By Tonnie Iredia
A former governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel was in the news for the better part of the week just ended for what I would have considered a worthy cause. It all began with the receipt of a letter from the former governor to the leadership of Nigeria’s main opposition party, the reinvigorated Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) announcing his decision to retire from active partisan politics. The letter also disclosed Daniel’s resignation from the PDP where he recently served as the pioneer director general of the Atiku Abubakar campaign organization. The reason for the decisions was said to be personal as Daniel thought he needed to devote more time to charity and resuscitate his non-partisan political leadership academy, which he established a few years ago. Whereas the news may have shocked some people, political analysts must have known that the last was yet to be heard of it because it is unheard of, for a former state governor in Nigeria, healthy or not, to suddenly retire from politics. In Nigerian politics, where people close to 80 are struggling to be Ministers, there is no retirement age.
In less than 24 hours after the retirement story was made public, a more probable version surfaced that Gbenga Daniel’s supporters worldwide had rejected the retirement but approved his resignation from the PDP while requesting him to lead them to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) that had just won the Ogun state governorship election. Some premature news reporters who are yet to get acquainted with the Nigerian brand of politics went in pursuit of Daniel to find out his reaction to the request of his supporters. It was clear however that the former governor would be diplomatic and as he put it, the issue was neither about Gbenga Daniel nor about retiring from politics and the PDP, rather “it was about leading people.” The other day, when the charismatic Bola Ahmed Tinubu declined to support his wife’s bid to return to the Senate, his followers insisted he was not allowed to do that and he fell in line. Perhaps Daniel adopted that same Democratic/Participative leadership model which places premium on followership because of the theory that without followers, there is no leader. So, the will of the people must prevail. But then, what will Daniel say to those, like this writer, who would want to know why he did not initially consult with his followers before finalizing his retirement decision?
Gbenga Daniel’s supporters that requested him to lead them to the APC were not just a group of exuberant youths. They belonged to an identifiable political bloc led by one Ifekayode Akinbode. The supporters, who like Daniel, their acclaimed leader, had been members of the Ogun state chapter of the PDP, had earlier worked for the victory of the APC governorship candidate, Dapo Abiodun the new governor-elect of Ogun state. But what were the original terms of agreement upon which the supporters decided to work for the APC? What will Daniel tell those who want to know why people who already worked for the APC need someone to lead them to the same APC? What was it that they wanted to gain after working for the APC that has now eluded them and for which they now need a strong bargaining leader? Is it fair that the supporters are about stopping Daniel from becoming a humanitarian warrior? Should the rest of us not stop these self-seeking supporters? These were the posers I kept wondering about when a new version of the story broke.
In line with the character of Nigerian politicians, we hear hundreds of Daniel’s friends, admirers and other political gladiators are the ones who are now having their way insisting that Gbenga Daniel cannot retire. Nigeria’s immediate past president; Goodluck Jonathan is reported to be among those holding back the former Ogun state governor. Jonathan’s position is understandable because a few days earlier, he had laboured to deny rumours of his own alleged plan to do what Daniel was seeking to accomplish. But in truth, Jonathan and Daniel cannot be on the same page on this issue. In the case of Jonathan, the story of his alleged plan to quit was the handiwork of those his aides called mischief makers, but Daniel’s story was authored by the man himself and manifestly documented in an official letter to the PDP. Besides, Jonathan through the PDP became deputy governor, then governor, then Vice President and ended up as President of the nation, he shouldn’t consider quitting the PDP which arguably can be his surname. Daniel on the other hand, was only a governor. After that, the party has denied him any new position. He was not only denied the chairmanship of the party he recently sought to get, but was even displaced from the position of the Presidential campaign after the candidate won the primary election.
It would appear that those dissuading Daniel from quitting are having their way following a new story that the man has rescinded his plan to positively consider the call of his supporters to lead them to the APC. It seems too early however to determine what would happen to the aspect of retiring from politics until we hear more about the next set of appeals by those who matter in Nigeria. Surprisingly, Daniel has substantively departed from the club of former governors by being one of the few of them yet to move to the senate, the current comfort zone of former governors. Being a senator in Nigeria is fast becoming the most lucrative ladder of a successful political career. Anyone who is lucky to be there has little to worry about. In the senate and indeed, the entire National Assembly, it is the tax payers that pay for everything including the clothing of the distinguished and honourable law-makers. The rest of us can shout to high heavens, it will not stop the wardrobe allowance or any other fabulous take-home pay of our legislators.
The moral in Gbenga Daniel’s recent adventure of seeking to retire from politics and the PDP, is that a Nigerian politician should never talk about ‘I’, rather it should always be ‘We’; no more no less. Daniel’s decision which he classified to be personal has turned out to be a mirage. Earlier, when journalists asked Daniel if he was ready to go to the APC, he said, “What else can I say? My people have spoken.” But those of us who see him from afar would humbly say that the former governor’s plan to return to two other vocations would enrich society. First, if he takes on charity work; he would serve humanity especially the needy, better. If he adds a resuscitation of his former non-political academy, he might be able to make substantial contributions to the struggle to put a stop to Nigeria’s unending political violence.