps a lot of families survive hardship, for a while at least. Add the money for votes to the cost of democracy and you get some humongous figures. But, if we cut poverty out, we will also lessen the cost on that front.
Then comes the huge size of our government at all levels. We run a system of government way too expensive for our resource base. There are too many duplications of agencies, parastatals and structures of governance.
At the state level, you find a governor having a fleet of about fifty SUVs in his convoy. The yearly fuel imprest of most governors is enough to construct many kilometers of roads. Add this to the humongous money spent as security votes and other bureaucratic expenses and you will understand why we remain poor in service delivery, in spite of our huge yearly budgets.