By Bashir Adefaka
Former Ogun State governor, Otunba Justus Olugbenga Daniel on Thursday November 27, 2014 received Vanguard Newspapers’ General Editor, Mr.Adekunle Adekoya and Bashir Adefaka for an exclusive interview during which he spoke on the state of Ogun State politics and other issues.. Excerpts:
I think the best way to start this interview is for you to make an open statement on the state of politics in Ogun State. What is your take?
I don’t know where to start from because, as you can decipher, a lot of has happened. First, as a
country, we have made tremendous progress. We could say it is definitely not yet uhuru because we still have several areas of challenge that you and I are conversant with. .The issues of security and power. Those are the two knotty issues that we are facing nationwide. But in our own state, Ogun, it has been three and a half years now getting close to four years since we had the change in the
administration. I will think that it is a mystery, and depends on what angle you are looking at it. They have made additional progress in so many areas but there is no doubt that we have also retrogressed
unnecessarily in so many other areas. So, whether the retrogression is more than the progression or vice versa is now the perception of whom you are talking with. I am sure if you are talking
to the people in government, they will definitely tell you that they have done quite a lot; they are building bridges across the state and that they are expanding roads, which are clear evidence.
But if you ask some other people, they surely have a completely different view. I think from the
amalgamation in 1914, it is now one hundred years, governments have been coming in and going out. But clearly in these hundred years, the number of roads that have been tarred have fallen into insignificance
. So, if you want to look at it from my own perspective, I will say the government in Abeokuta, to a large extent, has failed.
How do you mean, Your Excellency?
Okay, I can begin to look at it from the things that are important to the people. Because of our own culture, education is key to our people. Employment is key to our people. Once people now get
educated where many families spend fortunes, borrow money to send their wards to school to get qualified, they come out, they cannot get any job and government policy is not directed towards job creation, then that government has failed.
I think they are talking about the case of major towns in the state, let us even forget about the rural places that have not been touched, even the so called places that have been touched, that have had their
own distribution of bridges; because it does appear now that this administration is assessing itself by the number of bridges that have been constructed; so even in those places that have had bridges, the agitation is even more. Because people would say that, “Yes, we have seen these bridges under construction but they have not added any value to our lives. In the course of constructing these bridges we have lost our shops, our means of livelihood and the worse is that we have lost our homes so much that even our dead have not been spared; our dead have been exhumed.” If you know the meaning of that in the Yoruba mythology, they will tell you it is a curse. And yet, the people who are building these roads and bridges are not our own people. These are foreigners. This is capital flight. So these have no added value.
But more than anything else, in each of those communities they will tell you that, “Oh, if the government knew they had so much money, they should have asked us what our needs were and we would say okay, even if you want to do a bridge here, don’t do dual carriage bridge
where there is no traffic.”
This is the first time I am seeing dual carriage bridges where there is no traffic. If you have so much money, government has the right to say this is my priority. Okay if building of bridges happens
to be your priority then, why don’t you say, okay, I mean the parts of Shagamu and Ijebu Ode that I go, if you go down to Aramawa in Ijebu-Ode, if there is need for a bridge and of course there is no
need for a bridge there, then why is it not a single carriage bridge so that the other billions that are being wasted can be used to tar some of the other roads inside town. The one in Shagamu is a dual carriage bridge where there is no traffic.
I keep comparing some of those bridges that he has built in Ogun State with the nearest one here in Lagos, the bridge that we take to the airport, which over-fly Bank Anthony to the airport. That is a
single carriage bridge. That is the road to the airport and yet, without mincing words, that Bank Anthony Way, Ikeja, is probably one of the three busiest roads in Lagos.
If I want to count the busiest roads in Lagos, I would say okay, Ikorodu Road; then I would say okay, that Mobolaji Bank-Anthony Way and I would say even Allen Avenue and then I would go to Broad Street.
That Bank Anthony Way bridge that links the airport, the nation’s airport, which is the busiest, is a single carriage bridge done 38 years ago! And even now I don’t see them needing a second bridge
there probably for another 50 years. So, why do you now go and do bridges that are not required? That is a misplacement of priority.
Earlier you emphasized education. What informed your education policy that upped the number of higher institutions at the time you were in government?
Everybody is aware that in Ogun State there are eleven tertiary institutions making it the state with the highest number of higher institutions in the country. We did that because education is the bane of our people in the Southwest in general and Ogun State in particular. When I became governor we had Olabisi Onabanjo University; Moshood Abiola Polytechnic and of course the Federal Government established the University of Agriculture. But we looked at the fact that the number of our secondary school students coming out of school who could not be accommodated into higher institutions was high.
We then started looking at areas of demand, which led us, for instance, to the establishment of the ICT Polytechnic, planned to absorb people because for a long time to come, there will still be demand for people who have ICT training. That is where the whole world is going. So, rather than going for course like business administration – anyway I am not disparaging them – and all of those common courses where graduates are thrown on the streets without jobs, let us turn this place our own silicon valley. India is now there Bangalore producing the ICT products of the world. They are now exporting ICT. So, we said, let us use our own state as our silicon valley, which was what prompted us to establish all those institutes. We did the one in Shapade. We established the one at Ijebu-Igbo, we did the one in
Itori and we did another one in Igbesa. We did GIP in Nani apart from the University of Education, which became necessary because it was important to improve the quality teaching. A number of people don’t know that the National Board of Technical Education, NBTE, had decided that NCE graduates are not enough to teach in secondary schools and that for you to be a teacher in a secondary school you must be a graduate in education. And that was how we were propelled to establish the Tai Solarin University of Education, the first in Nigeria and second in Africa, because it is from the quality of the teachers that you have the kind of results that you want from the pupils. You would be shocked to hear that part of what this current Ogun State government wanted to scrap was Tai Solarin University of Education. Why? As we found out, the simple reason was that, this was an OGD initiative.
I was talking to some people and they told me that this is the last year of this administration and that this government has not visited any of the tertiary institutions in Ogun State safe, of course there was one convocation of Olabisi Onabanjo that I learned that the governor attended, he has not visited any.
But what reason did he give, that you are aware of, for not visiting the institutions?
I don’t know and I cannot understand it because when I became governor in 2003, the third day of my swearing in, I was at the Olabisi Onabanjo University and interacted with them. I said to them, “What is going on here? How can I help you students? I tried to meet a few demands. I did the same thing at MAPOLY and I did all round. Barely four years gone, our governor has not deemed it fit to even go and see the state of affairs, instead, what he is saying is planning how to scrap or merge, saying that he does not know how to fund them. You don’t know how to fund university or tertiary institution but it is not a problem for you to be spending close to one billion naira per kilometer on existing road when the best of such that we did cost us not more than one hundred million naira per kilometer. The facts are there. I want to be very polite but this is daylight robbery of the resources of the people of Ogun State.
You wanted to ensure that the four major zones of the state: Ijebu, Remo, Egba and Yewa produced governor of the state. Yewa has not been able to produce a governor. Why?
There is nothing extra ordinary that is not easy for an average man to decipher. Actually, my own take on this is that regrettably people don’t want change. There is a common saying that people who make democratic changes impossible will make violent changes inevitable. And if only our people can learn from these things, we would understand and appreciate the fact that the capacity of a people must not be pushed too far. People say if you push a goat to the wall it will bite you because it has nothing else to do. It has happened all over the world and our own history in this country is peculiar. Once upon a time some people in this country believed that they were born to rule.
There is nothing wrong in the people strategizing to lead in any environment but in any where the principle of equity and fairness was neglected anarchy follows. It virtually resulted into anarchy in the course of the June 12 struggle. Regrettably, we had our heroes and some people had to lose their lives before the incumbent found out that, “Ah, whether we like it or not, we have to concede that some other people should be allowed to lead, which was what led to the current experience that now gave Chief Olusegun Obasanjo the opportunity to be President in 1999. And continuing with that tradition, some other people now said, “Well, if we are the people producing the wealth of the nation, who says we cannot rule?” And this struggle started with Ken Saro-Wiwa. He had to be the matter of that struggle. Additional attempts were made to suppress all of that until finally the oil pipelines were now getting blown and kidnapping set into our environments; kidnapping of expatriates, things that were strange to the Nigerian lexicon, they created it indirectly. And when things were getting to hell, they became clear that if you didn’t allow the South South to rule, there probably may not be peace. That is where we are now. And where we lack equity and fairness, there cannot be peace. Have I answered your question?
Yes, you have, which obviously explained why you formed the PPN and had GNI, Gboyega Nasir Isiaka as the governorship candidate. But in the current dispensation, we don’t really fathom your movement into the Labour Party and all other political maneuverings. Was the Labour Party a special purpose vehicle for that…?
(Laughter). The crisis in 2011 in Ogun State wing of the PDP became aggravated simply because the leadership of the party at the centre did not take action. You see, politics is about struggle and a struggle also has structures. The responsibility of a leadership is to ensure that if there is a struggle that tends to tear the party apart, the party must step in. But regrettably the party did not step in, in 2011 and I think the result is there for everybody to see.
Regrettably, again, the crisis in 2011 started in 2008. So for three years the party had an opportunity to right the wrong but, one way or the other, probably they didn’t think that it was important enough and they were busy with other things , everybody looked the other way. That gave opportunity for the people we called Abuja politicians, which means people would go to Abuja and derive their powers from there without any grassroots support. But if I can answer your question correctly, I didn’t have to form PPN and I didn’t form PPN. It was a PDP open primaries where Gboyega Nasir Isiaka won free and fair and some other people then went and held illegal primaries according to the PDP rules and regulations.
What the party should have done was to say that primary was illegal, null and void and of no effect. That should have been the end of the matter. PDP would have been ruling in Ogun State today but because of the fear of certain personalities, the party failed to do what it needed to do and so illegality now became legality and before you knew what was happening, like Papa Hubert Ogunde would sing, “Won gbare felebi, won gbebi falare, won p’ole kowaja, won tun p’oloko wamu,” meaning that they award favour to the guilty and pass guilt to who should be favoured; they invited a thief to steal in the farm and are the same ones that ask the farm owner to come and arrest the thief. (Laughs).
That was what happened in Ogun State and the only thing that, that can lead to is disaster.
But having ruled for all of the eight years, I have become some sort of elder statesman and I have no choice than to see how we can make peace. In 2011 people felt cheated and said they would have to go to another party, which they did, to try their luck. But after the election was lost and won, I have been working very hard to bring everybody together.
On industrialization you enticed Nestle with N200 million worth of land for them to put down their company at the Shagamu Interchange area of Ogun State. Your successor does not show interest in some of these things
The pain that I have is not so much of somebody trying to re-write history or saying something that had been achieved had not been achieved. That is really not my pain because the people who should know the truth know the truth. But my pain is because the government today, either out of ignorance or out of naivety does not appear to see the larger picture of long term benefits. In order civilized economy, what they do is social security; pay unemployed people money so that they would reduce crime because they appreciate that when there is crime, society cannot grow. So when they are paying social security you think they are stupid but they are not stupid.
After the construction period then people can now be employed and we did something while I was the governor. We gave those companies conditions that 60 percent of their staff, must be employed from the catchments area. What does that mean? It begins to remove the burden of the unemployment and you can imagine the number of families when you have a company that employs 200 people, the
average is that at least one person will be touching minimum of six persons: father, mother, sister, brother and all that. For a company that employs 200 people, over one thousand people are already touched. After tax holiday, you now begin to run after their tax.
What was the position of Internally Generated Revenue,IGR, that you inherited?
When I became governor in 2003, the IGR that I met was between N100 million or N120 million. If they hit N200 million they would be lucky. By the time I became governor, with every energy that we put, we shot to about one billion mark. The day we made N1.5 billion a month we took glasses and said, “Money has come.” But that is like times ten of what I inherited and I didn’t say anything about that. I am now told that the IGR is going towards five billion naira. Oh, fantastic! We thank God but the government should stop saying this is because they have done it. No. They are just reaping the foundation of their predecessors and they should be magnanimous enough to say so.
My submission is that everything they have done is elitist. The bridges are elitist.
There is this thing about lack of continuity in government. When a governor comes, he wants to discontinue all that his predecessor did. When will this culture end among the ruling class?
It is common sense we should all see something good about continuity. It is just logical. I am not sure you can make laws on this. A new administration should have the right to review things but in doing so you must not do it in a way that is injurious to the state. And I want to make myself clear. If, for instance, the government is pursuing what you would call the white elephant project, it has been
awarded and the contract has been signed, it is incumbent on you to look at the contract very carefully, “Can this thing be scaled down so that the government does not lose the money that can be used for so many other things?”
I was hearing, for instance, that the government says that it wants to build the tallest building in Africa and wants to award contract for a 60-storey building. This is building in wonderland. If it is indeed true that he has awarded or is contemplating that kind of project, definitely, it is building in wonderland. First thing first, with the kind of leaders Nigerians have, under the current building technique, a 60-storey building cannot be finished in eight years. It will take at least eight years to finish with the system that we have. So what do you want to do with a 60-storey building? Not until recently, even Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory legislated that they do not want any building that is more than 12 storeys because a 60-storey building is at least about four metres per floor, that is 240 metres high; that is a quarter of a kilometers high! If you look at a quarter of a kilometer in the sky,
now you say you want to building from ground one to 60 and there is no power, in this Nigeria? When I heard it, I asked: Is this fiction or is it service in wonderland? Simply because OGD had built OPIC Plaza. OPIC Plaza was one that we built and we said, well we thank God that we had been able to build the tallest building in Ogun State, second tallest in the Western Region because, apart from Cocoa House in Ibadan, OPIC Plaza is the one that is equally tall. But by the time we were finishing that place we already had tenants. We had telephone companies that wanted to take the place as their regional offices and I am told that the place is now also occupied by banks and everybody is there. It is good! If you now want to beat OGD, instead of building 60 storeys, I think what we did is 12-storey building, you should have made yours 15 storeys and say, “Okay I have beaten OGD.”
That is alright. It is good competition. Somebody else will come and improve on that. The one that was there was Diya because he did the one that was there. OGD came and improved on Diya; you came and improve on OGD and somebody will come and improve on you. But don’t fall crazy and say you want to build a 60-storey building
Finally, most of your peers and colleagues in the governorship forum are now in the Senate or are seeking to be in the Senate. As an elder statesman, as you put it, are you also eyeing the Senatorial position? And what exactly is the state of your relationship with former President Olusegun Obasanjo?
To start with, I don’t know why people keep asking this same question all the time.
But first and foremost, Baba and I have no issues. I said it earlier on when I was talking about the current and past administrations in Ogun State that, “Eni to ba ti juni lo, o juni lo nii,” whoever is senior to you is your senior forever and there is nothing you can do about it.
So, Baba Obasanjo is never my age mate. He is more experienced than I am. He has ruled this country but he didn’t rule Ogun State (laughs); that one I have.
The Nigeria he ruled at different times now has 36 states and he had presided over that and so he has great experience. He had been commissioner for works in those days under the Federal Government and more. So, we have related well and it is people who try to imagine other things. That does not mean that we don’t have differences in matters of politics and the rest but there is always a way things are talked over and that is it. Baba is my own teacher. Any time he wants me to do anything for him, he sends for me and I go there. If I also think that I need him to do something for me, I will go and meet him. .
Then the Senate, for me, is not an ambition. On the contrary, the pressure on me to run sometimes is because some people believe that my name will add value to their own aspirations. They believe that if I run for the Senate, it will rub positively on the tickets of other people.
But I have taken a decision, all things being equal, that I will not run for Senate under this dispensation. Or put it other way, I feel that having achieved the required stability within the party, PDP, I can now successfully say that I am bowing out of the senatorial race. That does not stop me from supporting all the people that I need to support.