•Says support for APC gov’ship candidate was pure local issue
•’Don’t link Tinubu’s money with my decisions’
•Explains how he took Atiku into confidence
•Speaks on Obasanjo, Osoba and how he made peace
•’PDP crisis started from Ogun after Yar’Adua’s death’
By Jide Ajani
Some people apparently didn’t expect it when, last week, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, announced that he was not only quitting the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) but that he was also leaving partisan politics. A two-time governor of Ogun State, Daniel was, until recently, the Director General of the Atiku Presidential Campaign Organisation. Last Wednesday, the interview was slated for between 10am and 12noon; but it was surprising that when Sunday Vanguard’s Jide Ajani visited, Daniel was at his top floor office at the Kresta Laurel building attending to his business. As if nothing significant had happened, the former governor, in this interview, says he has moved on and speaks on how his decision to quit politics jolted his supporters who wanted him into lead them to the All Progressives Congress (APC) after the controversial role he played in the March 9 governorship election in Ogun and his odyssey in politics. Excerpts:
How was it at the beginning, l mean politically?
Basically, I started as an accidental politician. It was in this same office, during the NADECO (National Democratic Coalition) crisis and wars, that a few of us felt that our people in the South-West were getting a rough end of the stick. That is how I found myself playing a major role but I won’t waste time on that because some of you know these things.
Whereas I would have been a player in politics even as a very young man when I was running around with Pa Obafemi Awolowo, my parents stopped me and advised that I should face my studies and profession. But we still did what we had to do at that time and the rest is history.
So, clearly, by disposition and ideological underpinning, you can call me a progressive. However, in Ogun State, I had a deep appreciation and, with the benefit of hindsight, I felt we had great potentials that were not being optimally explored. One thing led to another from our Gateway Front Foundation, GFF, and I decided to contest and we won the governorship election.
Virtually all the things we promised the people we would do, I believe we did and even more. The state has been jerked from its slumber and the giant is awoken. Of course I had my own baptism of fire, but the fact of the case is that at the end of my tenure as governor in 2011, I believed I’ve had enough and I was ready to retire from politics. But many of my people did not know this because most of those I spoke to did not encourage me, they said, no.
But when I looked back, I discovered there were many people whose lives depended on me and many of them were not prepared to or believed that we would lose the election in 2011, so just abandoning them at that time would not have been proper. So, I bent over backwards and started a process of reconciliation, to bring everybody back under the same roof once again.
And everything that I tried to do, contrary to the assumption that I was looking for one position or the other, was not quite true. Yes, if any opportunity came, I would accept it but it was not that I was desperately looking for anything. Some even thought I wanted to be a senator, but I’m not sure if l had the disposition of being a senator, but if that was what people thought I needed to do for them to get their relevance, it was okay by me.
But one thing I wasn’t prepared to do was to take the position at any price.
Many people did not know that I was offered (a position) in 2011, I was also offered in 2015, and I said no, not at any price. I was again offered in 2019 by both factions involved in the crisis in the PDP but I turned both offers down in order to concentrate on the Atiku project.
The crisis had been on in Ogun State since 2008/2009. I remember that the first signal of the party crisis was already in 2007. But the party didn’t have the discipline to resolve it. That is the genesis.
The crisis started before or immediately after you commenced your second term?
Just immediately after the second term commenced.
But there were issues with your second term ticket too.
Yes, but those issues we managed successfully.
Immediately after my re-election in 2007, I remember that then-President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua called the party chairman, I think Abubakar Baraje was acting, the late Chief Anenih was there, and he (Yar’Adua) said he knew what was going on in Ogun and that under no circumstance should the leadership of OGD as leader of the PDP in the state be tampered with. God bless Yar’Adua. But no sooner than he died than the crisis reared its head.
Now, to cut the long story short, it is that crisis in Ogun State at that time that has destroyed the party in the state, South-West and even at the national level because it was not nipped in the bud. People initially saw it as a local problem until it consumed the South-West – (former governor) Oyinlola became the National Secretary of the party, he was removed; and the thing escalated to the national level.
When it looked like the chairmanship of the party was going to be zoned to the South-West, I threw my heart into the ring, but then, what happened? The rest is history. Yes, some people insinuated that South-West lost it because the leaders were not united but that is not true. In the course of the race, Jimi Agbaje withdrew; Prof. Taoheed Adedoja withdrew; Senator Ladoja withdrew; Chief Bode George withdrew and I also withdrew on the morning of the contest. So the only aspirant from the South-West that we had was Professor Tunde Adeniran. So, if the people really wanted to give it to South-West, after we all withdrew for Adeniran, nothing stopped the South-West from being given. The South-West was not well-treated. That is part of the reason Adeniran left the party but I stayed on.
The issue of the vice presidential candidate is seen by some as another sore point for the South-West?
I didn’t so much have any problem with the choice of vice presidential candidate. I was comfortable with South-East and Peter Obi. I was comfortable not just because Obi is a great guy but more because if Nigeria really wanted to give the South-East a sense of belonging, with the IPOB issue and Biafra challenge, we needed to unite the country and it was better that we give the South-East. I was one of the pillars of Obi when there was an initial confusion. Everybody that needed to be spoken to I did. And when my own people in the South-West felt we had been given a raw deal, I went to our leaders to explain to them why the South-East should be allowed to have the VP slot, and the matter was rested in the South-West. In fact, we had more challenges in the South-East than in the South-West over the issue.
There are some who believe that you’ve been hurting because you were dropped as DG of the presidential campaign team. In fact, many believe that was a major reason you did what you did (alleged support for APC governorship candidate for Ogun) penultimate weekend?
Not at all, whereas one might say so because I was affected. It was a group thing but a number of people across the length and breadth of Nigeria were not happy that the winning team was dropped to the extent that when we went to Port Harcourt, nobody gave us a chance. We won against all odds.
As a team player, that was put behind and we went to work and worked really hard for the mandate.
I wouldn’t say against all odds but against ‘dollar odds and dollar contest’
That is not quite true because if it is about the amount of money spent, other people outspent us. I was there.
So, what was the attraction for Atiku that made him win inspite of his baggage?
Firstly, there was the perception that he was a more cosmopolitan and a more liberal Nigerian that people could really feel at home with. His spread across the country too mattered. Of all the people contesting, Atiku was the most experienced and, more so, while he was VP, people didn’t really see or know much of him but during the campaign, he could take on any issue in politics, economy, and international relations and so on ex tempore. And he’s seen as one who is able to identify round pegs in round holes more than any other person. He was way above any other aspirant and that is one thing you cannot take away from him. People see him as a symbol of unity for the country.
Two weeks ago, you did the unthinkable. As DG of Atiku campaign and later a major campaigner for the PDP presidential candidate, you chose, strangely, to support and openly endorse the candidacy of Dapo Abiodun of the APC in an election that the PDP was contesting? What was all that about?
First, I was the DG of APCO up until the primary election in Port Harcourt, my job as DG ended in Port Harcourt. Secondly, it is not correct to say that PDP was contesting that election. As you’re aware, I did my very best to remain as neutral as I could be, even while making moves to resolve the crisis. A large chunk of my people were in the Ladi Adebutu’s camp while another set pitched their tent with the Buruji Kashamu camp. My job was to ensure that the two camps did not fight in a way that the presidential election, which was my main focus, would be jeopardised in Ogun State. Once the party was unable to resolve the matter, I then decided to do some balancing by dragging both sides into the presidential campaign.
Is that why Ogun was the only state your party did not campaign?
I was dead right by not allowing the campaign. We didn’t want what happened to President Buhari to happen. You can imagine a situation where a sitting President was almost stoned, even in the presence of security men. What do you think would have happened had we campaigned while the two factions were still at each other’s throat? Imagine if an ordinary person without state power is confronted with such.
Up until 72 hours to that election, there were still court cases. On that Wednesday, March 6, the court re-affirmed that Ladi was not the candidate of the Ogun PDP. Before then, INEC had published that Senator Buruji was the candidate of the PDP based on the judgment they got. But PDP had, at its NEC meeting, expelled Kashamu from the party. And all that I did to bring them together did not work. So practically the soul of PDP was not in that contest.
Why didn’t the party NEC reinstate Buruji?
That’s the problem of the party because the party told the court that it didn’t sell any forms to Buruji, neither did it organise any primary for him and his name was not submitted. What that meant was there was a void. That extricated me as a party man. With that, I was left between the devil and the deep blue sea.
Now, here was Dapo Abiodun in the APC; he contested against me in the PDP primary in 2003 (he actually came second). Though I defeated him, he went round to campaign for me. This (2019 Ogun governorship) is against an APC incumbent governor who has not just shown hostility to me and everything I stood for in eight years of his administration but also now wanting to install a successor.
Apart from my own issue, my people believe that he (Amosun) has not been fair to the people of Ogun East and there was also the old issue of the two provinces of Ogun State – the Egba/Egbado and Ijebu/Remo, that when it goes to each province, each of the component units must have a shot. Yes, the Yewa people are right to aspire but their slot is already being used and it must come back to the Ijebu/Remo axis where
Dapo Abiodun comes from. After his tenure, the slot goes back to the Egba/Egbado province and we pray that our Egba brothers allow Egbado (Yewa) to pick the slot. That is the position.
All the people I spoke with, including our traditional rulers in Ogun East and our elders, laid it bare for me and wanted me to go with the people’s decision.
But did you have to be so brazen not minding the optics which suggested that you were not principled? PDP yesterday, supporting APC today?
Yes, some people felt that we could have done it differently or quietly or be neutral but if I didn’t show my hand, Amosun’s candidate would have won and you saw how close the election was. Don’t forget, we had only Wednesday and Thursday to openly campaign and people wanted to know what OGD would say. So, going public with it was inevitable to be effective.
In any case, at the point when the presidential election had taken place on February 23, 2019, I had managed the situation and I had managed the process and what was left was just the court and legal process, a professional job for top rated lawyers and not so much of political gymnastics.
Some people see this as negating the nationalist or progressive view of you they have, and that this Egba/Egbado and Ijebu/Remo thing presents a parochial side of you?
People usually say all politics are local and that was what played out. Pa Awolowo had said that for you to be a Nigerian, you needed to be first an Ikene man, a Yoruba man before you can then claim to be a Nigerian. Good politicians understand that you must be politically relevant at home, very important.
So friendship does not matter again? Ganiu Nasir Isiaka was the one you wanted to install in 2011. Why didn’t you go for him since you were also supporting Yewa in 2011?
Between you and I, he was our second choice.
Why was he not the first choice?
If PDP had gotten its act together, PDP would have been the first choice for reason of party loyalty, and Isiaka was second choice because, after the presidential election, the party that Isiaka belonged to did not pull its weight because everybody was monitoring what was going on and, for most people, they just did not want Amosun to install his successor. There was nothing against the person of the APM candidate but his sponsor was his greatest asset and also his biggest liability.
But Amosun won his senatorial ticket as an APC candidate in spite of some underhand attempts by some leaders of the party?
That’s another matter. Look, for us, we evaluated the scenario and decided that if we had backed Isiaka, he would not have won still, the time to campaign was not there barely 48hrs left. And Amosun would have had his way. It had nothing to do with national politics; we came home to play local politics having finished national politics.
So, barely a week later, you took another step which was considered unthinkable and even more crass…
(Cuts in) No! That was where the media got it wrong because what was being published was not a true reflection of what actually happened.
The media didn’t get it wrong. The media merely interrogated what happened and put it in its proper context.
No! Even you are wrong. After what I’d decided to do since 2011, we then decided that, having been able to take Atiku through the primary election, through the presidential election, what had happened had happened, we’d held meetings, we’d selected our legal team, and the strategies of what needed to be done had been put in place, and, for me, the rest was a legal process.
Secondly, in the last eight years, I’d had a coterie of people who depended on me for political direction and there is a very large number at that. At a point, we decided to support Dapo Abiodun and he won. For me, I’ve taken them out of the wilderness.
And dependence on you…
And dependence on me, back to where they can now say that they are part of government. You must not forget that it is not everybody we have that has the capacity to stand firm and we must not forget that government is virtually everything in Nigeria. With that scenario, I felt I’d finished my job. It’s not so much of the noise we are making now but the fine legal points that will matter and determine the final results.
In Ogun State, I’ve been able to transit my people successfully and I’ve finished my job.
So, now, I can tell the party, PDP, that I’m off and I should be excused, which I did.
Those achievements you claimed were put in a very exaggerated form?
It was just to trace the history.
Yes! But some people are saying that that history was exaggerated.
No! I would like to hear about the areas of exaggeration. Everything I said there was factual. I said I’m leaving, why am I leaving, and the internal crisis that the party could not resolve in a decade, that the party should permit me, after two decades in politics.
I did not subject that letter to a larger house and, of course, I couldn’t possibly have because people will say ‘don’t go’ but I subjected it to a restricted caucus and I have no regrets about that.
Now, when the thing came out, it became necessary to call a larger meeting and explain that we’ve done what we have to do; this is like my valedictory meeting, ‘you now have your freedom, if you want to stay in PDP, good; if you want to move into APC, so be it’. But for me, I’m staying away from partisan politics. It doesn’t mean that if you need my support in any form in the different parties you would want, I’ll not be available. Let me go back to my Gateway Front Foundation, GFF, from where I started and, if you need my help in any form, I will be ready to help.
That was what I told them and it was recorded but contrary to what I told them, the people revolted and I did not imagine it. It was unanimous. First, they said ‘PDP has not done well with you, so leaving the PDP, we don’t have any problem with that. But we have worked for Dapo Abiodun on your instruction and he has won. You now have to lead us there, you cannot just ask us to go there leaderless’, and, finally, I cannot leave politics. That was what happened and it was recorded.
Our politics is largely hinged on pessimism. Anybody with means can arrange a meeting and get some hungry people to come and play out a choreographed script and speak in like manner?
Again I put it to you that you’re wrong. Whatever it is, if a meeting is arranged in that way, you will see it from what happened instantaneously. I know that nobody believes anything but that is what happened. After the meeting, I uttered no word because I was shell-shocked myself and the meeting ended and I came out. The media then came to ask what will happen next. And I relayed what happened at the meeting. That meeting, attended by my (former) deputy governor, major party leaders across board, some academics and stakeholders, including some traditional rulers, was not a meeting of hungry people
Leading them into APC validates what you said about people seeing government as everything. But how does that help build a polity meant to be based on values and ethics?
Before we go there, I don’t want us to allow the impression stay, that OGD is an inconsistent fellow. The meeting is in the public domain and it was recorded. And I have not said anything even till date, a meeting where people were kneeling down and prostrating and begging and I did not say anything only for the media to go out and say I’m inconsistent or I don’t stick to my beliefs.
Okay, what is the position now?
The position remains that I have resigned from the PDP and from partisan politics and that resignation is in writing and no ambiguity.
The people say I must lead them to APC and as I speak I have not agreed.
Why would you not agree, after causing them to support Dapo Abiodun?
I have set them free since the Ogun State PDP crisis appears intractable for over a decade.
Okay, but you would not be the one to lead them there, and they understand that?
That is where we are; but that has to be delivered in gentle doses because that is really where we are and that is what I have done and that is my decision.
Not everybody has the resilience of an OGD. I’m back in my office and I’ve been in my office since Monday and I’m at peace. I moved to Government House in Abeokuta from this same office. Now I’m back because I’ve got work to do.
The fact of the case is that we as younger people have complained about sit-tight leaders who do not create space for others to move up, and that for me to do what I’ve done, I should be commended.
Who leads your team, your followers now that you claim to have left?
There are many leaders among them.
Some people in PDP feel gutted by this decision. Some say, ‘forget about local politics, OGD may have been a mole in the PDP’.
Mole? Me? No.
What’s your relationship with Tinubu because some people say he was instrumental to your giving Dapo Abiodun support – they insinuate financial reward?
It is common knowledge that Tinubu is my friend. It is common knowledge that we disagreed at a point politically and he fought me to a standstill albeit indirectly.
But as we get older and more mature, in retrospect, we should make peace. So I have made my peace with all the people who have issues with me and they include Tinubu, Osoba, Obasanjo, even Kashamu. No more wars.
I have explained exhaustively the situation with our local politics and the reason for what we had to do without any preconditions or MOU or any financial consideration from any quarters, it’s just not in my character.
That’s not all because you do not seem to appreciate the corner you seemed to have boxed yourself into. Some say it is because you were not made the DG of the campaign and that you are eyeing a board appointment that Dapo Abiodun could help you get or even that you want a soft landing from EFCC. When you put all these in a bucket, how do you situate each?
Well, between you and I, it’s also part of why I decided to quit. If that were to be so, I would have decamped immediately.
Which of them? Being an alleged mole, a hurting DG or your quest for other things?
None of the above, because if people are dealing with somebody they do not understand or that they do not know, I dare say that part of the problem is that people do not know me.
That may be true because you can be a very difficult person sometimes.
I’m a principled person because everybody has been boxed and straitjacketed into the cocoon of a politician and the only reason they are in politics is because they are looking for one thing or the other.
I came to politics because I saw an opportunity to turn around my state and to genuinely serve.
And you’re convinced you turned it around in eight years?
I’m convinced because the parameters are there. The signals are there.
Yes, somebody has been there for eight years and there are claims that wonderful things have been done in eight years but don’t forget, without a solid foundation, nothing can be built. We commenced the creation of the new Ogun State, we awoke the sleeping giant.
That is a very convenient window.
Well, fair enough. The way it is, I’m not going to go out of my way to begin to position for this or for that and that is the bit of me that most people and the commentators don’t understand.
They cannot understand because of what people have seen over the decades.
Yes and that is why some of us feel this field is not meant for us because the perception is that most politicians are not credible.
My challenge is that if you help somebody, they’ll say you’re doing well, but if I do, they’ll say he’s using stolen funds because of our mind set, so it is thankless.
When my children are driving modest cars, they’re told they should be driving bigger cars because I must have stolen so much and that is why I say it is a thankless job.
I think I can go back to my not-for-profit Foundation and Academy and support our people as l have been doing and hopefully with some degree of appreciation.
Don’t forget that I am first and foremost a qualified and chartered engineer, a fellow of the Institute before politics.
How’s your relationship with Atiku now?
I took him into confidence about what I wanted to do in Ogun State and I’m sure he also understands how local politics works. He may not be happy with my decision to leave the PDP but he’s a strong politician.
After eight years as governor where I worked as a jackal and people we raised from nothing to become something by God’s grace turned, I don’t think there’s anything left to prove.
What are your expectations from the presidential election tribunal and should Atiku get a positive judgment, where does that leave you having dumped PDP and partisan politics?
It is my prayer that justice be done and it is seen to be done. If Atiku wins, I will definitely congratulate him and wish him well, but will still maintain my principled stand and non-partisan position in the polity.
Let me end by quoting Jaques in Shakespeare’s ‘As you like it’, “All the world is but a stage, all the men and women are mere players, they have their exits and their entrances. And one man in his life time plays many parts”.
Looking back, I’m sure you would agree that some mistakes were made.
A human being cannot claim that he has not made mistakes but every decision that we took, we took it based on the information at our disposal and based on principles which may mean nothing to the polity today. But I will do those things again.
For instance, the primary we held in PDP in 2011, openly done at the stadium, conducted by General Abdulmumuni who was sent by the PDP, in the presence of INEC, the police and DSS and I have all those reports, and Isiaka emerged, and I then heard that some people went to another location, without statutory delegates, brought in people from the streets to vote, pretended that there was an alternative primary, and somebody went through the courts and said that was the authentic one and the party in Abuja agreed to that, leaving three senatorial candidates duly elected along with 9 Reps and 26 state legislators in the lurch, and we found an alternative platform for them and someone is asking if I will do it again, my God, I will do it again because it was based on principles and how we were brought up.
What is wrong with you people of Ogun State? That is the same thing that just happened in the state and you gave vent to the candidate that emerged in a manner that was considered roguish by some people.
Well, that’s it. Some say that’s why I’m being persecuted today. Some say I should have just agreed and fall in line. That is why Nigeria will never develop because the way it is now, it doesn’t matter to people how you win. Just go and steal ballot papers and get yourself declared and nothing happens. Break the doors or windows but just win, the system will congratulate you. That’s the jungle system we are running and how do we expect that jungle system to deliver goodness?
Unfortunately, that’s what PDP handed over to Nigerians.
I wouldn’t know whether we should say PDP, this has been happening since the first republic. Remember the old NPC/NCNC/AG imbroglio, the 1983 NPN/UPN war.
But that’s what PDP itself is paying for now.
I wouldn’t know, after all another party is at the helm of affairs now.
But some people believe the persona of then-President contributed to the mess we have now.
That’s your opinion.
No, it’s not my opinion, that’s the truth and that’s the reality that is killing the growth of this country.
So, why did the other parties allow the madness to permeate them? I think it is an African or a black man’s thing and that is the challenge we should strive to address as Nigerians.