Former Ogun State Governor, Senator Gbenga Daniel, has now joined the league of former governors representing their constituents in the upper chamber of the National Assembly. In this interview with Gboyega Akinsanmi, Daniel reflects on his administration as two-term governor of Ogun State and justifies his return to active politics after 12-year break. He also shares his thoughts on how the new government could take Nigeria out of poverty cycle and faults allegations of anti-party activities brought against him after the 2023 general election, among others
Twelve years after you governed Ogun State, you returned to active politics. What are the justifications for your return?
I did not start as a politician. In all modesty, I am a professional. In the course of my work, I stumbled on the need to serve my people. As a result, I left what I was doing then to participate in politics. As God would have it, I won the gubernatorial election in 2003. After eight years in office, I also thought that I needed to sit back a little bit and concentrate on my profession.
Can you reflect on the Ogun State you inherited at the time you became governor in 2003?
I will not call my state backward. However, people used to deride us as a civil service state when I assumed office in 2003. This simply means the economy of Ogun State was limited to the income of civil servants. The whole economy of the state then was not more than the salaries of the civil servants and farming communities. If something goes wrong with the civil service, the whole economy will be in trouble. That was the Ogun State we met in 2003. That was also the Ogun State that challenged us when we decided to participate in politics. We then came with the theme of the state with sleeping giant that must be awakened
How did you transform Ogun State from its infamous civil service state to one of Nigeria’s foremost industrial states?
Honestly, we were able to lay the foundation for a greater Ogun State. We believe we have done a lot of work that repositioned the state. It rose from being a civil service state status to Nigeria’s foremost industrial state at the time we left office in 2011. Specifically, we positioned Ogun as a great sports state. When we assumed office, we looked at the plight of young people. In the process, we hosted the National Sports Festival christened Gateway Games in 2006. In the build-up to the games, we developed various stadia in the four geo-political zones of the state – Ijebu Ode, Sagamu, Ilaro and, we modernised the one in Abeokuta. So, the facilities have been provided for our younger generations to continue to excel. We came second in the Gateway Games 2006 we hosted. We came first in soccer. Our Gateway United FC was promoted into the Nigeria Professional Football League at that time. As far as sports development is concerned, we have opened it. Educationally, everybody knew that Ogun State was one of the leading states, if not the leader in education. We created various institutions, especially in the area of ICT, which we knew, was the future. We wanted to build our own Silicon Valley. Like what we did in the sports, we built about four ICT Institutes, again in each of the four geo-political zones of the state. We also activated the multi-campus policy of our founding fathers as far as the university was concerned. So, we created the University of Education. We also created the College of Science and Technology in Ibogun, which we planned to develop into a University of Science and Technology. We created the College of Agricultural Sciences in Aiyetoro, which was also planned to become a University of Agriculture. Of course, industrially, we saw the light early. We knew that we needed to turn around the economy of the state. So, we paid special attention to industrialising the state. In the course of our tenure, we were able to create three free trade zones. The first was the Olokola Free Trade Zone, which we did collectively with Ondo State at that time. The zone was to have major projects including deep seaport, which was supposed to be deepest in Nigeria and Olokola LNG, which was supposed to be the biggest in the world. It was supposed to host giant industries like Dangote Refinery, which was later moved to Lekki. That is the Ogun East initiative. In Ogun West, we created the Ogun Guangdong Free Trade Zone (OGFTZ) in partnership with China. Luckily, OGFTZ was inaugurated before I left office during the official visit of President Goodluck Jonathan. By the time I left office, we already had 40 full-fledged companies in OGFTZ, manufacturing various products. All the ceramics, which looked imported on our streets, are from OGFTZ. The only functioning glass industry we have in this country is located in OGFTZ, but people do not know. In Ogun Central, we created the Kajola Transportation Free Trade Zone. The essence was to move the existing Iddo terminus to Kajola within Ifo Local Government Area and build it up as a transportation hub. Before he left office, former Vice President Yemi Osinbajo inaugurated some wagons there before he left office. That is the third free trade zone we created during my tenure as the governor of Ogun State. In all the geo-political zones of the state, educationally, we have been repositioned. In terms of sports, we have been repositioned. Industrially, we have been repositioned.
There was a dispute between your immediate successor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun and the incumbent governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun on the location of the state’s cargo airport project. What was the status of the project before you left office?
In truth, we started the cargo airport project then, though we could not complete it. We also created a cluster of industries around it. The cargo airport was designed to take advantage of networking and creating access to all our agricultural produce. Along the line, people felt the location was more than the cargo airport and that we should have a full-fledged international airport there. That was why we could not complete the project before we left the office. Initially, we were looking at a cargo airport. But when the international investors came for assessment, they said it was bigger than the cargo airport. They suggested that it had to be cargo plus international airport. It was at this point we started modifying a lot of things in the airport. We thank God, Governor Dapo Abiodun is now working on it, even though my immediate successor abandoned it. In eight years, I felt we had successfully repositioned the state. Prior to my administration, people called Ogun State the land of sleeping giants. When we left, I remember I said in my valedictory speech that the giant “is awakened.” So, our mission was accomplished because we went there to awaken the giant. Despite political shenanigans here and there, I took my leave. I thought what was next for me was to fold my hands and see the seeds of development we planted germinate. For one reason or the other, I decided not to look back. Pa Obafemi Awolowo is popular for his wise saying: “Forward ever, backward never.”
Have your successors been able to build on these projects your administration pioneered between 2003 and 2011?
Honestly, coming back a few years, one was not particularly happy about what happened to some of these projects. I can take them one by one. We lost Dangote Refinery from Ogun State to Lagos State. We lost the Dangote Refinery despite the fact that studies showed that Olokola FTZ was the most efficient location for the refinery. Because of one thing or the others, we lost it. My successors did their best. But their best was not enough. As somebody who governed Ogun State, maybe we lost, but luckily, as an Ijebu man and also as a Yoruba man, it is not really a loss because Lekki is in Ijebuland. So, that is the consolation we have that it is still within our axis. Aside, we have not moved fast enough with the deep seaport after I left the office and where my administration left the project. Before I left, I had taken the approval from the Federal Ministry of Transportation and Nigeria Ports Authority to develop the deep seaport. It was supposed to be a joint project. Of course, NPA must have a stake in it. Ogun State and investors will also have stakes in it. Ogun State was not going to spend a lot of funds other than to provide lands. Unfortunately, that has not moved forward the way we envisaged it. For reasons I do not want to dwell on, my successors did not move fast enough the way we conceptualised it. By the time I was coming back, the airport project, which we started, was in comatose. Luckily, between then and now, Governor Dapo Abiodun has revisited it, and that is good enough. But there are still quite a number of things that have not happened, probably because successive administrations did not bother to ask some vital questions about the airport project. They never found out: What are the pitfalls about the project? What are the things to avoid and why the project has not moved fast enough? But the typical people around them feel they know it all and they keep making the same mistakes. So, they waste a lot of time. We are hoping all these will be put behind. A lot of these potentials are being lost in the labyrinth of politics. Let me tell you we had a serious team. It was eight years of work, unprecedented and unimaginable and not what people outside thought. For my team members to fold their hands and see their works crumble, it is not easy. Sometimes, they would ask me: are you going to fold your hands and allow our work to crumble? I told them I could not be governor again. They admitted, but pointed out that a lot of initiatives require federal interventions. They argued that I could get to the Senate and begin to influence federal decisions with respect to some of these projects.
Now that you have won the senatorial election, what are the values you intend to bring to the people of Ogun East, Ogun State, and Nigeria at large?
Well, there is a whole lot. When you look at our country today, one of the problems we are facing is unemployment for our younger generations. If you understand and appreciate our values, part of what we thought should not happen is for our children not to be educated. We never envisaged a situation whereby our children would not be able to secure jobs after we spent all our resources; sold our houses and took loans to pay school fees because we wanted them to be educated. Nobody ever thought that we could have graduates strolling the streets without jobs after five or six years after graduation. This problem is related to other challenges that we are facing in the country today. The challenges include drug addiction and insecurity in all ramifications. Apart from the extremist violence by Boko Haram, there is no challenge we are facing that is not linked to unemployment. We now see young people kill themselves just because somebody tells them they can turn human parts to money. We see young educated people take their girlfriends to a place and murder them just to do money rituals, which I do not believe in anyway. That relates to every challenge we have including the loss of the value system. People will tell you: “I am hungry.” As the saying goes, a hungry man is an angry man. And he is ready to do anything for survival. There has to be something for a man to eat. We always get annoyed with this kind of behaviour. But the root cause is what we have not addressed. How can we tackle the challenges? It is part of what I think we can begin to work out. That is what actually motivated me to contest the senatorial election.
How do you intend to address these challenges as the Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria?
I will continue to refer to what we did in Ogun State between 2003 and 2011. People usually say you cannot treat an ailment that has not afflicted you. But when an ailment has afflicted you and it has been treated successfully, we can use the model. So, I will go back to the Ogun State model we used. We knew we did not have enough money. We also knew part of the challenges we had was capital flight. We then adopted a method of doing our work in such a way that our resources remain largely in Ogun State, except where we do not have such competence. We found out that to a large extent, we have approximately 98 per cent of the competence we require in our state. When we could not find the competence we needed in the state, we then went out of our state. Of course, without being a tribal jingoist, we first looked for such competence in our neighbouring states. Where that fails, we go to the outer ring, which is within Nigeria. When the outer ring fails, we now go international because money that is within our country is still okay for us. The opposite is what is happening today. I have proven it in Ogun State. We have engineers who are qualified. We have seen it with the doctors who are performing miracles abroad. In Nigeria, however, our professionals have not been challenged. When you do not challenge people, you cannot see them prove their mettle. So, we challenged ourselves in Ogun State. We started constructing roads locally. That is what led to the Ogun State Road Maintenance Agency (OGROMA) that we founded. If we continue with the slow rate we are moving as a federation, we will have all untarred roads in another 500 years. Look at what is happening on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway. If I tell you the story of that road, you will be shocked. When we wanted OGROMA to construct the Sagamu-Abeokuta expressway, Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe was the Minister of Works then. He said the road was the federal road. He even told us to leave and that the federal government would reconstruct. When OGROMA eventually constructed the Sagamu-Abeokuta road, we told President Olusegun Obasanjo then that OGROMA had done it successfully. We constructed that road between 2004 and 2005. I am proud to say that it was only last year that the state government resurfaced it again. So, that local content lasted for 18 years before the state government felt the need to resurface the road again. What is the big deal? That happened after we submitted a bid that we wanted to take over the road. At that time, OGROMA said with about N8 billion, the road would be constructed. But we finally constructed the 40-kilometre Abeokuta-Sagamu at about N1.9 billion.
Can we trust indigenous companies with the construction of our highways?
I disagree with you. Let us look at Lagos-Ibadan expressway as an example. Julius Berger started the expressway many years ago and they are still battling with it. It is regarded as the best construction company in Nigeria. Something is fundamentally wrong with the process. We have to adopt a two-pronged approach. First, as much as possible, let our people do what they can do. Also, let big companies do their bit because there is other work that our engineers can do. In the process, they will get to where Julius Berger is. I go through the road all the time. Nigerians are the people constructing under the supervision of expatriates. If we have Nigerians under the supervision of the expatriates for 10 years, they should be able to do what the expatriates are doing on that road. We tried it in Ogun State, and it worked. What we also did was to use that opportunity to engage the area boys to mould paving stones and kerbs. Instead of channeling their energy to disrupt peace, we engaged them to mould paving stones and kerbs. There is already a market for it. We asked each of them: how many kerbs or paving stones can you produce? And we mobilised them. If we apply this model to construct 10 roads, there will not be area boys on the streets again. That is what we did with the welders’ association to construct all the electric poles along the Abeokuta-Sagamu road. Thousands of poles were required. We called the welders’ association. We challenged them because we were not ready to import any pole. In fact, nothing was wrong with them until the state government now changed the poles 16 years later. If we put that energy in all parts of the federation, we will not have anybody wasting. That is just in one area. We tried something else in Ogun State with the farmhouses that Pa Obafemi Awolowo built and created additional farm estates. The model was to encourage our graduates who happened to be jobless then. We gave one hectare per graduate to plant whatever they wanted to plant. We also built more farmhouses. Unfortunately, many of them abandoned the locations because there was no internet connectivity at that time. So, they could now watch what they wanted to watch on their phones. Part of the ways and means people acquired landed property is through farmland. When the government gives land, they will say it is only for farming. But there are also farmhouses. Nobody has specified that a farmhouse will be one room and a six-bedroom apartment. It is still a farmhouse. Do not forget our former president lives in his farmhouse in Otta. One hectare in a bush today becomes something else 20 years later. We still need to go back to that.
With a population of over 200 million, we have to feed ourselves and not everyone will be in construction. That is the model we adopted for agriculture.
How can the new government achieve sustainable development in an era when Nigeria is heavily indebted, poverty index as high as 63 percent and unemployment now over 40 percent?
The key is very simple. I have explained some of these measures earlier. First, as a country, we must learn to consume what they can produce as much as possible. It is not as difficult as people think. We simply need to domesticate our incomes as much as we can. We also need to engage our people as much as we can. If they stumble, help them to get up and become strong. Second, let us try very hard not to consume what we cannot produce. China did it successfully. They partially closed their borders and became self-sufficient. Now, they have factories all over the world. India also did it successfully. At a point in time, you can hardly see luxury cars in India? If you see their vehicles on the streets of Bombay, you will be surprised. At that time, you would see Mercedes cars on the streets of our major cities. But we are not producing anything. They have paid the price. Today, nearly all the major IT firms in the world are headed by Indians. Various storages of data in the world are now in India. As some points, if you call help desks of Google, somebody, who is talking to you, is in India. With that, they have been able to create massive employment. They did the same thing in medicine. If you go to England, the doctor, who wants to treat you, may be an Indian or a Nigerian. Those are the kind of things we ought to begin to do by legislation, not necessarily by criminal legislation, but by civil legislation to encourage and discourage certain things.
Can you clarify allegations of anti-party activities brought by some loyalists of Ogun State Governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun?
This is not correct. As you know, we had two elections. We first had the presidential and federal legislative elections. We won that election fair and square across the federation. In fact, I was also on the ballot. One of the reasons I defected to All Progressives Congress (APC) was because I knew from the inception that Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu would contest the 2023 presidential election. I have known him to be an efficient, determined and courageous person for quite some time. I have a long-term relationship with him. I was also part of the people, who kept encouraging him to run for the presidential election. From the inception, I knew he was going to run for presidency. As a matter of fact, I asked my political allies this question on different occasions. How will I remain in the Peoples Democratic Party when I knew Asiwaju would run for the presidency? I was the Director-General of the Alhaji Atiku Abubakar Presidential Campaign Council in 2019. That contest was between two northern presidential candidates. I was in the PDP then, and Alhaji Atiku asked to be his DG. I chose to work for him. I have no regrets about it. But we had a contest between Asiwaju, who is my long-time associate and Atiku, who was once my leader in the PDP. Who do you expect me to support? All politics is local, and that does not diminish my national outlook. What will I say if I do not campaign for Asiwaju?
At what point did you start campaigning for Asiwaju’s presidency?
We have been on it for quite a long time. In fact, the first meeting I held about Asiwaju’s presidential aspiration was three years ago. I invited a good number of Yoruba intelligentsia for that meeting. One of the invitees was my friend, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, now of blessed memory. There was another man called Mogaji in Ibadan. He was also in that meeting. I told them that we needed to think of what else to do. I also told them that it seemed APC had an unwritten understanding that after President Buhari, the presidency would come to the South-west. If you look at all presidential aspirants from the South-west, Asiwaju towers above them all. I told them that my position was to think about how we could support Asiwaju for the presidency. I remember Odumakin was very angry at me and really abused me at the meeting. Unfortunately, he is no longer alive. I have always known what I wanted to do from the beginning. When it was time to run for the senate, we did what we had to do.
What then happened between you and Governor Dapo Abiodun?
If what you are saying is correct, I think the genesis is connected to my unflinching for Asiwaju’s presidency. A lot of people do not know and continue to make statements without understanding the genesis. At that time, my governor had a different view. At the primary, my governor had his team. As God would have it, a good number of his people are firmly with us. We sat in Abuja and decided that we would all vote for Asiwaju. For me, it was difficult not to support Asiwaju because we can call Asiwaju our overall boss. When we won elections in 1999, I served him in the Transition Committee. I was the Chairman of the sub-committee on infrastructure. We can therefore say that Asiwaju is our overall boss. Another presidential contender was Asiwaju’s attorney general for eight years. He also happened to be my good friend and brother. I share a bias that if there is anything between you and your boss, let the boss have it. For me, it is difficult not to support Asiwaju’s presidency because he is our overall boss. That is different from the position of my governor. But I understand where he was coming from, he was not really one of us at the beginning of the transition in 1998/1999. The contest did not go the way my governor wanted.
In the presidential poll, APC won by a landslide in Ogun State. But it narrowly won its governorship despite having a sitting governor on the ballot. What really happened?
A lot of people did not really understand that we had difficulty starting the campaign of my governor. First, the 2019 election was not an overwhelming victory for the governor. He won with only 19,000 votes. When I compared that with when I contested the governorship election 20 years ago, my margin of victory was over 200,000. With a win of 19,000, it was not an overwhelming victory. It simply means there was a hot contest somewhere. The last election was a bit different. Virtually all the contending parties agreed to support Asiwaju in the presidential election. In my own senatorial election, virtually all the contending parties agreed to work for me. When we had the first elections, everybody went the same way. But the governorship election was different. If my governor will go beyond what some people whispered to him, he should be able to see what went wrong. His election was keenly contested between him and his kinsman in Iperu. Both of them are in the same ward, town and federal constituency. There was indeed a contest. Some people must find excuses for what happened. The party was not doing well. His victory in other locations was marginal. We all know why the party was not doing well. First, the rating of former President Muhammadu Buhari has gone low because he failed to tackle insecurity as people expected. People also expected that he would have brought inflation down. But that did not happen. People are unhappy with the collapse of Naira. All people expected under former President Buhari did not happen. Aside, Buhari was no longer a factor during that election. The people of Ogun State were also complaining. I am in position to know because I have my network across the state. I know a lot of people were not particularly excited about his election. Civil servants have the issue of unpaid allowances. Teachers too have their own issues with him. Pensioners have issues with the governor. To make the matter worse, my governor had to contest with his brother. As a result, Remo Nation was divided into two. That was what happened in the Ogun East. I thought that the governor should have taken those issues more seriously. Building on the euphoria of the first election, we had an overwhelming victory. But people’s perception about the presidential election was different. People were warning us as we were going from place to place. People kept telling us that they would support Asiwaju. But they said we should leave them to take their decision during the governorship elections. The governor cannot tell me that he was not aware of the sentiment in the street and most unfortunately he relied more on sycophants and the fabricated stories they fed him with.
This interview was originally published on ThisDay