October 3, 2018

Will Oladapo Oguntade remain the strongman of Ogun State politics?

Crossover service

When the military junta led by General Abdulsalam Abubakar declared its intention in 1998 to hand over power to a democratically elected civilian government and started putting in place constitutional arrangements aimed at achieving that purpose by 1999, Nigerians received the news with doubt, suspicion, disbelief or outright cynicism. Throughout the length and breadth of the country, opinions were divided as regards the underlying intention of the military junta. For fear of being crushed by the military might, many Nigerians quietly and secretly expressed their doubts and reservations about the possibility of that happening within the confines of their homes.

While some Nigerians believed that the declaration was a ploy by the military to hoodwink them, others simply saw it as booby-trap laid by the military to identify and silence the political class who they had overtime labelled as troublemakers and a threat to their autocratic rule. The reasons for the scepticism by Nigerians were not far-fetched especially when one examines some significant events in the polity at the time.

First, the military government of General Ibrahim Babangida promised to return Nigeria to democratic rule in 1993. After the military government annulled the presidential election which was adjudged the freest, fairest, and most credible in the history of the country under very questionable circumstances, Nigerians concluded that the military could never be trusted.

To further fuel Nigerians mistrust and hatred for the military, the winner of the election, Chief Moshood Abiola, was arrested, detained, and subsequently died in the custody of the military government led by General Sani Abacha. Besides, Nigerians did not forget the unlawful arrests, detentions, tortures, trials resulting from trump-up charges, forced disappearances, assassinations, murders, and a host of horrendous and atrocious human rights violations perpetrated by the military government of General Sani Abacha in his bid to perpetuate himself in power.

Against the backdrop of these developments, while many political heavy-weights and opinion leaders refrained from taking part in the new political arrangements, Oladapo Oguntade, spotted this as an opportunity to launch himself into political limelight in his native Ogun state.

A young man who was barely thirty years old at the time, it was a notorious fact in his native village of Ibarra Orile and the whole Ogun State that he was stupendously wealthy. Before this time, he has carried out several philanthropic projects in his native Ibarra Orile as well as almost all the communities in Abeokuta North, his local government of origin.

When there was an acute water shortage, he sank the first borehole in his community, contributed to bringing electricity to the community by singlehandedly purchasing two transformers, paid school fees for indigent students, and offered scholarships to some students in tertiary institutions.

Suffice it to say that his house in Ibarra could be described as some mecca of sorts where he feeds and doles out cash for indigent members of the community. How Oladapo amassed so much wealth at that age when many of his peers were still living with their parents or relatives, or still searching for the few available white-collar jobs has been a subject of diverse rumours.

The most convincing of the several stories is that the circumstances surrounding his wealth are simply fortuitous. The son of a subsistence farmer in Ibarra Orile, his father ensured that he and his brothers went to school against all odds. After graduating from the university, he was posted to Abuja for the compulsory one year National Youth Service Programme in Abuja where he became a friend to the son of a General in the Nigerian Army. It was the son of the army general who introduced Oladapo to his father.

When his friend suddenly died from head injuries sustained from a fatal motor accident, rumour had it that Oladapo sought an audience with the General to return huge sums of monies and cheques left with him by the son who had become his business partner.

This gesture endeared him to the heart of the General who, apart from asking him to keep the money, developed an instant trust for him. The general not only exposed Oladapo to wealth by making him front in several contracts he was executing on behalf of the military government, but he also introduced him to administrators, ministers, top civil servants, traditional rulers, bigwigs, and the top brass in the military circle.

While executing these assignments on behalf of the General, Oladapo invested heavily in the real estate business, bought, developed, and sold properties. At a very tender age, he became one of the big players in the real estate sector in Nigeria.

It was from the General who overtime became his godfather that Oladapo was able to confirm that the military junta was sincere in its intention to hand over power to a democratically elected civilian government preferably General Olusegun Obasanjo. Armed with such juicy information, he saw it as an opportunity to launch himself into political relevance in Ogun state.

With his wealth and connections in high places, he moved swiftly and reached out to prominent and wealthy indigenes of Ogun states who he convinced to contribute financially to the election Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as the president of Nigeria. At the time of the presidential election in 1999, Oladapo not only assembled the power-brokers in Ogun state to queue behind Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, he equally used his wealth and uncanny intelligence to enlist the support of all the “who-is-who” in the South-West region for the candidate. Oladapo was also reputed as one of the highest donors to the campaign of Chief Olusegun Osoba who eventually emerged as the governor of Ogun state in 1999.

Recognized for his contribution to the government at the federal and state levels, Oladapo soared both in wealth and influence. He became a contractor enjoying juicy and overinflated contracts from both federal and state governments. Since 1999, none of his anointed candidates has lost elections in his home town of Ibara Orile where he is almost worshipped as a deity or in Abeokuta North, his local government area.

Depending on the circumstances you meet him, Oladapo is a man to be loved, worshipped, respected, or feared. With money to throw around in an impoverished society, it was easy for Oladapo to build a secret army which comprises mainly of miscreants, deviants, thugs, outlaws, and individuals of questionable characters who rely on him for his largess.

Oladapo has effectively made use of the services of these individuals to ensure his political survival and continued relevance in Ogun State politics. Today, no serious politician aspiring to occupy any office in his local government or Ogun state can do so without his backing.

Tales abound of how Oladapo moves about on the day of elections with his secret army who he orders to unleash violence, beat and maim members of the opposition political parties, snatch or destroy ballot papers and boxes in opposition strongholds.

What is even more surprising is that he is always accompanied by a retinue of policemen when committing these atrocities. Never for once has Oladapo been arrested. Not even when he shot and seriously wounded a member of the opposition political party during an argument over the collation of votes in his ward at Ibara Orile!

Realizing his usefulness and popularity among the masses, the Ogun State Chapter of the ruling All Progressives Congress appointed him as its Grassroots Mobilization Director in 2014. News of his active involvement and financial contribution which led to the party winning the governorship and presidential elections in Ogun State got to the national body of the party which rewarded him with the position of the National Grassroots Engagement and Campaign Director representing the South West Geopolitical Region of the ruling All Progressives Congress in 2016.

As the party prepares for the 2019 governorship elections, the political atmosphere in Ogun State has become very tense. The bitter rivalry and war of words between the incumbent Governor Ibikunle Amosun and the national chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole over who emerges as the governorship candidate of the party are threatening to tear the party apart.

The outgoing governor, Mr. Ibikunle Amosun has never hidden the fact that he has anointed Hon. Adekunle Akinlade as his successor.

On the other hand, the national chairman of the party, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole sees Dapo Abiodun as the choice of the party in the Ogun State governorship race. Last week, many indigenes and political watchers were surprised when Oladapo suddenly declared his support for Dapo Aboidun. If Hon. Adekunle Akinlade clinches the governorship ticket in the state, many of his supporters are worried that Oladapo Oguntade who has become politically impregnable or invincible may become the first casualty. As the drama unfolds in the coming days and weeks, Nigerians and indeed, every indigene of Ogun State watches with morbid curiosity.