SPEAKER of Osun State House of Assembly, Mr. Najeem Salaam, in this interview speaks on unpaid salaries in the state, Justice Oloyede’s petition against Governor Rauf Aregbesola and the proposed summit being championed by a group among other issues.
By Gbenga Olarinoye
THe insolvent status of Osun appears to have grounded the business of governance. Are you not worried about this?
Bankruptcy is declared when a state or an institution has gone under. Osun has not gone under. Yes, we have financial challenges but they are temporary. We are working around it. I must acknowledge the unalloyed support of the people and some section of workers who think beyond the box.
Osun is passing through a phase and it is so because Osun just like others is a constituent unit of a troubled nation, which was raped badly by the ousted Peoples Democratic Party,PDP.
And if President Muhammadu Buhari could describe the country as an Augean stable that must be cleaned up, what do you expect Osun as an integral part to do? The predicament is not the making of the governor or as a result of poor economic planning. It is a structural problem and not until the top gets it right, the federating units would still be contending with epileptic economy. The kind of federalism we practise is what I call ‘feeding bottle’ federalism. Osun is the least paid in terms of allocation and now that our allocation has fallen short of what we are used to, what can we do? We are Strategizing on how to wriggle out. It will take time, but we have to do it.
Some believe the governor dragged the state into this condition of indebtedness. How do you react to this?
People are entitled to their opinions, but it would be unfair to hold the position of the opposition as statement of facts because their insinuations are full of fallacies and innuendoes. Let it be known that the executive doesn’t do anything without the knowledge of the legislature. So, when some people say the governor has done this or that, the impression is that the governor has the power of life and death. Governor Rauf Aregbesola came to Osun and was dissatisfied with the state of under-development he met on ground. He vowed to change the sedentary life of the people, reawaken its commerce and position the state among the comity of performing states. He began with infrastructure, education, agriculture and youth engagement. Look, we should be careful not to make crime out of the zeal to serve because it is convenient for Aregbesola to pay salaries and flashes some substandard projects. But he chose to work and the opposition are talking.
On debt profile: Tell me of any individual who intends to be great that would not incur debt. When I wanted to build my house, I took loan from a bank and I suffered to pay back. When an industrialist wants to establish an industry, he approaches a bank or consortium for fund. Then, what is the issue in approaching financial institutions to source for funds to finance public infrastructure? America with its might has a debt ceiling of over 17 trillion dollars. We have to be fair to ourselves when criticizing a government. Of course, it could have been a different ball game if the those monies were borrowed to finance consumption.
It saddened me that we have to resort to borrowing to offset pension and salaries, but for the fact that the banks could not lend us for now as a result of vindictive directive given by the Jonathan administration, people are shouting that the state can not pay salaries.
A serving judge in the state judiciary recently petitioned the legislature to investigate Gov Aregbesola for alleged financial recklessness. How do you see that?
We have more than one petition against the governor and we have inaugurated an investigative panel headed by my deputy, who is a lawyer, to work on the petitions.
But the minority leader opposed the composition of the committee, protesting the exclusion of opposition members…
Those who wrote the petitions knew that the House of Assembly under my watch is credible and they have faith in the process. Besides, it is my prerogative to constitute the committee. As the Speaker, I see all members as honourable men, but all of them could not be appointed into the committee. Moreso, ranking and experience count in legislative business. The chairman has been in the House for more than six years and he is very competent to head the committee. So, it is a committee that is carefully put together to serve the interest of the people. As for the minority leader, he is playing his role and does not have to agree with us on everything.
Meanwhile, the report would be submitted to the House for debate and the minority leader will have his say on it, but if he is part of the committee, he would be barred as a matter of rule, to speak on it when the report is presented. So, he should know that we have done him a favour by reserving a room for him on the floor when the report is ready. I chose to toe that part to prevent tyranny of the majority.