By Dapo Akinrefon
Otunba Gbenga Daniel governed Ogun State between 2003 and 2011. In this interview in Lagos,OGD, as he’s fondly called, bared his mind on his new political platform, Labour Party, his relationships with former President Olusegun Obasanjo and erstwhile Governor Segun Osoba, and why he is throwing his weight behind the alleged re-election bid of President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015: Excerpts:
After your tenure as the governor of Ogun State, allegations bordering on corruption were levelled against you. How far have you gone with the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) case?
You will appreciate that the EFCC charges are criminal and, according to the laws of the land, when a matter is in court, you can hardly comment. They call it subjudice, which indeed is an offence on its own.
But one can pass a few comments in such a way that one is a bit cautious. If you remember, all the charges by the EFCC emanated from a man called Tunde Oladunjoye. He became the chairman of Ijebu East Local Government Area under my governorship, and there was a crisis in ijebu Ife. On that occasion, a police commissioner was murdered in cold blood.
I rushed there and found out that he was not just murdered, but was actually burnt. I was in Omu at a church service on that day. In fact, I was sitting with former President Olusegun Obasanjo and I had to excuse myself to go and see what was happening.
Before I left the church, I asked the council chairman whether he was already there. He said yes and that there was no cause for alarm. But by the time I got to the town, he was not there. Not only that; there were already issues. We found out that it was mayhem.
As a matter of fact, the monarch of the town told me that once they killed the police commissioner, the whole town was in trouble because he was expecting that the police will react before daybreak and wipe out the place.
So, I moved in and pleaded with the police. I went round and inspected the houses that were burnt and I told the police guard there that I will come back the next day, and if I found any other house burnt; it is not by the people but the police. That was how I saved Ife. It was that bad that we had to set up an inquiry, which indicted Tunde Oladunjoye.
I had no choice but to remove him as chairman. That was why he felt that he could also do something. He wrote a petition. If you remember what was going on in Ogun State at that time; the arrows were coming from all angles. Some media houses were firing their own arrows; I don’t know why. Obasanjo was firing; Dimeji Bankole was firing and somebody called Kashamu came in and started firing his own; all against one person; I don’t know why.
You were attacked from different angles, what was the bone of contention?
The issue is very simple. Once upon a time, there was a state called Ogun and nobody went there. We all stayed in Lagos, if we didn’t come to Lagos, we went to Abuja or Port Harcourt. Abeokuta was in nobody’s mind. But God gave us the grace and we were able to open up the place, and the battle started. That is the summary of the issue. It is indeed an irony.
However, Oladunjoye’s petition stated that I stole $3 million and another N9 billion of local government funds. It was news to me because I had been detained for 10 days and I was wondering what had gone wrong. While I was in detention, I boycotted newspapers. I did not read because I was annoyed, but by the time I came out of detention, I saw that it was even N57 billion that was reported that I stole. I asked myself; ‘when, how, why’. When they were not releasing me, I said that I would go on hunger strike; that they should take me to court.
And as the EFCC confessed later; there was nothing against me at the point of arrest. It was after my arrest that they now started investigating me. And the law says that after 24 hours, you must grant an accused bail, but they kept me for 10 days. And when I was now brought to court; everybody celebrated another governor caught.
However, I called my finance commissioner and said: ‘Where is the $3 million dollars?’ He said they are crazy; that there is no $3 million anywhere. In fact, he said it was $18 million, which was part of the debt recovered; that the money is in the bank and that when we were broke, that I authorized that he should change $1 million to pay salaries and later another $2 million to pay salaries and that the balance was still in the account.
Both the domiciliary and naira accounts were with First City Monument Bank. He said what he did was to ask the bank to credit the state’s naira account from the dollars it had. I asked for the proof and he provided it. Not only was it was true, I also checked the rate of exchange and it was exactly what obtained at that time.
The tragedy that we had was that Daniel must be nailed at all costs. That was the story of the dollars. In all my eight years as governor of Ogun State, I didn’t touch the allocations to local governments. I did not touch one dime. If somebody is a sworn enemy and he writes a petition; is there no weight that people should put on that petition?
To cut a long story short, they had to quash all the charges at that point in time. So, all of that went, but, at that time Governor Ibikunle Amosun had set up his land inquiry, and stories started that I had stolen lands in Ogun State. In the course of stumbling on documents, they ran into one of my lawyers, who had been registering companies for me in the past 20 years.
They stumbled on some companies and said: ‘These companies were registered and he didn’t declare it.’ I said: ‘Which company; some companies that I have not even done any business with?’
What of the issue of assets declaration?
While I was with the EFCC, they brought a form and said I should declare my assets. I said ‘I am not a man of one two houses, so how do you expect me to do that in this dungeon?’
When they pressured me, I said that, statutorily, I am to declare my assets with the Code of Conduct Bureau. Not only that, I was probably the only governor who publicly declared his assets and it was not small.
At a time, I wrote the ones I could recollect and I signed. Then came another allegation; failure to declare assets, but I asked whether they didn’t have interagency relationship. I told them to go to the Code of Conduct Bureau if they wanted to find out if I declared my assets or not. It was not a page declaration, about 10 pages, so how do they want me to remember all the contents in the dungeon where I was kept? Then all of a sudden they said some billions were paid to some companies, but they later found out that I had nothing to do with that.
They later said that some monies were paid to my company – Krystal Laurel; about N211 million, in tranches. But this company does business with Ogun State government; we sell generators, elevators and others.
They never bothered to investigate what the money was meant for. I don’t even need to who is buying from Krystal Laurel. The company has about 2,000-customer base and I don’t know all of them. After they investigated me to my pants, they now said those around me were the ones keeping the money for me.
Though in criminal prosecution, you are presumed innocent until you are found guilty, in all of these, I am just praying because if a judge wants to be nasty, he can always find something to say.
What is your next political move now that 2015 is fast approaching? Are you interested in running for an elective position?
What happened to me in 2011 was an irony because a new government came with pomp and pageantry; started doing his own bit, and I had told my people that ‘the election has been fought and won; that the state is our state, and for the sake of our state, please let everyone cooperate with the new governor.’
That was my consistent public declaration. But what happened? I guess the governor decided that the only issue for him is OGD.
Every single step that he has taken, every project that he has done, is just OGD (Otunba Gbenga Daniel); either to erase OGD or to surpass him. How can that be the philosophy of a government? However, the fact of the case is that a large number of our people continue to blame me, and I ask: ‘What have I done? Our structure lost an election; you have a new governor. They are now blaming us for what is perceived as the non-performance of this governor.
He is building bridges and roads, so how does that become my problem.’ But our people said: ‘We can do with a better governor.’ And because they are blaming me, I found myself in a position where I have no choice but to contribute to the process of giving our people a better governor.
If that means that I have to work with Labour Party, the Peoples Democratic Party and President Goodluck Jonathan, it doesn’t matter. It is just to find a formula for change, which the people are blaming me for.
That is my next political move, God willing. And I think that it shouldn’t come as a surprise if I am supporting Jonathan because I led his South-West campaign in 2011, and he won the election even though I got the wrong side of the stick because of the forces I had to contend with. I am not working for him because I am expecting the EFCC to withdraw the charges against me.
No. I am working for him because I think that, for now, he is better supported to run for a second term for the sake of this country. If there is anybody who has a better reason why I should not support him, let the person table it, so that we can debate it.
You are not unaware of the challenges that we had when there was disruption in oil exploration in the South-South; income plummeted; kidnapping of expatriates was going on and Nigeria was fast becoming a pariah nation. Somehow, that has come down, production has gone up and that led to our rebasing. Recently, it was said that Nigeria’s economy is ahead in Africa.
When we play politics, we all have to be pragmatic. So, I think that we have to maintain that equilibrium and then go back to the trenches again to begin to look for who will succeed him; that is my position.
Recently, you sent out a message eulogizing your predecessor, Chief Segun Osoba, on his birthday. Have you reconciled with him?
Quite naturally, Osoba must be bitter. It was like the lord of the Manor; a sitting governor; a Goliath and, all of sudden, a David came and removed him. There was nothing I did beyond the election, and the fact remains that he is my predecessor, and, at 75, there is no way I should not wish him well. I have done my beat. He ruled Ogun State to the best of his ability; I didn’t say he didn’t do well.
But when we came; we did things slightly differently from the way he did. We were a bit faster, but it doesn’t matter because, at the end of the day, what does Nigeria want? Sometimes, it is the slow lane because all those who did things a bit faster, what happened to them? This country will not make progress until we appreciate our responsibility in government. May be as corporate person, I understand that the only way you can provide stability for your creditors and customers is to ensure that there is consistency.
The only way that people can come and invest is when they see consistency. The projects that turn around the fortune of the people are not these short term projects, but long term projects. Government comes and government goes; that was what we demonstrated. Regrettably, they say it doesn’t happen all the time, and regrettably it is the direct opposite of what has happened in Ogun State today.
Because there is policy summersault and inconsistency, people who want to bring big money will not come to Ogun State. It is not a question of window dressing, there is no consistency. When a governor or president signs a project, it is sacrosanct. When as governor of Ogun State, OGD signed a Certificate of Occupancy, it is no longer an OGD matter; it is the governor of Ogun State. Our governor has started a precedent; he is so excited that his predecessor is arraigned in EFCC box.
But whether we like it or not, subsequent governors of Ogun State will go inside that box. I also have friends, people that I have helped over the years; they are compiling their own papers.
Somebody has to explain the cost of those roads sooner than later because it is a precedent that has been set. The income of Ogun State cannot sustain the state, likewise that of Nigeria.
What sustains every country is venture capital. That is what is sustaining Dubai. What did they do? They created the right environment for investment and they went to sit down and enjoy our money. I had thought that with our level in Ogun State; with our level of education that we should be sophisticated enough to appreciate some of these things.
Is it true that Amosun made you governor in 2003? There is this story that he introduced you to Obasanjo as an indigene of Sagamu, when you are actually not.
I attended Baptist Boys High School just like Obasanjo. While he was prosecuting the war, I was already in school. He was one of our heroes; he came home to our school in Abeokuta to greet us.
Seun Obasanjo, who is running Obasanjo Farms today, and my first son, Rotimi, grew up together in the house of Mrs. Obasanjo. Who is this man who said he introduced me to who? What is he talking about? Amosun did not take me to Obasanjo. I know that Amosun came to Chief Adegbenro and they took him to Owu village. That was how he got introduced to Ogun State.
Then the following election, he left Ewekoro and contested from Abeokuta North, and the next one, I am told that he has moved from Abeokuta North, he has gone to Ajura Ward and he wants to contest under Abeokuta North. Those of you who are not politicians may not know the implication of this, but politicians like us appreciate what that means.
Some people claim that you ran a government of vendetta. That you neglected some areas in road projects because they voted for Amosun in 2007. How true is that?
Ididn’t run a government of vendetta. You talked about roads, and I was shocked when you said I neglected some areas because somebody voted for Amosun. In which election was that?
In 2003, we won all the elections except one House of Assembly seat in Water Side. We had 25 state Assembly seats; nine House of Representatives and three senators. But, in 2007, we did better; we now won all the House of Assembly seats; all three Senate and nine House of Representatives seats.
They took us to court and the court threw out their petitions. I am not aware of any area in Ogun State that did not vote for me while I was contesting. And I am not aware that there is any location that I lost election to Amosun. The issue of roads is a question of available funds. What is in a road that you will not fix? Is it not a question of awarding contract? But when the money is not there, you prioritise.
When Amosun started the bridges, people from other zones started complaining and it became a question of you want bridges, you will get one; no economic impact assessment; is that governance?
Something is definitely wrong in the psyche of the people running our state today. But no matter what the case may be, they say the people deserve the kind of government they get.
When I was leaving, I told them that the liability we left was about N49 billion, but they said it was N100 billion. However, today, three and a half years later, members of the House of Assembly are telling me that Ogun State has borrowed N300 billion. So, all the roads and bridges are borrowed funds. How do you rate that as performance?
What is your relationship with Obasanjo?
Chief Obasanjo is our father. We can have fundamental difference based on principles, but he remains an elder statesman. There is no issue, we disagreed on principle. I once asked him why someone will whisper something to him and he won’t bother to check and he believes that and only to find out that it was balderdash.
I think all of you have learnt from what has happened because when somebody wrote that he spent N3 billion to destabilise my administration; not N3 billion to build but to subvert my administration.
What did I do? Those are the issues, and when Baba hears and he doesn’t check, it usually leads to disaster. And it is a thing of regret that the person who combined with Baba to destroy my administration has now faced him.
How is life after office? Do you feel betrayed by some of your aides?
Betrayal is another name for politics. If you are not betrayed in politics, something is wrong with you.