Otunba Gbenga Daniel needs little or no introduction. OGD as he is popularly called was a two term Executive Governor of Ogun State. OGD who recently held a talk-of-the-town 60th birthday bash at Oriental Hotel in Lagos, told PublicFaces about his life, hope for Nigeria and other issues.
In addition to what you have been doing so far, what package do you still have for the youth now that you’re sixty?
There is no future without the youth, we the leaders must always be happy for a successful generation. I think with the opportunity we had to have served Ogun State, Youth Empowerment was so key to us. The reason is not too far-fetched, many years ago, let’s say before independence, the few people who got educated, who became lawyers, I don’t know of anyone of them that is poor and those days it was highly difficult to find any village with any lawyer or anyone that is educated, but with the high rate of education which of course Chief Awolowo opened up. So you now have lawyers that are poor, engineers that have no jobs and so on, there has been some kind of exploitation years back, when we started operation, we were sure we needed to worry more about the youth than older people, the kind of government that we ran provided opportunities for youths to develop themselves in all ramifications, but the latter-day challenges that I saw was the fact that it is not too easy to satisfy our people. This prompted the setting up of a Political Academy to enlighten and re-enlighten the youth. I studied engineering but why I understand Nigeria so much was that during long vacations while in school, some of us usually go to libraries to read about things that are not related to engineering. This afforded me the opportunity to meet all the great Nigerians and world leaders in the library, I was exposed to the biographies of people like Tafawa Balewa and Nnamdi Azikwe, I therefore developed all this knowledge.
That was a major source for me when I got to public office. I found out that a number of young people don’t have that opportunity and they don’t have anybody to tell them anything. More so, I developed in Ibadan where the Late Bola Ige, Late Chief Awolowo and Late Olabisi Onabanjo resided and which made me saw the different sides of Nigeria at a very young age. The youth need to embrace knowledge acquisition rather than material acquisition.
Is there anything you had wished to do differently while serving as Governor?
That is education, definitely we touched education, don’t get me wrong. During our tenure we established tertiary institutions such as, Tai Solarin University of Education, about five Polytechnics and colleges which are now potential universities. I laid a foundation and left it for the rest to build upon, but beyond those formal education, our people are now eyeing politics because they have become jobless and there is no other thing they can do with their lives than to play politics. Unfortunately, people like that then find themselves in House Assembly, and you want them to make any law that would be useful to us? That’s a joke. This is part of the reasons we established the Political Academy so that people can appreciate that the whole essence of service is not about self, but service to others,
service to humanity.
At 60, what is your prayer to God?
I will just ask God to give our people wisdom, to open their eyes of understanding. The Bible said ‘My people perish because they lack knowledge’. Nigeria is perishing because people lack knowledge, and they are also perishing because those of you the journalists and the learned that are supposed to be in the know are not telling them the truth. As long as this continues, I am afraid we won’t get anything right, we would not get power right so God help us.
What is the state of your health at 60?
I must thank God and I think I am healthy. I have no ailment whatsoever, I am quite strong. I have a lot of stamina, I still play Table Tennis at my leisure, so I thank God for good health.
How have you been able to manage your health over the years?
It is the grace of God, but I don’t smoke and drink. This is not to say that people who smoke and drink are not healthy because I have seen people who did it (smoke and drinks) and lived up to hundred. I think it is the grace of God; there is longevity and good health in our family. I try my best to look after myself; I don’t get into trouble as much as possible so I can describe myself as healthy person.
It is widely believed that you trust people too much, is this true?
I agree I trust people, I have no regrets trusting people. This has to do with my upbringing, and honestly it is difficult to change. The reason why I can trust people is that, if my intention is noble and I go out of my way to support, help and assist people and I can’t trust them, there is problem. If I trust you and you betray me, good luck to you, I am at peace, I have done what God has asked me to do, so I don’t have any issues. I think if you don’t give people some certain level of trust, you will not be able to get the best out of them.
In what capacity do you wish to serve Nigeria again?
If we look at the imperial history of Nigeria, the maximum position people can pray for is Governorship, any other thing beyond being a Governor is not campaign, It is just consensual agreement. So from all experience, campaigning and other political activities can only work at the governorship level. To me, anybody that is fighting for presidency did not get it, being a governor for 8 year is ok, let God do the rest.
Can you remember that day you’ll never forget in your lifetime?
The day I will never forget was the prize giving day at Baptist Boys High School while I was in class 3. In class 3 you are allowed to have 13 subjects including Phonetics, I remember on that day our parents were seated at the front and the pupils at the back, and I won the 1st prize in 11 subjects out of 13, so they started announcing the best student in Mathematics, I came from the back, and before I got to the back where I seated I was announced again, so with joy the parents at the front told me to sit at the front, so I sat at the front to take 11prizes in the presence of my father, that was the best day of my life.
The worst day in my life that I will never forget is the first day I was arraigned in the court at Abeokuta. When they brought me out of the vehicle, people accused me of what I did not do, some even sponsored students to sing a song about ‘OLE’ and they were singing and reading out those charges, you took 3 Billion of funds, 2 Billion and I was just saying, where?, how?, what?, you took 1 billion of local government funds, you took that and that which was all fiction. I saw that those students that were hired were TASUED students, the school that I established. The school I met in tatters, the school I built into a world class University the First in Nigeria, second in Africa and 15th in the world. That day was a very bad day.
Can you describe the Nigeria of your dreams?
I agree with the postulation that Nigeria is probably a nation with natural resources, human resources, material resources, Nigeria is probably the most endowed country in the world, and I am not saying
this grandstanding, there is virtually everything in this country. We have just only exploited crude oil, as Governor I am aware that the largest Bitumen deposit country after Canada in the world is Nigeria.
The belt is between this State (Ogun) and Ondo and there are so many other natural resources like that. Nigeria is a country with great potentials and I am hoping to see these potentials tapped into and it is not as difficult as people make it to be, those are my dreams for our country.
Are you still an active politician at 60?
For the sake of the up and coming ones, I am a politician, but I guess that personally what is left for me is to mentor people, interact with people and all of that. If an opportunity comes up, I will not say no, but I am not going to begin to look for it, that is really where I am.
How can Nigeria get out of her present situation?
I don’t want to be uncharitable to our people in government but people say man is the architect of his fortune, Shakespeare said, ‘’men are sometimes masters of their faith’’, I have never been in doubt that some of the things that our government try to do were not sustainable. The reason we are in this type of situation is that there are certain things that we are doing that we don’t have capacity for, and we have not done our evaluation. On the issue of power, it doesn’t matter whether the person is an engineer or not, the issue with power is not strictly an engineering issue, it is strictly management issues, it is strictly responsibility issues. It is just human nature and Nigeria situation.
What is your reaction to reports that you are not an indigene of Ogun State?
On the indigene issue, some misuse the opportunity at their disposal, it is really non-issue, and there are certain things you don’t bother to respond to because it doesn’t make any sense. I have heard
that I am from Edo. In the Nigeria political context, between you and I, certain statements sometimes are made, even the people who are there don’t mean it, but they just think that, to drag this man down, it is what I will call ‘Gbogbo Ara Nija’, which means that if we are fighting somebody, you can bite him, it is allowed and between you and I, I have decided not to take those things seriously.
Looking back, what are those things that went wrong between you and your allies?
When you go into public service you must make friends on what you are there to do, and you must be able to define your objectives and the time perspective to those objectives. A lot of time you are going to get distractions, because those objectives of serving the people are usually in conflict with the selfish objectives of the individuals. Let me give you a typical example, “OGD has become Governor, those of us who are his friends must become billionaires”, natural expectations. But as Governor, I found out that I couldn’t award billion naira contracts. In the process of achieving the objectives which is the people, I have offended those friends whose own objectives are different. It is you who will now make up your mind, It is either the people or your caucus. So I chose the people, unfortunately. There are other issues of people who feel, what does he think he is, because he is popular? That is Nigerian syndrome.
What exactly is the present status of the Compass Newspapers?
The brand is still there, it is not killed yet but between you and I, I am not a Newspaper man, I am an Engineer and I like to stick to what I know. Some people are working round and they want to give it a try, they can, knowing that no dime will come from my pocket.
At 60, what are the things you are planning for people in your community?
I have been supporting my people with the little I can do, I have always been supporting both the youth and children, and we are not just making fuss about that. I have been supporting quietly because I don’t have anything to gain at my age and status by calling the media because I want to visit the hospitals or homes.
Any resolution at 60?
At 60, I have spent more time and what is left for me as an intelligent man is to come to terms with my God and fellowmen. As far as I am concerned, I am at peace with everybody, life is a lesson, sometimes you learn the hard way and vice versa. All those people that said something about me would get their answer and I pray that they are still alive, most people who came to politics with true intentions are not many. Whatever I do and say, they call it a lie. At 60, I want to be a jolly good fellow, an elder statesman a friend of the youth and the up-and-coming, thank you.
Photo Credits: Adedotun M. Adegoke (DohaFotoXpression) for PublicFaces Magazine