Hon. Taofeeq Olawale Abdulsalam is the Ondo State Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure. In this interview with AKINLOLU ABAYOMI, the Ikare-Akoko born Taofeeq who served as the Speaker, Ondo State House of Assembly for two years revealed reasons ex-governor Segun Mimiko schemed for his removal as the head of the state legislative arm; his principal, Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu’s achievements, why he ventured into politics and other issues.
Thank you very much, I will say being a commissioner is more challenging than being at the House of Assembly because at the House of Assembly there was what I will say freedom, everyone was equal but here you take instruction from your boss and report to him. In the House of Assembly, you discussed with the speaker, we focused on legislative duties and made laws. Being a Commissioner in charge of the Ministry of Works, I am not an engineer and I have tried to learn and know the needed things. Thank God I am now familiar with the terrain. The challenge was learning about things relating to engineering but thank God it was eased through divine support and we are getting things done through the support of His Excellency.
In specific terms, what would you say were your achievements as the Speaker of Ondo State House of Assembly?
There was a change of government four months after I emerged as the Speaker. Late Dr. Segun Agagu’s government was sacked via a court order and Dr Segun Mimiko surfaced. That was the number one challenge because it was very shocking, no one expected it. We were able to stabilize the House because there was a lot of pressure from different quarters. We were able to make the government to see us as a friend and partner in progress. Despite so many harassments, we decided not to do anything that would rock the boat. We maintained that this is Ondo State, and that everybody must make the state great. That was one of the major challenges and we are happy we were able to control the situation and things were going on well. Unfortunately, because of interest here and there, the governor had interest that he wanted to be comfortable with somebody occupying such seat and that such a person must belong to his party, the Labour Party, he had to spend a lot of money to change the leadership of the House. But I enjoyed myself as a member of the House of Assembly and as the Speaker.
Do you think there were things you ought to have done then that you didn’t do, that you possibly regretted? Or you didn’t regret any of your actions?
Alhamdulillah for everything. Well, the then governor tried in so many ways, the then deputy speaker (who is now a member of the House of Representatives) and I tried a lot not to divide the house. I made him (the former governor) know that he was in the Labour Party and that we were in the PDP and that we will continue to work together. A lot of sacrifice was made, the deputy speaker and I were on suspension for 11 months and we survived it, it was the grace of God.
You are a lawyer; did you challenge your removal in court?
With due respect to our judiciary, we were in court and at the end of the day, I remember the judge said we didn’t have locus standi and going through memory lane, I thank God for everything.
When you eventually opted to join the APC, what were the factors you put into consideration?
Well, when we decided to move was when we saw that PDP was becoming an empty party, it was then becoming known as ‘korofo party’. Because everybody that matters in the state had left. We therefore decided that instead of waiting, we could go to another party to contribute our quota and we were on it for like 2 to 3 months discussion on what to do and how to go about it. Eventually, we decided to move to the APC. When we moved, there was nobody in the party again and till today the party has not been the same and I am sure it is not going to be the same because they have a lot of issues they are trying to sort out. I thank God that I left the party and since we have moved, we are enjoying ourselves.
What really made you venture into politics, was it by accident?
Thank you very much, I joined politics because I see it as a way of contributing my quota to the development of my people and I was convinced that God can use me to change a lot of things and I discussed it with my family, we prayed about it and they encouraged me, my brothers, my siblings, everybody nudged me on.
Has there been an instance that you felt like quitting politics?
There have been so many instances, the reason being that you feel that this thing must go this way and you see somebody pulling you back, frustrating every effort you make to get things improved. For example, we were doing constituency project in my area which I had to borrow money because the then governor said he was not going to pay us. The project, which ought to have been to the benefit of the whole community eventually failed. When you consider such scenario you will ask ‘is this politics? Politics is to serve the people and make things better for them but when you want to make effort towards getting that done and someone discourages you, one will have a second thought. Thank God, the former governor and I are now friends though.
You are the Commissioner for Works, the Akeredolu’s administration has spent more than a year in office. What has your ministry done so far?
Immediately I was sworn in as the Commissioner for Works, there were request letters from various communities and within a month I asked some contractors to mobilize and within a year we were able to complete the construction of 65 kilometers of road, parts of which are Idanre, Ifon, Ikare, Sabomi, Akure and we are still doing more. The governor regularly reminds us that everything the government is doing is the right of the people, not by accident and that the people must feel the impacts of the government. We have done a lot and we are still doing. As at now, you cannot get to any senatorial district without finding one or two works going on. In the South, work is going on in Ese-Odo, Ilaje, Ore. In the Central, we have about seven kilometres of road in Akure and we want to open up another road that will link Idanre with Akure. Hopefully in another seven months when the rain subsides, many of the contractors will be able to continue and complete the projects.
How do you source for funds to finance the road projects cognizant that the three-tier levels of governments have faced difficulties in terms of funds?
What we normally do is that we don’t mobilize. We only negotiate and reach solid agreements with the contractors. That has been the system and it is really working for us.
How would you describe your working relationship with Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu?
He is somebody that calls a spade a spade. He is quite blunt and frank. When you are good, he will acknowledge you. I have a very good relationship with my principal, Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu. He drums it into our ears, I mean all the commissioners that we are here to serve the people and that at the end of the day they will remember us for the good things we have done. All the commissioners have the same good rapports with the governor.
In the next two years, can you give us an idea of the projects that you believe must have been completed?
In the next 24 months, I am sure what we are doing in Ikare would have been 90 percent concluded. In Idanre, if not because of the rain, it should be completed in the next 10 months. Our target is that by the middle of next year, 80 to 90 percent of the projects must have been completed.
We observed two things in the state capital; cars are not allowed to park on the road. Secondly, there were government agents filling potholes while the security agents stood to monitor things and face the task of controlling traffic. What is the synergy between the state government and the security agencies and what brought about the idea?
Thank you very much. What we are doing is to ensure commitment to the ‘operation zero potholes’ agenda. On the issue of not allowing cars to be parked on the road, it is just to allow free movement of vehicles and to ensure sanity. The security agencies have also been quite supportive.
How have you been able to implement it?
We have had meetings with the heads of the relevant unions in the state, the NURTW, RTEAN and others and we made them realize that by the time we start impounding vehicles we won’t listen to them pleading on behalf of anyone found culpable. The private car owners already know that our government does not allow the parking of vehicles in an unauthorized manner. The Special Adviser to the governor on Transport is also working very hard on that.
Who is Honourable Taofeeq Abdulsalam?
Taofeeq Olawale Abdulsalam is from Ikare- Akoko, Ondo State. I am a lawyer by profession and I was at the House of Assembly for eight years out of which I served as the Speaker for two years. I was a member of the Federal Capital Secondary School Board. I was a member of the 2014 National Conference. When the guber election was held and the governor was sworn in, I was appointed as the SSA Legislative Matters to the governor and when it was the time to appoint the Commissioners, he still graciously submitted my name and I am currently the Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure.
Tell us about your family?
I have a dutiful and loving wife and I have boys and girls.
What dictates your choice of outfits?
Well, I will say the choice of outfits depends on my mood and my wife is always there to ensure I look good before leaving home.
What is your philosophy of life?
It is simple; do good and good things will come your way and if you engage in the opposite, sure you know it also has its own reward.
Can you remember any funny thing you did as a teenager?
I remember a funny incident that was recorded when I was about three years old, there was this cousin of mine that we had issues and he was able to overpower and beat me because he was older and had more strength. I pretended that I had forgotten about it, I hid somewhere, picked a stone, hit him and ran back to the room to hide behind my late grandmother. She asked if there was any problem and I said nothing. When one of our fathers said he knew who did it and they asked that I be called, my grandmother said I had been sick since morning and anytime I remember the incident I will just laugh and ask what actually made me do it.
Are there individuals that have affected your life positively that you remain ever grateful to them?
There are so many of them, my parents, I thank God for the kind of parents I have, I also appreciate my brothers and sisters most especially my elder brother who is my pillar, he made me what I am today. My oga, Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu is someone I can never forget too, he has affected my life positively, also in that category of people are Kayode Tokunbo SAN and my political mentor, the late Saheed Abbas. There are others too.