Monday, June 20, 2011

Meet Salami, President, Porto Novo Chapter of Nigerians in Diaspora

‘I prefer Porto Novo ... For peanut, I treat prostrate enlargement, asthma and ulcer of all kinds’

Given Cotonou’s galloping growth and the presence of virtually every government office, including the local State House, here; countless people have come to mistake this city for the capital of neighbouring Benin Republic. Truly, Cotonou often tends to dwarf Porto Novo; but, the reality is that the latter remains the official political capital of Benin, formerly known as Dahomey.

Porto Novo may not boast the glamorous marble and glass post-modern architectural edifices that now dot many areas of Cotonou, but this capital city throws up alluring pieces of heritage at every turn. Never mind the intimidating and imposing Nouveau Assemblee National (New National Assembly) complex as you approach Porto Novo crossing the bridge from Djeregbe, most other structures, beginning with Musee da Silva (Da Silva Museum); are antique and quiant and steep in history here.

Porto Novo may not boast the hustle and bustle atmosphere of a city and the commercial opportunities thrown up by Cotonou; but, there are countless people, who prefer the pace of life here. The President, Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO), Porto Novo Chapter; Alhaji Yusuf Salami is one of those, who would rather live in this city; and, we had to travel there to speak with him.
At 65 years old, Alhaji Yusuf Salami looks nothing of his age. Going by his sprightly gait, one could easily mistake him for someone in the 30-40 years age bracket. A herbalist, Alhaji Salami is one example of a prophet, who can heal himself; and, speaking to Travels, he said he had no problem marketing his products.

One look at him and; patients are already confident of being cured after ingesting Salami’s herbal remedies. Interestingly, Ekiti State-born Salami during a chat with him at his office in the Kokoye neighbourhood of Porto Novo; enthusiastically told us how, by God’s grace, he has been able to help countless people find their feet again, health wise. He said patients suffering from prostrate enlargement, all kinds of ulcer, asthma and haemorrhoids, have been treated by him at comparatively next to nothing.

Despite the famed efficacy of his drugs, he said the prices are relatively low; and, what’s more, they are not fixed. Although some of his drugs cost as much as N15,000, he said he was not really swimming in money. “I derive more joy from seeing formerly very ill people regain good health again”, he said. He further explained that, given the many people he has helped to cure of some life-threatening afflictions, he should be a money bag; but, he said he is not because very often, he has to bring down the price to enable even the poor buy. “God revealed the secrets of producing these remedies to me free, He did not charge me one kobo; so, my conscience would really trouble me, if someone died simply because the patient lacked enough money to pay for a cure from me”, he mused.

“If anyone would pay me one-third of all the money they spend going for surgery, I would administer my drugs and challenge the patient to tell me, if he didn’t feel better within a few hours. And, I can boast that anyone I treat never needs to go for surgery again, for life.

Apparently seeking to extricate his drugs’ potency from magic, Salami stressed: “There is nothing spiritual about my drugs: they are all from herbs, which are processed without any chemical additives or preservatives”.

Resident in Porto Novo since 2003, Salami insisted the local Nigerian community there was still strong, even though the impression one had been given was that the number of our compatriots living in the Benin Republic official capital has been dwindling over the years. He agreed that, truly; some have relocated. “Once”, he told me, “we even had an Archibong here”. But, the man; who was a restauranteur, had apparently left for greener pastures.

For many Nigerians, Cotonou is where the greener pastures could be found; but, Alhaji Salami prefers Porto Novo, which is fondly called Haute-kponou. Haute-kponou roughly translates as Chief City, and is an allusion to the fact that Porto Novo is still Benin Republic’s political capital. However, Salami prefers Porto Novo because, as he put it: “This city is for me more peaceful. I like it because of its calmness, and the cost of living is more affordable for me”. 

Returning to the issue of Nigerians in Porto Novo, Salami insisted: “There is a very large number of Nigerians here. But, only a fraction is registered with us (NIDO, Porto Novo). In fact, we would also think that very few Nigerians live in Porto Novo but for the fact that, I get called out so often because a Nigerian has run into one problem or another”.

After assuming office, Salami was eager to establish an office for the local Nigerian community; that, in a nutshell; is how the outpost in Kokoye came to be. “Now, at least; we have a place we can meet, instead of holding meetings inside an eatery or a bar”.

Almost on daily basis, Salami has to interrupt his herbal medicine trading business to attend to some distressed Nigerian. He said it is sacrifice he had agreed to make, when he accepted to hold the office of president of NIDO in Porto Novo. Nonetheless, he lamented the task was taking an enervating toll on his finances since there was no money to run the office. This probably explains the man’s plan to surrender the “cross” to a successor as soon as his term expires in 2012.

With regard to what he believes President Goodluck Jonathan should do urgently to ameliorate the sufferings of ordinary Nigerians, Alhaji Salami said everyone knows that epileptic electricity supply was killing the nation: manufacturers can’t produce, small-scale industries have packed up leading to job losses and increase in crime. It came as no surprise, therefore, when Salami suggested that President Jonathan should address Nigeria’s energy crisis once and for all. “If that is the only thing he can do during his tenure, Nigerians will forever be grateful to President Jonathan; because, uninterrupted electricity supply will naturally lead to solution of many other problems”, Alhaji Salami concluded.

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