By Segun Atanda/
Front-line national chairmanship candidate of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Otunba Gbenga Daniel (OGD), has expressed shock at Nigeria’s inability to get out of economic quagmire in the face of abundant local resources.
Daniel, a former governor of Ogun State, described Nigeria’s plight as that of a country that jumped from frying pan into fire.
Fielding questions from journalists in Lagos today, Daniel spoke about how to douse the fire and rebuild Nigeria into a great nation, as he condemned the All Progressives Congress (APC) for allegedly failing to impress most Nigerians.
He also spoke about his political root and the tutelage under the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, his close shave with death as a student unionist, as he explained why he is in the Chairmanship race with his long-time associate and Southwest leader of PDP, Chief Bode George and other candidates – Jimi Agbaje and Uche Secondus, who he described as friends.
Daniel said that it was time for PDP to change the change brought by APC and Nigerians should prepare to be on the march again.
On APC’s management of the economy, Daniel said: “When we begin to look at the parameters; between the former administrations and now, I don’t think there is any cause for cheer. It does appear we have gone from frying pan to fire. By yesterday, the dollar was exchanging at N362. It was even much worse at a time. Inflation has gone real up. In the history of our country, this is the worst situation.
“The biggest challenge we have is unemployment, and that has now skyrocketed. When I became governor in 2003, we were looking for a way to tackle unemployment. There was a time I was boasting that any person from Ogun State who is jobless is lazy; that I had job for everybody, and I wasn’t just talking for talking sake. I had job for everybody within the little resources we had in Ogun State, I was going to employ everybody who wanted to work.
“We introduced ingenious ways of doing things – keeping our little resources in-house. We were not awarding any contract to foreign companies. Nobody, no foreign company got contracts in my eight years as governor. If you’re not even an Ogun State indigene, you’ll be lucky. The concept was to keep Ogun State’s money inside Ogun State and circulate it in Ogun State, and it works wonders.
“I have always insisted that if Nigerians can keep Nigeria’s money inside Nigeria, there should be no recession here. And I had the opportunity to prove it the way I did my projects, built my roads. I was asking somebody what is it that Nigerians cannot do, and someone was telling me issue of poor roads. There are also rules. Let’s apply the rules. If somebody is building a house and the house collapsed, the engineer involved has lost his certificate. If somebody dies there, he will be lucky if he is charged for murder. The minimum is manslaughter. By the time we do things like this, people will sit up.
“They say roads are not lasting. Roads are meant to be maintained. In my state, I’ve seen roads built by big companies and before they leave site it’s already cracking. Even if the roads are done by angels from heaven, for as long as heavy duty vehicles run there and drainage are not properly done, it will crack up. That’s why we had PWD in those days. Why are they making all these things a big deal? Oh, if it’s a 30-storey building, give it to a Nigerian company. If the Nigerian company wants to go and hire an expatriate to supervise, let him do it. But, you’ll find out that our people are not stupid. If they find opportunity to interface, they’ll take over. They’ll do it. This is the way to go.
“We say Nigerians are not good doctors, now we go abroad and we are treated by Nigerian doctors who went to University of Lagos, Ife, Nsukka and Ibadan, to study medicine. If you go UK and America, the best of hospitals that you have there, you’ll be shocked when the man who is going to treat you will be speaking your language. So, it’s not that we don’t have capacity, but we’ve not been given opportunities. Let’s give these opportunities to develop. This is where I’m coming from. Today, we are not there because part of it is that we don’t believe in ourselves, and we are not going to move an inch until we do just that. Why is it that something that is so simple like this is that difficult? I don’t know. I can’t see it. I’m in shock!”
While admitting that President Buhari has zero tolerance for corruption, Daniel condemned the ongoing anti-corruption campaign, and he refused to give a pass mark to the APC government on security.
He said, “Contrary to expectations of Nigerians, the government today has not impressed many people. The highlights of this administration are anti-corruption and security. Well, agreed. That’s the high-point, where they say yes we are doing very well. When we look at security, it was Boko Haram that was tormenting us; and this is the third year of this administration, it still has not been taken out and they still pose threat; every now and then, dozens of people are killed. We now have herdsmen tormenting our people, going to farms. In this part of the country, we now have Badoo, indiscriminately killing. The problem of insecurity has not been tackled, and I have said severally that what we are doing here is trying to tackle the symptoms. We have not robustly tried to tackle the causes. If all you do is tackle symptoms; you have headache, okay, go and take Paracetamol. It suppresses it a little bit. But, what is causing that headache? That is what I think we have not done as far as I’m concerned.
“And, you can ask me what the solution is. I know it, and you know it. It’s simple. The rate of unemployment is directly proportional to insecurity. This means that when you tackle unemployment, you will have better results. You will not eliminate insecurity, because some people will still be unsatisfied, but when you tackle unemployment massively, you will reduce the level of insecurity in our country.
“I was speaking with somebody from Borno yesterday, and I said, you’re from Borno, where is Sambisa forest? He said there’s nothing like Sambisa forest, that the place is a savannah, and it’s not a thick forest the way we are looking at it. If my knowledge of Geography serves me right savannah is where you have low grass, not the kind of rain forest you have here. As far as he is concerned, it is an artificial creation. It’s a direct function of joblessness on the part of some politicians who were using them at some point in time, and they stopped using them later. Look at what that has blossomed into – all sorts of people started to hijack it for various reasons. My take, therefore, is that unemployment is the root cause of the insecurity that we have.
“Now, I was reading the statistics from the office of statistics. They were saying that unemployment is all-time high; that it’s 25 per cent, and I say that figure of 25 per cent, which is quite high, cannot be realistic figure. I think that figure is the sort of thing you hear when the military go and sack a town and they say 10 people dead, 20 injured; when the military say 20 injured, you know 50 is dead and 100 is already injured.
“From practical experiences that we have, we all have people in schools. In Ogun State, at the last count, before I left as governor, we had about 12 tertiary institutions. Now, we have more. Those tertiary institutions were admitting virtually 3000, 4000, 5000 per annum, which means that let’s say 3000 or 4000 are graduating every year, we are looking at a production of about 30,000 or 40,000 graduates every year in Ogun State alone, The public service commission in Ogun State is about 30, 000, when you look at civil service, teaching, and local government service. Even, those figures, I doubled it, they are much less. So, that means the entire Ogun State government is employing 40, 000 people, and equal number of that is graduating every year. So, let’s say in a period of 10 years you have 400,000 graduates in Ogun State, and they say unemployment is reducing, where have you absorbed them? And government is the biggest employer.
“When I look around me, the number of people that I see who are basically graduates planning to buy cars; how many of them are doing Yahoo-Yahoo? So, unemployment is all-time high and it remains so because we are not putting Nigeria’s money inside Nigeria. That’s my scorecard on security.”
On corruption, Daniel said, “I think from what we are reading on a daily basis, the NNPC saga… Whereas I concede that President Muhammadu Buhari, as a person, has zero tolerance for corruption, but the sort of corruption that we can see clearly, he’s not been able to tackle that corruption. Everybody’s concerned. The perception we had before was that Diezani was on the run; I’m hearing, I hope it’s not true, that she wants to come home and face trial; and I’m hearing that anti-corruption agencies are saying no, stay there. Something is wrong somewhere.
“When Dasuki was arrested, it was public knowledge, and the man is saying try me openly; let’s open everything, I’m ready. He who is down needs fear no fall. Let me talk. We are hearing that no. I don’t know.
“I do know it could be relatively due to the state of the President’s health, which we know was challenging, but definitely all these corruption that we hear is full of sounds and furies. What then do we do? I think we have to be on the move and on the march again.”
Asked why he would like to be the national chairman of PDP, Daniel traced the evolution of party politics in Nigeria, political ideologies and the zoning formula embraced by PDP to ensure peace and stability.
He argued that PDP lost the last presidential election because of the lack of internal democracy.
He said. “Now that Nigerians appear to be regretting effecting this change, I think PDP wants to change the change. That’s where we are. The reason why I’ve shown interest is not too far-fetched. You know PDP as a party has subscribed to the zoning system as a means of stabilizing the polity and ensuring everybody has a sense of belonging. So, in the wisdom of the PDP, they have zoned the Presidency to the North and the chairmanship of the party to the South. There are also talks that in the South, most of the people prefer the Chairman to go to the Southwest, while Eastern bloc may be, without them saying it, looking at grabbing the VP, which I really feel is not a bad idea.
“And coming to the South, if it is indeed true that southwest had a chance, quite a lot of people feel that I have capacity. I have administered the state; I’ve organised a party; in the private sector, I’ve ran a company; I’ve done student unionism; I’ve done corporate governance, party administration, and I have, in that process built network across the country. So, they think by the grace of God, we might be able to repackage the party, reorganize the party and try to see if we can use that party to change the change.”
On relationship with Chief Bode George and the fact that the Chairman of the PDP Governors Forum, Gov Ayo Fayose is running for Presidency despite the zoning arrangement, Daniel said, “Chief Bode is our leader. We have a lot of respect for him. But, I think we must not personalize matters of national interest. It’s not a question of personal ambition. If it’s about personal ambition, I’ll probably go for deputy position.
“In my own opinion, there is time for everything. A smart man, if he’s dancing, must be able to look back and see whether the drum is still drumming. That’s how I can summarize what I’ve said.
“It could be something about our people. When they feel in a certain way, and you tell them something… Let’s go to the former president. You know, at a point in time, all of you said this is the man we want. He’s the one that has no shoe. And you were all over the place saying it’s him, nothing else.
But, later on, they now begin to say, anybody but him. Let him just go. Even at that time, if you put a goat… If he spreads money to all of you, you’ll take the money and you’ll say let him go. I’ve also gone through it. Before the end of my administration, you know what I went through. Despite the fact that I worked like a Jackal, 24/7. Then, I say hum, go. I’m hearing that they are now saying, ha, we did not know that…
“That summarizes what I see on the field. I’ve just come back from a tour of the south-south. I saw everybody. Not that they were saying it must be me. It’s oh! We’re not going there. If that’s what…
“There was something I was doing as a governor. I do opinion polls, and I wish my brother, my leader can do a poll.”
On Fayose’s ambition that is against the run of play, Daniel said, “When you look at the history of our party, there’s no time that zoning does not take place; and there’s also no time that some people do not contest despite zoning. Zoning is a moral arrangement. It’s not constitutional. In the real sense of the word.
“I think Gov Fayose has rights, which cannot be questioned, to aspire to the position of the presidency. It’s now left for the people. This is what I know from experience. Look at the convention that brought Baba Obasanjo in, there’s no need to… They zoned it to southwest more or less. But, Rimi contested. Ekwueme contested. So, it’s not unusual what’s going on. We shouldn’t take it as something else.
“Usually, in this our country, it’s not so much as one’s personal efforts; sometimes, it’s the glory of God. If you go from here to Jerusalem, and God says Fayose will be president, who are we to question God? Just like, for instance, OBJ from prison to villa.”
Asked if his court case with EFCC will not be an encumbrance to his ambition, Daniel said, “Basically, there’s no human being without blemish. Let’s accept that. Having said that, I will submit that I have no encumbrances whatsoever. Constitutionally, we must not forget, it’s only the perception of our people that once somebody writes a petition against you, and EFCC invites you, they’ll readily perceive you as guilty. It’s only politicians or whoever wants to be mischievous that would say he doesn’t know that what I’m going through is mere political persecution. So, I have no worries about it at all. At the right time, the court will discharge and acquit me.
“I’ve been in court 40 times. There has been no single shred of evidence against me. You arrested somebody nearly 7 years ago; I’ve not missed court once, and you’re the one asking for adjournment. Constitutionally, you shouldn’t ask for more than five adjournments, but they’ve had 10. I suspended Tunde Oladunjoye as chairman. He wrote the petition.”
Asked why he has not been criticizing Gov Ibikunle Amosun as an opposition leader in Ogun State, Daniel said, “If you administer a state for 8 years, and somebody is there, it’s not proper for you to attack that person. I’m not contesting for governor again. Whoever is contesting can attack.”
Daniel, however, observed that the bridges being built in Ogun State are not being sited where they are needed. He also observed that they should have been single carriage, rather than double carriage.
He added that even the busy bridges “that take traffic to the Lagos Airport are single carriage, not double”.
On his other opponents in the PDP chairmanship race, Daniel said: “Uche Secondus is our friend. We are all members of the same party. Everybody is qualified. Jimi is my friend of 30 years. I invited him to join PDP.”
Check back for the concluding part shortly.