By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
AMONG the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, governorship aspirants in Delta State jostling to take over from incumbent Governor Ifeanyi Okowa as Governor in 2023 former Minister of Education (State), Olorogun Kenneth Gbagi, discernibly leads the pack in terms of pedigree and competence.
However, it is not purebred and understanding alone that determine who gets the gubernatorial ticket of a party nowadays. Many factors, including money, political godfather and political structure are involved.
Many uninformed see Gbagi, a criminologist, entrepreneur, lawyer and philanthropist as arrogant and self-centered not knowing that his self-confidence, which they mistake for egotism arose from his upbringing and discipline from a strict disciplinarian father, Robinson Gbagi of blessed memory.
After the creation of Edo and Delta states from the defunct Bendel State, a former Military Administrator of Delta between 1993 and 1994, then Colonel Bassey Asuquo, who knew the resourcefulness and single-mindedness of Gbagi pleaded and appointed him Chairman of Delta Development and Property Authority, DDPA, after he refused to serve as Commissioner.
Gbagi, a security expert and instructor taught many top military officers, both serving and retired at the time, and Asuquo was cocksure that as Chairman of DDPA, he would clip the overindulgences of senior military officers from Edo State, where he was later posted to, notably the late Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, the next to former Head of State, the late General Sani Abacha, and others from shortchanging Delta in the sharing of assets.
Not many Deltans are abreast with the details but Gbagi not only served as a bulwark for the state, he also bested the expectation of Asuquo, who simply told senior military officers that ordered him that the matters were in the hands of the Chairman of DDPA, Kenneth Gbagi. None of the military officers serving under Abacha could intimidate him.
A man with the Midas touch, he quickly devised a revenue strategy that saw the DDPA, which had a zero account balance when he assumed office, to have over N800 million in its accounts from issuance of Certificates of Occupancy, etc.
Asuquo never tampered with the money before he left and Gbagi kept it intact until another military administrator assumed office. Surprised at how over N800 million was available in a “deadwood” government agency, the administrator summoned Gbagi to his office and after his explanations, he invited him another time to instruct him on how to share the money.
He practically told him which account numbers and companies to transfer the money and what he should grab for himself. Gbagi looked at the administrator and laughed, asking him if he found out who he (Gbagi) was before giving him such order and asking him to loot money belonging to the state. He bluntly refused and that marked his exit from the agency. Thereafter, the ex-military administrator frittered away the money.
Until now, nobody asked any question in Delta state why he left DDPA and what happened to the over N800 million that he raised for the state through the agency. But the ex-military administrator, who bemoaned his action years later sees Gbagi as an extraordinary breed Deltan. Gbagi’s refusal to participate in prowling the state’s resources made him take exceptional interest in his persona and they are friends today.
If the criminologist wanted to make quick money, he had plenty of openings under the late Abacha, who appointed him to coordinate a Federal Government Committee to develop Gwarinpa Estate, Abuja. Again, like the DDPA experience, Gbagi dumped the job when even military officers and businessmen offered him bribes running into millions of naira to perpetuate injustice.
The investor, who made his money through buying and selling of property at a very early age, refused pressures by his good friend, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, to serve as a Minister of the Federal Republic in his government, but only accepted to function as Chairman, Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, where he nobly tried to sanitize the country’s legal system.
Under former President Goodluck Jonathan, he also rejected ministerial appointment until some powerful persons stepped in, arguing that having participated in lobbying some persons to serve the same government, those persons would withdraw if he did not come on board.
Lately, when Obasanjo visited Oginibu, the country home of Gbagi in Ughelli South local government area, he told Deltans that they were losing for having not installed an incorruptible man like Gbagi as their governor.
When the Code of Conduct Bureau went through his assets declaration form and saw the sheer number of houses within and outside the country, vehicles and money he penned as belonging to him, a top official sent agents behind-closed-door to him to find out if he committed a slip-up, as only angels from another planet, not Nigerian politicians, act in such manner. He sent them back, saying he made no blunder, that there were his assets and they were free to investigate how he acquired them.
Those familiar with former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, know that the respected leader does not just put his hands in a mill, but Gowon had reason to recommend that President Muhammadu Buhari should make Olorogun Gbagi, a card-carrying PDP member a Minister in his government because he could vouch for his competence, and the process was on with security agents carrying out checks on him when Gbagi reportedly aborted it, apparently because he does not want to be seen as a frantic PDP member working for an All Progressives Congress, APC, administration.
When Olu of Warri Kingdom, His Majesty Ogiame Ikenwoli, met Gbagi for the first time, last year, at his palace, he said: “You are welcome. I am very delighted to see my brother and friend Chief Kenneth Gbagi. I have heard a lot about you even if we have not met. It is only good things I have heard about you. I appreciate all of you who came with my friend and brother.”
“We are not politicians, all politicians belong to us. We pray for them. Those who came to book for your appointment are dear to me. They told me good things about you and I said I will see you today (Tuesday). My prayer is that God should give us leaders that will make positive changes in the lives of the people.
”I will say God bless you, and chart your path for you. If you are the one chosen by God, He should lift you and take you to greater heights. You are the first to come here to tell me you are going for governorship in 2023. The time is far away, sometimes, early starters make difference.
“I pray God should touch the heart of our leaders to make the difference in our lives. God should give us a leader that should develop the whole state, not selective leaders,” the monarch said.
As one of the first three founders of PDP in Delta state, he has refused to resign from the party, despite the odds, since the new political dispensation started. Instead, he has concentrated his resources in creating employment within and outside the state by building and setting up businesses to provide employment for jobless Deltans.
It is in building businesses that some people, who probably ran into difficulties either in pursuit of payments, working for him without knowing that he does background checks before approving payments and political hustlers, who find it hard to get him to part with his money, term him arrogant. Truth is that as a typical businessman, he is not ready to spend his money on nothing or even waste his time on frivolities. And that is what the brand egotism.
However, if permutations of political analysts come true, Deltans may, for the first time in 2023 have the highest private investor and employer of labour in the state, criminologist and incorruptible leader rolled into one, as governor.