The final funeral rites of Alhaji Bari Adedeji Salau, former Chairman Somolu Local Government, Lagos State, 1996; former Director of Organisation, Yomi Edu Lagos State Gubernatorial Campaign team; former Director of Organisation of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP); and former National Publicity Secretary of the resuscitated Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) was held December 20, in Lagos, Nigeria .
I was by the side of Alhaji Bari Salau when he served as Chairman, Somolu Local Government between March and December 1996. I was his Press Secretary during those short but momentous months, and regard it an honour and privilege to give this eulogy, as friends and associates mourn his passage.
He was a man of many dimensions, a man of many parts, yet the different parts reflected a consistent character. Bari was born in Okun Owa, Ogun State, but practiced politics in Somolu Local Government, Lagos State where he was variously addressed: Comrade, Chairman, Awoist, and Political mechanic.
His occupation was Politician, and his profession was politics.
The Late Bari attended University of Minnesota USA mid-seventies, returned to Nigeria to worked as a Publicity and Research Officer in the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria.
He often described himself as a political mechanic and organised several informal political workshops on grassroots democratic governance for his followers. He migrated to America after his tenure of office in the Local Government, but the love for fatherland had always brought him back to observe and participate in Nigeria’s murky politics. He eyes were always on Nigeria; his heart was always on politics until he breath his last.
Bari Salau would be most remembered as the Socialist Chairman of the old Shomolu Local Government, who could not afford a car after he left office as Chairman of the local government in 1996, whose revenue allocation, then was around N25m monthly.
He addressed himself as a Comrade and behaved as such. Bari had friends in high places, but never took advantage of the positions and influences of his junior and older colleagues, preferring rather to work abroad work to earn a decent living rather than join political opportunism and crass materialism that pervade Nigerian politics.
Members of his political and social caucus included Chief Ebenezer Babatope, under who he served as Special Assistant when the latter was Federal Minister of Transport and Aviation, Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, Senator Anthony Adefuye, General Oladipo Diya, Senator Bode Olajumoke, Comrade Adetola Oseni, and Hon. Debo Adesoji.
Bari symbolised religious tolerance, an attribute presently lacking in both private and public sphere. Bari was a committed Muslim, and in fact an Alhaji, yet, he allowed members of his family to practice Christianity. It is to his credit he never forced his beliefs on others. Some of his children are Muslims, other Christians. What a Nigerian? He was open minded and broad minded, though a Muslim, his graduate thesis was on the political teachings of Jesus Christ.
Bari was a Talakawa in the mould of the Late Aminu Kano. He wanted to help everyone, and this turned out to be his major political weakness. He promised an open-door policy when he campaigned for office, and when elected, his office’s door was literally removed. His office, the Chairman’s office, was a common room while in Shomolu Local Government. There was no visitors’ form, people came in and sat/stood at every available place. He demystified the aura of governance.
The Late Bari was also an unrepentant Awoist. Awo was his god. He was faithful to the sage in life and death. He was disqualified during the Babangida endless transition programmes, for using the photo of Chief Obafemi Awolowo on his campaign poster, yet he regarded it as a sacrifice for his political convictions. He wrote two books on the thoughts on famous politician. These are: Awo and the Nigerian civil war, 1981; and Awoists After Awolowo transition: conflicts within, 2003.
Like Awo, he never abused office. Several weeks after he left office, he transported himself by public transport as he never had a car and could not afford one. On one occasion, I vividly recollect how I escorted him, as he trekked from his Ajayi street residence, famous bus stop, Somolu to Palmgrove bus stop, Lagos, where he joined the danfo bus loading commuters to Ijebu Ode. Many of this followers and supporters were embarrassed that their leader, a former Local Government Chairman trekked, after leaving office.
He never regretted that he did not abuse his office or used his position to accumulate illicit wealth, common place among politicians then, and even much more pronounced now. He was austere to a fault and was mocked because he lived in a society where corruption had been institutionalized.
He celebrated his 50th birthday in 1996 in his rented apartment, and Juju maestro King Sunny Ade who was a resident of Somolu volunteered to be the Guest Artiste at no cost. However, Bari was taunted for celebrating his birthday party as a tenant, with King Sunny Ade on stage. People far and wide expected as Local Government Chairman, he should have made enough money to build a house during his very short tenure.
He was among the greatest humanists I have known. In 1996 when Alhaji Bara Salau marked his 50th birthday, I gave him a card wherein I wrote this message: ‘If leaders are like you, the world will be a better place’. Up till he gave up the ghost, Bari did not do anything to betray this judgment.
Was Bari a Saint.? Evidently No. Like all human beings he had his foibles, but future grassroots and national leaders may need to study the theory and praxis of his political thoughts, in our collective search for progressive leadership and prosperous nation.
Babatope Babalobi email@example.com was Press Secretary to Chairman, Shomolu Local Government, Lagos State 1996.