Access Bank PLC

What Life Has Taught Me @ 60 – Otunba Gbenga Daniel

First Bank Nigeria
In the next few days, Otunba (Engr.) Justus Olugbenga Daniel, former Governor of Ogun state (2003-2011) will join the exclusive club of 60 year-olds. For the man, who many of his admirers and political associates refer to as OGD, the Diamond Jubilee is worth the celebration; having a long history of successes, challenges, persecution and tribulations behind it.
‎With a combination of intelligence, steadfastness, calculation and luck, Otunba Daniel had climbed the ladder of achievements, using the corporate world as his launch pad and consolidating same with astute political administration and building along a highly robust followerrship.
As a man of many parts cutting across the social, corporate and political landscape of Nigeria, ‎had an exclusive chat with the man who became the first indigenous Deputy Managing Director of H.F. Schroeder W.A. Ltd at age of 33; and was also conferred with the Chieftaincy title of ‘Fesojoye’ of ile-Ife (The Source) at the age of 32. Excerpts:
As you clock 60, What are some of the things you ask God to do for you that he has not done?

Initially, I said there won’t be any celebration, on a second thought, the Bible says in all things, we should give thanks. There is no human being on earth that will say he has everything. The nature of human is such that we are designed to want more, the people who are rich want to be richer. It’s an insatiable natural demand of Homo sapiens. Between you and I, i think God has been great, he has been wonderful, if there is anything I get worried about, it is that the quality of life of our people should have been improved much more than this. When we had the opportunity in Ogun State, there is something we believed in, it’s called the ripple effect of leadership.

Some people believe that you can not do much except you grab power at the center, but I say you can make a difference where you are. If you drop a pebble in small river or big stone in the ocean you will create a ripple effect.. When we had the privilege and grace of God to run Ogun State, it is to create that ripple that will possibly affect other locations.

Without singing about it, I can bring so many examples; Sports for instance had not gotten to this level locally, we did Gateway Games 10 years ago, several states did games after that which none surpassed what we did. We used that to turn around the fortune of Ogun State. Other states too started building stadia, in fact our stadia builders were invited everywhere, they were invited to even come to South Africa to build for them. Those are ripple effects of our singular action.

When we dualized our roads, other states in South West and beyond also started dualizing. My successor has made it better with flyovers all over the place.

In education, we started the first University of Education in Nigeria, I was happy when Chief Obasanjo went there recently and said he tried to achieve that at the Federal level but couldn’t. Today, other Universities of Education have sprung up.

When we came up with Free Trade Zone and Cargo Airport, several years later, Lagos started its own Free Trade Zone and I hear Osun is planning its own Cargo Airport, others are going in that direction too. If you know what you are doing, you could from wherever you are create a ripple effect on the larger society without making noise about it. Those are things I look at and thank God for his mercy.

What are the things you will start doing differently as you clock 60? 

I think I just need to slow down. All my life I have been a workaholic. From Primary School to Secondary to University, as an employee, as an employer, as government worker, as a retiree. I want to learn to slow down. When you get to this age, you want to look at things from a more matured perspective, you won’t fight the way you do when you were younger, it’s a natural phenomenon.

In retrospect, what are the things you would have handled differently?

My usual response is, there are not many decisions that I took that I would have taken a different decision now. Because each and every decision we took while we were in government, we had universal rules, the rules have not changed and will not likely change. The rules are; this thing you are about to do or sign can it withstand public scrutiny? I will sign if only the answer is yes. The next question is…. Usually in governance you have limited resources, so you consider the level of impact, in prioritizing, one situates it according to ideology which is my challenge with our country today, we don’t have a clear cut ideology. If it is a capitalist system, let us know, because there are countries that have succeeded with it, if it is a socialist system or a pot pourrie let’s define it.
The next question is that this decision we are about to take, is it in the interest of a few or in the interest of the larger society? We will not likely take it if it is in the interest of a few, but if we persuade ourselves that the decision is in best interest of the majority,we will likely do it. So, because we ask ourselves those universal questions we are not likely to have done anything wrong

People have said if you had handled the issue with your lawmakers differently they won’t have given you hell ?
Really and truly I would still have maintained my position. Some people think that is not being pragmatic but that is part of the reasons Nigeria is not developed. There must be minimum lines one should not cross and those lines must be there and bold. One may be misunderstood yet one cannot say motives behind their actions in the public. But if you know any, you can ask specifically and I will throw more light on it.

Talking about things that you had power to do and you didn’t do, On our way here we noticed that the major road that leads to your house is bad?

The Oba Eluwole Road you are talking about is a Federal road. It is the road that leads to Mosimi, NNPC depot, that is where all the tankers load for the South West make use of from the refinery they pump fuel through the pipeline there. It is a strategic depot and it is very big. It is five years since I left government, this road was not like this when I was in government, I was maintaining the road, because there were times NUPENG will threaten to go on strike if that road is not good because their tankers can fall after loading, with the meager resources we ensured that we maintained the road. Maybe the government there now have forgotten or it escaped their mind.

Who are your mentors?
Obafemi Awolowo, Prof. Awojobi and my father. They have greatly influenced me, there are things they did that I modestly tried to do too. You will not know a lot about Prof.Awojobi, he died at 48, he was a Professor of Mechanical Engineering, University of Lagos. His thesis was on Authomatic Vibrations, Mechanical Controls. He was the 1st African man to get a Dsc, it was a big deal at that time. One of the most brilliant geniuses of our time. That was my mentor, I was his boy. He was also a political activist, I was a young undergraduate who carry his briefcase and follow him from campus to campus where he goes to deliver his radical lectures. I was a research assistant to him even as an undergraduate. He was running a quiz competition called Mastermind. When I got to Unilag to study Mechanical Engineering in 1975, I went for the Mastermind quiz Competition which was a very popular NTA programme. I became the Mastermind of the Year under Awojobi after winning it five consecutive times

What is stagnating our development, is it a challenge of leadership or followership?

I think it is the combination of both. With due respect, although there are a few exceptions but on a general scale. the quality of leadership has continually plummeted. My biggest challenge is weak followership which people don’t like to hear, I call it naivety. I have always been shocked as to how gullible our people can be, particularly on their assessment of leadership. At the beginning of my intervention, we did the Gateway Foundation to support the people because of poverty. In recent time, I have come to realize that the greatest challenge we have is the poverty of ideas that is why I have gone into things like Political Academy. I have found out that information dissemination could make or destroy a nation. As an engineer, if you ask me 15years ago to spend N50m  to publicize a N10m road, I will say it is wrong, in fact it is still wrong, it thus appear that the people who do it are the ones the society recognize and celebrate. Part of what I will tell anyone who want to pass through this process, regrettably, is that a lot of emphasis must be placed on information dissemination. The people will go on and on to take decision and later regret it.
One of the things that amazes me about this country and I’ll tell you, in 1975 back to Unilag, we started ” Gowon Must Go ” because he said that year was no longer realistic for handover. If I rewind, we were jubilating when Gowon’s coup overthrew Tafawa Balewa. So we didn’t want Gowon but he is one of our heroes today. Fast forward to 1976 Muritala Muhammed took over, with no intention to insult the memory of the dead, the history was that it was him who led the raid on CBN Benin, retirement with ignominy, fired with immediate effect people say that the destruction of the civil service started during that era, in the meantime, it is death that saved Muritala, otherwise… Then Baba (Obasanjo) came, very intelligent man, but he quickly quit when the ovation was loudest. Entered Shagari, Buhari overthrew him, we started jubilating, IBB came afterwards but he wasn’t able to handover, Shonekan stepped in but people didn’t like him, then came Abacha, that one showed us pepper,(general laughter) then came Abdusallam that one did not waste time, then came Baba (Obasanjo) again, third term or no third term

But Baba said he never wanted third term?

Ooookaaayyy! Let’s save that for another day. But I was his governor, let’s leave that for now. As I was saying that has been the trend. In 2010 it was the man with no shoes that everybody wanted, in 2014, he was clueless. It was time for change. Change has now come, now I read on the internet, Bring Back Corruption. That is the consistent behavior of our people. And we have not learnt a single lesson. We have not developed the habit of dissecting our leaders and see what they stand for so that the people who need the information can read it from the media and make informed decisions. We are all behaving like the Roman mob with little or no capacity for proactive thinking. I’m not being abusive because we are all guilty.

We will not make progress until the informed media begins to x-ray leadership. Look at the one calling himself leader of the South West, educated people are following him. You can see progressively that there is a decline in the leadership we are getting

You may say we report what we see but I think, it should be much more than that. Even if you have to report what you see or hear, don’t report what is not right and leave it at the discretion of the readers. That is not patriotic enough, you can do that in a civilized society but our people are largely uneducated and unexposed, you really have to show more than a passing interest.

Otunba Gbenga Daniel With Awujale Of Ijebuland
Otunba Gbenga Daniel With Awujale Of Ijebuland

What were your projections before you clocked 60, have you met them all?

I can only say that for my business. We thank God we can say we have achieved our goals and objectives. When we started my company Kresta Laurel some 25years ago, Nigerian companies in that business were unsung. We benchmarked against international companies with best global practice. Today it is the only ISO certified company in Nigeria.

On the other hand when we started Gateway Foundation it was to support and assist the people. Part of our focus was not to see anybody crawl simply because they couldn’t afford wheel chair. Today it is an aberration to see anyone crawling in Ogun State.

Part of what gives me joy that was misinterpreted was how we were able to engage and transform street boys to sports men. Just like the Mike Tyson story, but people said we were breeding area boys. Testimonies of those people humbles me. We also trained them to do paving stones and gave them space and materials, we compelled OGROMMA to patronize them.
In 2004, I approached the the Federal Government to do the 40km Abeokuta-Sagamu road as well as the Lagos-Ibadan road at my OGROMA price. I was given permission for the Abeokuta-Sagamu road, I completed it in less than two years. 12 years after, the Lagos Ibadan Express road, despite the high cost spent, is yet to be completed. The ripple effect is that roads are now completed in record time. Amosun has done his flyovers in record time, the issue I have with that is the exorbitant cost. We created that template.

My first book was called “OGUN STATE THE LAND OF MY DREAMS” and I called it the land of the sleeping giant but today clearly the giant is awake and ready to devour even its neighbors. Those are the milestones we set out to achieve and God made it possible.

Let’s share your growing up years, what was the experience like, who were your contemporaries in school?

As the son of a reverend gentleman, i grew up with the principle of ‘remember the son of who you are’. Generally I was a good boy. All through primary school, I can’t remember being caned, I was caned once in secondary school because the whole class was making noise, my father never caned me but he caned everybody else, while in class one and two I was living with Chief Gabriel Otunla my Principal, so I escaped the seniors. At Baptist Boy’s High School (BBHS) we were trained to be leaders, when you are there, you challenge yourself with the feats achieved by the old students. I was also quite popular with quiz competition at that stage. Alao Babasanya, John Soares, Kayode Soyinka who was one year my junior now Publishing Africa Now magazine, we were also good at soccer at that time.

At the university, we had Prof. Adekola he taught us Structural Engineering, it was a compulsory course, naturally the class is always filled up, he had a bad leg, so he will slip into the class quietly sit down and repeatedly tell us that not all of us will graduate, that they are trying to reduce the number of engineers they turn out. After his class, everybody will sit and be looking at each other sadly considering the consequence of what the man had said.
Then we had Prof. Awojobi ‘the genius’, we all feel inferior to him. He comes to class with just chalk and duster, no lecture notes, he will go on and on. Something strange about him, he considers that not everyone is as gifted as him, and nearly everyone will pass his course, contrary to the case with Prof Adekola. That experience made an impression on me that we cannot all see things from the same perspective, and that everyone have their good side that must be emphasized and the bad side that must be de-emphasized.

At the end of the day, the first class students became lecturers and the third class became governors (laughs). A lot of our friends ended up in Shell.

I had the privilege of using two scholarships from Federal Government and UAC. All the people running the biggest churches in Nigeria today were in Unilag – (Adeboye, Kumuyi, Adekoya.) Tunde Bakare and I were there together. It was quite memorable.

What is the greatest lesson life has taught you at 60?

The realities of life is quite different from some of the things we were taught in school. Life is quite complex yet very simple depending on what you want from life. You must determine what your value system are, what gives you joy and go for it.

Some of us here have interacted with you for over 12 years and we find it strange that you are perceived differently outside, what do you think accounts for this?

Chief Obafemi Awolowo offered free education, he lost the election because the campaign was used against him, they told the farmers that he wants to use education to deny them their children’s assistance in the farm. After his death, he became the best thing to happen to us. Our hero.

If they say who is the best governor in Ogun State, people will likely say Bisi Onabanjo, but we have forgotten that he was jailed (for corruption) by Buhari for 100 and something years, when he came out he became hypertensive, diabetic and almost blind.

There is something that must change about human nature. I think I was becoming larger than life and some people felt they should bring me down. It was a well orchestrated, well funded campaign. A newspaper was even floated just for that purpose, it was closed after it achieved its purpose. Regrettably, I got all manner of advice, they’ll say I must allow them to abuse me, while I concentrate on my job. I didn’t know that people were believing the tales by moonlight. At that time photoshop application was not popular, somebody edited an image making me look like juju man and people believed. If it were to be now, people would have doubted it. I think I was getting too strong for some people. It has not gone away, they are still scheming.

At 60, are you planning to be preaching the gospel?

There is no time I don’t preach the gospel, If I have gone ahead to build a church, how are you sure that is not where I plan to end up?

What is the vision behind the establishment of Political Academy?

Beyond touching lives materially, I have discovered that most people don’t have information. I call some of my friends educated illiterates because they don’t have information. You see them arguing blindly. I decided to establish the academy to enrich the knowledge of people. The courses are short, some three days, one week or two weeks. The first thing we teach is history of Nigeria. What is the mission of the Royal Niger Company.? How did Nigeria came into existence? What was the intention of Lord Lugard? What led to the civil war? Are those factors still there? What led to the Zango-Kataf fight? Why are the fulanis fighting, if  we don’t know these basic things, when anything happens,  you won’t even know what to say.Why do Emirs specially invite northern civil servants who have risen to the Director level? Why don’t they write petition against themselves? People need to understand the what, why and how of processes to change their perspective and expectations. That is the reason why we established this institution to educate them.

What does power mean to you?

Power is sweet when not used. But in this type of environment, power is used to facilitate and ensure that the people get quality living.

What is interesting about being 60?

I don become old man be dat (laughs) it means you have moved to the elders circle. It thus mean you will have to be more matured with the way you reason and react to issues.

You believe so much in the next generation, which also reflected in your government. With your experience over time, will you say the youths have failed you?

No, I will not say the youths have failed me. When you consider the people who have behaved below expectation, they are the ones I can call the loud minority. On my 50th birthday, on my way to church, I got a copy of Insider Magazine that said I was arrested with my wife with a huge sum of money at Heathrow Airport, before I knew what was happening President Obasanjo had ordered an investigation through Dr Christopher Kolade, the High Commissioner to UK then and he discovered that it was false, he invited and gave me the report. Insider magazine was found guilty, N5m damages was awarded against Insider. The started running everywhere. Of course that was not reported.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button