You are currently viewing I’m amused seeing those who said Asiwaju had no chance now gallivanting around him – Gbenga Daniel
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  • Says President moving Nigeria in right direction
  • Why I haven’t commented on rift with Dapo Abiodun

For the Senator Representing Ogun East, Gbenga Daniel, there exists a world of difference between how governance issues are handled at the legislative level compared to the executive arm. However, the two-time governor of Ogun State said he is fast learning the ropes and fast adapting to the dynamics and intrigues as they relate to the politics of the hallowed chambers. In this interview, he speaks on sundry issues including his alleged sore relationship with President Bola Tinubu and the controversies surrounding the establishment of Compass newspaper; why he worked for former Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s presidential ambition and his alleged frosty relationship with his predecessor in office. Excerpts:

In a few weeks, the present administration will be marking its first year in office and you will be one year in the Senate soon too. We’d like to have your impression as someone who once wielded executive power and is now a legislator. What is the experience like in the few months that you have spent?

First, let me congratulate all of us as Nigerians because, one year ago, hope was nearly lost in the outgoing administration. Security was at its lowest ebb. The economy was virtually comatose. There was a high degree of uncertainty in the air and then, of course, the election went fortuitously I will say. Luckily for our country, Bola Tinubu won that election. We were also quite concerned as to how he could turn around what one can consider the battered economy. We are told that a lot of our resources have been traded in advance.  A large amount of the quota of the main source of revenue, that is oil, had been traded. A large amount of loans, unprecedented in the country’s history, have been incurred. At a stage it looked like whatever accruing revenue had to be used to service the existing loan. So it was a period of despair. But thank God, Bola Tinubu became president and pronto, he went into action. Of course, to make omelette we have to break eggs as our people usually say. Some of his immediate actions, which we all considered necessary, have created some difficulties and challenges, especially to the economy. But we thank God that things have started easing off and confidence is being built back into the economy by the investing world and we have very strong belief that it can only get better. The security situation has started abating; matters of kidnapping for ransom appear to have been reduced. I think to a large extent, security challenges like the Boko Haram phenomenon appear to be under control. And so, I have no doubt in my mind that as we celebrate one year of this civilian administration, we look forward to a much better country. We have a good team in place. A large number of the ministers are quite knowledgeable and efficient and the economy appears to be in capable hands. We have, in my own opinion, a good economic team. We have also a dynamic minister, for instance, who is running the Works Ministry, a hands-on person and capable engineer. Quite a number of the cabinet members have given a good account of themselves. So clearly, I think we are in good stead. That’s my evaluation of where we are. That is not to say, however, that we do not have challenges. Of course, it’s part of life. Then coming up to the senate, for me, it’s a different kind of experience, coming from executive to the legislature. What we have found is that increasingly the people at home, I don’t know how to describe it, seem to believe that whatever the executives are doing, the legislature should be doing. So, it is indeed a challenge that whatever is referred to as constituency projects can definitely not resolve the expectation of our people. So as far as they are concerned, if the executive is constructing 10 roads, you should be constructing two to complement. So, it’s something that we need to revisit and re-educate our people. I know it has to do with the level of poverty in the land. But definitely there is a lot of tremendous pressure at the National Assembly in terms of getting projects. Of course, the reason for that is not too far-fetched because I think that the masses seem to have better access to members of the National Assembly than they have to the executive team. So usually, all the woes are heaped on members of the National Assembly. So, I think we just must appreciate that it’s a different phase in the evolution of our democracy that will continue to improve. Those are my immediate comments.

Since the fuel subsidy was removed on May 29th, there has been general hardship in the country. Recently, the Federal Government announced an electricity tariff increase for Band-A customers. As a lawmaker representing Nigerians, what is your reaction to the present hardship and what do you think should be done to reduce the burden on the populace?

First, if you look at the issue of subsidy removal, without any doubt, I even remember that virtually everybody who campaigned agreed that the subsidy must go. So there was a consensus. And if I remember, even the outgoing government had virtually removed the subsidy, saying it would go from the 1st of June, 2023. I don’t want to say that deliberately, that pronouncement was more or less a fait accompli because once a decision has been taken; it was just a question of the time such a decision can take effect. And I think that rather than begin to waste time, the president just felt that, okay, there is no time. So let us just start it in earnest and begin to wade through it, which is what he has done. People have said that he should have prepared and all of that. Fact of the case is that there is no time that we will not have to face these challenges. The fact of the case is that we, as a people, must appreciate that for things to get better, there must be a period of hardship, which is what I think Nigerians are not ready for. I quite sympathize with the low-income people because genuinely, without any doubt, they are the hardest hit. But regrettably, it’s what it is and once we go through it, things will begin to get better. I have a different idea about what we need to do as a country. I am an apostle of local consumption being the only way to improve local production in all ramifications. This is without prejudice to international treaties to free trade. Without any doubt, I think this madness started with the Udoji Award when all of a sudden, the consumption pattern of all of us as Nigerians went above the roof. The fact is that we produce nothing, but we consume everything. At a stage and I still think up till now, Nigerians are still importing toothpicks. We import plastic combs. We import safety pins. We are importing buttons. Now, we have the petrochemical industry. Why should we be importing buttons and combs, things that are by-products of that industry? So, the Nigerian taste has gone to the high heavens and I’m not excusing myself. You know the kind of houses we built – this is not the way it was. In fact, once upon a time, air conditioning was not part of furniture in Nigeria. When you build houses, people will talk of cross-ventilation. So, you open the window, fresh air will come in and all of that. So air conditioning was not part of it and our fathers lived a good life and they lived long. Now every property has to be air conditioned. We were not used to having multiple sitting rooms. Our fathers built a room and a parlour; two rooms and a parlour; and it was in that parlour that the family would sit and watch the only TV. But now, we have multiple lounges. This madness that we all got involved with cannot be sustained. And if it’s going to be sustained, let it be sustained based on local consumption. I keep referring to my tenure as governor when, as a matter of deliberate policy in all of eight years, we did not award any contract to any foreign company. A country deserves the government it gets. In the same way, a country decides the job it can do. And if we don’t learn from mistakes, we will never grow. When we were doing our roads, you remember the Ogun State Road Maintenance Agency (OGROMA) that we set up and they were doing the roads. Some of the roads are still there today. And then, what is in the road now? As engineers, they are aggregates. What are aggregates? They are rocks and other materials. Look at everywhere in Nigeria. Where don’t we have rocks that can be blasted? We have sand aplenty. Cement is there. I think we have the largest reserve of limestone all over the world. We can produce enough cement in Nigeria to serve the world. We refuse to explore our bitumen and we continue to import asphalt with huge sums of foreign exchange to build our roads. God has given us everything.

So, if I were to decide, I would decide on a few things and you would be shocked. I will say, for instance, those of you who are doing construction, you have five years after which importation of bitumen is banned. So all of you who have money, who say you want to invest, go and do bitumen exploration because in five years we will not import bitumen again. This has gone very well for cement luckily. And ditto for all those things that we can produce here. Ditto for furniture. Let our carpenters produce what they can and we patronise them. So whatever foreign exchange we now have, can now be left for things that we cannot produce for starters. And there has to be a plan to say, this is the plan of action, this is what we will look at. Once upon a time, there was Remo Carpet. There were all sorts of carpet companies. It’s made from yarn and cotton which we have. There is no shortcut to all of this, but for us to get there; we have to appreciate that we can survive with what we can produce. That means all of us will have to adjust our expectations and go through a brief period of inconvenience and then our country has capacity to be one of the most prosperous nations in the world.

How about electricity tariff? Besides, is it not strange that, after all these years, Nigeria is yet to solve its power problem?

It is the same problem. For me, it is the same problem of management. Just like the problem we have with so many other sectors. It is management and lack of patriotism. For instance, at the beginning of this civil administration, electricity generation was removed from the exclusive preserve of government and I remember that one of the administrations that made the first attempt was this same Bola Tinubu’s administration in Lagos with the ENRON power project. We did not get the support we should get at that time. I’m just being mild in the way I am describing what happened. So, it is management. It is lack of patriotism. All over the world, nobody centralizes electricity generation and distribution because it doesn’t work. Let everybody generate their own electricity in their own way and that is the way to go. Once the private sector is allowed to do whatever they want to do, the government can now subsidize for the low-income earners. When we were building the Olorunsogo and Omotosho power stations, part of what we insisted on was that 10% of the power that is generated, both from Olorunsogo and Omotoso, must be given to the local environment within a 20 kilometers radius of that plant. By the time we commissioned the Olorunsogo power plant, a large number of estates, both residential and commercial, started developing around that power station. Because they were sure that they were going to get power. But again, that was not sustained. So it is this inconsistency in policy and poor management and the opaque way of doing things without transparency. Those are the challenges that have crippled the sector. Now, when the privatisation was going on and the DisCos were being privatized I’m not so sure that people with capacity won the bids. There is financial capacity and there is also technical ability. In some instances, it does appear that the only thing they were looking at was the financial capability but then the shock that has enveloped the country is that many of those people did not invest as expected and the ones who invested more or less took money from banks with the cut throat interest rates. The business of power is not a business that is like direct importation where you get immediate returns. It is a long-term investment. To build an average generating plant can be anything for a minimum of five years. After you have all your money to put all the equipment in place, it’s minimum five years. So if you want to take some cut throat interest rates by way of a loan to do a business like that, within five years you’re already bankrupt. So those are the challenges. So most of them therefore did not do what was  expected of them. They were waiting that government would  still support them. So that was a misstep. Going forward, it is clear to me that there are certain things that you cannot completely say, government will not subsidize. If you remove subsidy on petrol, you must put subsidy in power, because, all over the world, there are ways and means in which public goods are subsidized. Let’s look at the Chinese model.When the Chinese finally decided to open up and all these companies flooded Africa, what many people don’t know is that even those companies that claimed to be privately owned, there is virtually none of them that is not government that has majority shares. They let them do the business but the government is the owner of majority shares. I’m not so sure anyone is running without the government having about 51% shares. So, they opened up but it is guided economic diplomacy and they are there to help those companies. That is why it’s not difficult for many of those companies to enter into  market that  otherwise belonged to Western Europe and the US because of that support.

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So what are you proposing?

In fact, what I said when I was Governor was that yes, government has no business in business, but government has a responsibility to support business because, if you ask government parastatals and agencies to run businesses, they just don’t know how to run them. So they have no business in running business, but government has a responsibility to support and facilitate business. Part of what I’m going to do, and I’m happy that I’m already seeing that the administration is looking at the tax regime, part of what is killing the private sector is the multiple tax situation. I am particularly happy that that is also being harmonised. Those are the ways in which we can help the private sector. Not to try to do the business for them. Let us say, okay, what can we do by way of tax relief, tax holiday and an organized taxation system? Not what hitherto was going on, where everybody was just under the assumption that companies are making money. Companies are operating in a very, very hostile environment: no power, no security. So an average company must organise its own power, its own security, its own waterworks, its own access roads in some instances. So it’s already quite a hostile location for them to operate. Then, when you now think that this is a company and you begin to tax them, indiscriminately, it’s a disincentive. So you are saying you want investors to come in but you are overtaxing them because you think they are making money. So I’m happy that government is looking at that. Without any doubt, we know the sectors that are making money are not many in this country, we know them. And they are not really productive sectors. I can explain this to you. What is the production in the banking system? So they are making money. What’s the production in  telecoms? It is the air that transmits and as the air is transmitting, they are charging. So they are making money. They use artificial intelligence and stuff like that. Proprietary right is what we are paying for. No production because production is the most difficult thing to do. But there is virtually no company in production in Nigeria today that is making money. For the first time in recent years, Nestle, declared a loss. Nigerian Breweries and major industries are now merely struggling to  breathe. So what’s happening to the productive capacity? So who is producing anything that’s making money? So the few production companies you now begin to over tax them. So everybody will leave production. I was watching a  programme recently where somebody said, oh, we are investing. What are we investing? We are investing in stocks and then we are making money. So those are the challenges. But the summary is that we have in this administration somebody who knows where the shoe pinches, somebody who has a background of the private sector and experience in the public sector, and somebody who also has gone through the mills and the grills. Late Tai Solarin said ‘may your road be rough’ I think that when you look at the trajectory of our president, he has gone through everything. So he knows what to do, and when you have somebody like that at the helm of affairs, he cannot afford to fail and I don’t see how he’s going to fail. So I have absolute confidence that this administration will continue to turn around the fortunes of our country and I know that at the end of the day, our country will be better for it. 

During the election of the leadership of the Senate in June last year, there were insinuations in some quarters that you did not support the candidate of the party, that is Godswill Akpabio. Tell us what happened. Are the allegations true?

No, there is nothing like that. You know  this politics that we play. Some people believe that the only way they can make progress is to begin to fabricate lies against innocent people. It’s an unfortunate part of our politics. Senator Godswill Akpabio, the Senate President, is somebody that I have known and have a first class relationship  with dating decades . In fact, he was here in my house and we had discussed and of course he had 100% of my support. But I think the mistake people are making is that my own politics is a bit different and I don’t grandstand maybe because I’ve seen it all. People think that, oh, because you are supporting somebody, you cannot talk to somebody else. I don’t think that’s the way it should be. All the people who wanted to be Senate president were my colleagues in a way. Some of them were governors. Orji Kalu was governor and an ally.  I think between 2007 and 2011, we sat at the cabinet together. The other main contestant Senator Abdulaziz Yari from Zamfara, was at some point a Governor. I happened  to be the Deputy Chairman of the former Governor’s Forum. So, when people like that come looking for me, people may say, ah, we saw this man going there, therefore… They don’t even know whether what I was telling them was  let us support Akpabio (laughs). So it is part of the bad politics that our people play. There was absolutely nothing like that.

But you were in the opposition party at a time which could trigger suspicions about your loyalty or support for the President. Isn’t that possible?

Yes, the fact of the case is that at some point in time when I was in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), I ran the Atiku Abubakar’s presidential campaign. But I’ve also told people who cared to listen that when I was running an Atiku campaign, Bola Tinubu was not contesting. Two Fulani men were in the race as leading candidates and I happened to be in PDP and so I took control of the Atiku campaign, not against Bola Tinubu. But I’ve told people that once Bola Tinubu is on the ballot, it’s a completely different ball game. And the funny thing is that the people in the PDP also know that I can’t do any other thing. So, they know. So, the funny thing is that people in the PDP know that, ah, OGD, that’s a Jagaban’s person, whatever you do. So once Jagaban was coming in, in fact, people did not know that a few of us came together and we were going round the entire Southwest and beyond trying to dissuade all the people who wanted to run to forget it. We formed a committee and Bola Tinubu did not send us.  We felt that of all of them, he was the most experienced, he was the most qualified, and he was the most senior. It’s not as if some people didn’t also come to me and say, look OGD it is you we want to use. And I said, ah, no, no, no. Tinubu is running o! (Laughs) No, forget it! But some of us fell into that kind of temptation. There’s none of them I didn’t go to see. We went to Ekiti, we saw Kayode Fayemi. I went and saw Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola. I said ‘Ogbeni what’s wrong with you? Ah! Kilo nsele? Look at me; we both know how…What’s going on? Don’t allow yourself to be used’ and all of that. So, we did what we had to do without any prompting or grandstanding from any quarters. We went to Aketi (late former Governor of Ondo State, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu), may God bless his soul. We said, look, you are the chairman of the Southwest Governor’s Forum. What has to be done has to be done. We went round. We went to Baba Akande in Ila and I said Baba, you can’t be passive. You are probably the oldest former governor in the South West and you are very close to Asiwaju. So, you cannot but be active. We went round. Even though we were not putting loudspeakers in what we were doing. We went round quietly. We went round and we spoke to all the self-determination groups. I said, no, it’s a different ball game.  I am usually amused when I see people who told us Asiwaju had no chance and we should stop wasting time now gallivanting around the President. I guess that is Politics Nigeriana.  So, we thank God that all is well that ended well. But having said that, it is part of the politics that we people talk about. They insinuate and we live with it. 

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At a point in your political career, and that was even when you were governor in Ogun State, there was this seeming Cold War between you and Asiwaju Tinubu at that time. There were rumblings here and there but nobody spoke about it and it was everywhere…

 (Cuts in) Accentuated by you, the media people…(laughs)

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Was there a rift between you and Tinubu?

There was none…

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But there was a serious political disagreement…

No, there was no disagreement. Now let me tell you what happened. I can say this to you today. You know, I have had a first-hand relationship with President Tinubu. But when I wanted to run, don’t forget that I was the Chairman of the infrastructure committee when Tinubu became the governor in Lagos. Part of my responsibility was to look after water challenges in Lagos, power challenges in Lagos, and the road challenges. All of those three items were under the Infrastructure Committee, which I chaired as part of the Transition Committee. And everybody felt very excited and Lagos started kicking but along the line when I decided to run for governor in Ogun State, I was a private sector person and we approached the leaders, and the leaders felt that no, Otunba, it is not your turn. We will not support you. 

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That’s at the level of AD then?

Yes, at the level of AD (Alliance for Democracy). They said we will not support you. You are doing well. We like you. You supported NADECO, you have done well, you have done a lot for the structure, but we cannot support you. Go and wait. But on the other hand, a large number of the masses of our people were craving for a change in the state and one thing led to the other, we went into ‘Whispering Palms’, we had a session, a retreat of some sort and we came to a conclusion that to respond to the yearnings of these people, we might need to change party. And of course, the problem could I do that with the kind of relationship I had with Asiwaju? Let me say, to the glory of God, I went to him and I said, this is the situation and I am considering changing my party. He sat with me and did the analysis and said, well, Gbenga, if you really must run, I can’t stop you. And that was how I then went into the PDP. As God would have it, I won the election despite the opposition by Knucklehead (laughs) and his friends. Because he felt it was a taboo. I mean, why should one unknown Otunba try to rock the boat against established tradition? So we won the election. Of course, my first official visit was to go and pay my respect to Governor Tinubu and everybody knew that while I was governor in Ogun State, the programmes that I was running, even though under the PDP banner, were not different from the programmes that Tinubu was running in Lagos. Let me give you a few examples. For starters, the Attorney General that I picked (Akin Osinbajo) was a younger brother to Prof Yemi Osinbajo, (immediate past Vice President) who was his Attorney General in Lagos at that time. He was my Attorney General for all of eight years. I couldn’t do that without some kind of consultation and you know how these things come about. So all the programmes I implemented – law reforms, judicial reform and establishment of the Public Defender Office, were what we replicated. Now, I remember that while in Lagos, in terms of security, RRS (Rapid Response Squad) was started. In Ogun State, I also did GRS, Gateway Response Squad. If you remember well, you will remember that Bola Tinubu tried to return schools to missionaries. It was Dr. Idowu Sobowale who chaired that reform in Lagos. When I got to Ogun State, it was the same Dr. Idowu Sobowale that I invited and said look, I don’t want to begin to reinvent the wheel, since you did this successfully in Lagos, we also want to return schools to the missionaries both Christian and Muslim schools. It was the same Dr. Idowu Sobowale that we invited to come and chair the Committee. So that was what happened. I don’t know where it came from, from the angle that, what’s going on? Is this person trying to compete, or what is he trying to do? I think that’s where the insinuation started. But I can tell you, up until now, up until this minute, I and the President have not sat down to discuss it. I heard that all sorts of rumours were going on. 

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Maybe the rumour was inflamed by the fact that you established your own newspaper.

Well, yes…

 Tell us about the establishment of the newspaper, The Compass. Was it set up to fight the Tinubu?

No, no, no, no! First things first, you must remember that I took over from a newspaper mogul, Chief Olusegun Osoba, and I was not expected to get good press, because this is one person who has either been chairman of Guild of Editors, and the sympathy was really not with me, it was with my predecessor. And people were actually thinking that I was going to crash within a few weeks. Ah, no, this one doesn’t know, where is he coming from? So, I had what you can call a very bad press, and there was indeed a need for me to find a solution. Unfortunately, we did not have the level of social media that we have today. If that existed, nobody would need the traditional media. But you know, you people at that time, once you blocked us, you blocked us here, you blocked us there, I was finished (laughs). If we were working 24-7, nobody would see this. They would  say you are not working because you people have blocked everybody. So that was what happened. I’m not a newspaper person. But, at that stage, we needed to have a platform to also record what we were doing. We did a lot of work that people still do not know. For instance, we thank our current governor for now working on the airport. But this was part of our master plan, which we decided, we did everything we needed to do, we got all the approvals before we left. But you people (press) will not report it. Many people don’t know that while I was governor, we secured three free trade zones in Ogun state. One is the one we had with Ondo State which we call Olokola Free Trade Zone. That’s where Dangote Refinery was supposed to be but because you people did what you had to do; we lost that one to Lagos. But I said to people, well, Lagos is still the same. If it’s lost to Lagos, it’s fine. In any case, where we wanted to put it is inside Ijebuland. All these places where they are in Lekki is still part of Ijebuland, under Lagos. So we’ve not lost anything. We’ve done the Kajola Transportation Free Trade Zones, where what we wanted to do at that time, we persuaded the presidency that Iddo Terminus was finished. There is no reason going to take stuff coming from the hinterland to Iddo market to add to the congestion and we said we wanted to bring it to Kajola. And then we created the free trade zone around Kajola. It’s called Kajola transportation free trade zone. That is why we’re now having dry port as it is. It was our initiative. We’ve done the Ogun-Gwandong Free Trade Zone. The Ogun-Guangdong Free Trade Zone is what we did when China decided that they wanted to do three free trade zones in Africa. It was Egypt, Nigeria, and South Africa that contested for it. We in Ogun State still contested for the one in Nigeria and we got it. (That was commissioned during our tenure) So in each of the three Senatorial Districts, we have one free trade zone and virtually functional. In fact, the biggest one would have been Olokola if not for a lot of other things that happened, the OKLNG and all of that. So, we did a lot of work which was not reported. You’ll be shocked if I tell you that in the course of our administration, we established probably about seven tertiary institutions and campuses. I can count for you. We established Abraham Adesanya Polytechnic, Ijebu-Igbo. We established the Gateway Polytechnic in Sapade. We established  another one in Igbesa and another one in Itori. We established the Tai Solarin University of Education. We established the School of Nursing in Ilaro. We took the old  Tai Solarin College of Education to Omu. It’s now known as Sikiru Adetona College of Education in Omu. We established Gateway Industrial & Petrochemical Institute  (GIPI) in Oni. What didn’t we do? But you people didn’t report it. We also did a lot in terms of industrialization. You know that, once upon a time, the Sagamu Interchange was just a bare land where people threw all sorts of tyres. That axis now is probably the biggest industrial zone in the country. We named it Flower Gate Industrial Estate. That is when companies like Nestle, Coleman Cables, CTK, the biggest international breweries, and all the big names now in the industry came there. That is the fastest growing industrial arena in the entire country as we speak today. So there’s a whole lot that you people refused to report for us (laughs).

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Towards the end of last year, during the yuletide, there were reports that the presidency shipped trailer loads of rice to House of Representatives members and senators as palliatives to be given to their constituents. Unfortunately, some lawmakers denied receiving the items while others said they were supplied. Did you receive rice from the President?

No, that was not what happened. To the best of my knowledge, it is probably part of the provision for constituency support. I am aware that a vote was announced that would be available for each of the senators. Basically, it wasn’t even as if they said it must be used for A, B, or C, but in this period of challenges for everybody to go and do something at home, that happened. And this was in December and early January. But the process of, let’s say, the bureaucracy, I’m aware that this is May but some people have still not got. We got something about two weeks ago. But we have been doing our own palliatives. We’ve done it in December, in January. Every month we go and do massive palliatives. So we’re not waiting for it. But if and when it comes, okay, there’s no problem. But definitely it’s not as if trailer loads of rice were distributed among lawmakers, no, no, no, no. What it was, was that finally it was supposed to be worked out with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and I think that some people got consignment from the ministry, others got their own independently. But yes, and in truth, there was a commendable effort to encourage lawmakers to go and do something to add value to what is going on in their various constituencies. That’s the way I’m going to put it.

Let’s go back to Ogun State politics. So, ordinarily, you being in APC and the present governor is in APC, nobody would have imagined that there would come a time when there would be a situation where the governor would say, no, Otunba Gbenga Daniel worked against me when I wanted to run for second tenure and then somehow, maybe through court processes, they went to Ijebu-Ode to demolish the property that you spent millions of naira on. Can you tell us what really happened? Where did the rift start from?

Well, you know, after I left as governor, Ibikunle Amosun became Governor. For eight years, he was there and finally Dapo Abiodun is governor. So, which means that I had been Governor eight clear years before Dapo became governor. So, I think I can describe myself as an elder statesman and that is why I have not passed any comment and I am still not going to pass any comment. All I know is that part of what has destroyed our polity is when people personalise issues. If you look at my trajectory, I have never spoken about personal issues because I think that there are bigger problems that need to be resolved and the expectations of the society, when they put us there, are more than talking about personal issues. It is unfortunate that the plaza that was destroyed belongs to my wife and a number of us felt that even if there are disagreements, we should not extend it to our children or our family, because at the end of the day, it’s a tenured position and people who find themselves in different angles may reunite tomorrow. I have had this personal experience in my political life and like people say, when you want to dig a pit for a political enemy, don’t dig it too deep because you may be the one who will finally fall into it. (Laughs). I think the way I normally describe when all these shenanigans go on is what we read in the Bible: Father forgive them for they know not what they do. That really is my summary.

Is there still a plot against Akpabio to maybe disparage him and kick him out of the Senate President’s position?

No. no, no. Let me make it clear to you, there was really never a time that Akpabio’s tenure was threatened. In the course of the election, yes, it was a keenly fought battle. But immediately after the election, all the people who didn’t support him openly declared their support for him, including Senator Abdulaziz Yari, all of them. Everybody declared their support and since then I have not seen any issue. But what people forget is that on the floor of the Senate everybody who is there is a potential national leader. So, when you want to run for the Senate, you are just first among equals and because it is the floor of the Senate, it also gives you what you can call immunity over what you can say. People do say that it’s the floor of the National Assembly and that I can say anything and get away with it. There is some kind of immunity in what you can say there and when you look at the calibre and personalities of people that are there, former governors…, I know somebody who has been in that Senate since 1999. So, who is going to be the Senate President that such a Senator cannot talk to? So, you begin to see things like that. Or you know, in that Senate, we also have people who are classmates of the President in the Senate because when the President was governor, they were also governors. The President was our own senior but there are people in that senate that belong to the class of 1999. So those are the calibre of people. So, if somebody is Senate President, you cannot say that you will not experience this sort of situation but the beautiful thing is that at the end of the day, this Senate is one and I particularly feel quite excited in the way the Senate President has handled even very serious issues. He is a human being, he is bound to make some mistakes, but by and large, he even has a way of, how do I put it, reducing temperature in the chamber. He is a jovial person; he is serious and he cracks jokes. So, things that ordinarily would have heated the place up, we resolve them. The Senate is a vibrant place. The Senate is a very vibrant place where there is freedom of speech and it is said that people have a right to shout. Emotions can be expressed. So, when you see emotions rising, you will think that the whole place is coming down but after all of those emotions, you just find all of them shaking hands. There is stability in the Senate. 

Two of your bills, the one for South West Development Commission and another for the establishment of aviation college in Ogun State, how far have they gone?

We are moving and we are quite satisfied. The aviation school that we conceptualised has been part of our master plan for the airport project and in the course of our campaign; we were waylaid by students of that school. It is a technical college. They waylaid and said look, OGD you are passing by here but in this place, there is nothing going on. As God will have it, the runway terminates around Akaka. We then said this is the aviation school that we’ve been thinking of, this is it. We tap into that because we also know that there are challenges with money and budgets. So, in that location there is already infrastructure. There are buildings, very few students, underutilized facilities and here we are, we now have an airport which by the special grace of God, the new governor appears to have gone very far with the completion. So pronto, we can’t have it better. We need to train people in all areas. What we have done, many people did not know, the airport that we planned is not just an airport, it’s a big city. We call it Aerotropolis. An Aerotropolis is a city which contains facilities for everything – hangar construction, warehouses, all sorts of things – and all of that. But when we were conceptualising it, we actually called it an agrocargo airport and that’s what actually decided the location, that that location is equidistant to Lagos,Abeokuta, Ijebu-Ode and Ibadan. We had planned that, from that location, people will bring their agricultural products there and it can be an export zone. So that was what we planned. So, all of those things that have not happened, it’s just part of our master plan and God has just given us the grace. By the grace of God, last two weeks it was gazetted. That is the second reading and we think that with that one, the next thing is now for it to be subject to a public hearing.  By the grace of God that is one bill that there was no need for any serious take-off grant. Unlike some of the other bills, people are proposing things that are completely new, green fields, they have to propose a lot of money. That is just a low-hanging fruit and we’re happy that, by the grace of God, that will come true. There are quite a number of things we are also doing. The Southwest Development Commission Bill, of course, is not a new bill per se. It had been initiated in the past, but due to one thing or the other, it didn’t go   beyond the second reading but this time around, we are determined, and I think everybody has agreed that there is indeed a need for that commission. All the other commissions are also coming up. They are just economic units. When you also look at all the people who have been talking of restructuring, something has happened which the past military government has done, which we have not taken note of. It is the creation of six zones. Six administrative zones are recognised in the constitution and all the commissions that are going on now appear to be following the pattern of the zones. People from each of the zones with common destiny, common economic boundaries, common electoral affinities, common industrial or commercial activities, should be able to come together and look at things that are important to them, to be able to develop those peculiar things that’s common to them, and get the federal government to support it. So, it’s probably still along those six zonal structures that we are going. We are hoping that we can achieve it by the grace of God. 

On a lighter note, people wonder why, at your age, you still look agile and athletic. How do you relax and what form of exercise do you engage in if any? Again, what is your philosophy of life?

Well, first of all, there are quite a number of aspects to my life. I’m a lover of church music. You probably would have heard about, for instance, the choir festival that I’m promoting. The next one is on the 16th of June. I’m the Asiwaju of Remo Christians and I’m trying to promote church music. The reason is very, very simple. We found out that, whether we like it or not, there are good aspects of religion, both Christian and Islamic religions. It tends to preach morals. In a morally decadent society that we have, where value system has completely collapsed, we are left with getting things that can improve that from the churches and from the mosques. I also discovered along the line that, if we are not careful, the orthodox way of preaching is becoming boring, especially for the younger people. There must be other ways and I find that music is indeed something that gets people sober, think, ruminate, observe quiet time and all of that. What I found out is that the way church music was going on was becoming uninteresting. When we were young, sometimes it was because of the choir that we went to church. Ah, the choir is going to render a special rendition today! So, we would go and sit down to enjoy it. I sang Soprano when I was younger. I played the piano and all of that. So, I’m passionate and I am working very hard. I’m hoping that we can use that to also develop the younger people. We’re also hoping that, apart from the value system, it can also be what I call the building blocks for future stars. You know, so, as part of our little contribution to improving society. Nigeria is evolving. All of a sudden, we seem to have taken over from the United States in terms of music. We are scrolling up Hollywood and Nollywood in terms of artwork. So, it’s also part of that. You’ll be shocked that I play table tennis. But not just that I play, I’m the champion in my house. (Laughs) I am the champion in my house. I have played table tennis since I was a young man and I still play. So, every morning I play table tennis and I still don’t have anybody who is beating me. All my drivers are playing with me, everybody is playing with me in the morning, at 7 o’clock we are playing. But not only that, I read a lot and I watch TV. I listen to current affairs. When I was in school, I was representing the school in quiz competitions. What we were told in quiz is that all knowledge is relevant because in a quiz competition, my quiz teacher used to tell me that we can ask a question from the stars to the surface of the earth and to beneath the earth. Any and every question is relevant in a quiz competition and because of that we have to be interested in everything. So I’m a voracious reader and I watch what is going on, that is current affairs all over the world.

The Nation

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