Restructuring is Nigeria’s best option to come out of the woods —Gbenga Daniel
Chief Gbenga Daniel was governor of Ogun State between 2003 and 2011. The engineer and businessman, who is a leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in this interview with Group Politics Editor, TAIWO ADISA, speaks on the crisis in the PDP at the state and national levels, how the next National Chairman of the party will emerge, his relationship with former President Olusegun Obasanjo, among others. Excerpts:
With due respect, I have written the petition directly to the Inspector General of Police that there was an assassination attempt on my person, and I’ve not only done that, I have also pointed accusing fingers at somebody who by his own confessed actions against my person, consistently in the last eight years, who has also made certain statements even privately about the fact that I appear to be his only obstacle for whatever he perceives to be his objective in the polity and that he will not stop at nothing until he sees my end. I think that is enough to alert the police, so that the police do not begin to go on a wild goose chase when the crime occurs. It is not unusual for somebody whom crime is committed against to navigate and direct investigation and that is precisely what I have done. Having done that, I have done my civil responsibility. It is now for the police to do their investigation and, to that extent, I do not want to say much.
Apart from being a politician, you are also a businessman. Senator Kashamu is also known to be a businessman. Will you say this is politically-motivated or is it a business interest?
Which business interest? I have run organisations in the last 30 years of my life and I’ve not had any issue with anybody. I run a straightforward business. We have a job to do. It is service we render. We’ve not had any dispute with anybody because we’ve done our job well. So, I don’t have any deal and that’s why I said in the petition that I’ve not done any deal with anybody. In any case, I’m not the one running the business directly now. So, what are we talking about?
There is this crisis in the running of the South-West PDP and also the battle for the control of Ogun chapter of the party. Could that be the issue?
I don’t know. But the much I can say is that the political environment has been polluted and it’s the grace of God that can allow a person to cleanse it. Pollution by all characters who have different objectives and perspectives about what politics is all about, which is quite at variance with what some of us learnt and developed to appreciate what it’s all about. For us, it’s service. But when people now turn the process into extortion and money making ramification, we have a problem in the land and with due respect, some of us are not cut out for this sort of thing.
How are you resolving the crisis around South-West PDP, which Senator Kashamu is seen as a key catalyst?
I will not continue this interview if all you have to talk about is this character….But if you look at it properly, this character you are talking about, if you look at it from the beginning to the end, there isn’t a single person that he has not quarrelled with. There is something that requires investigation there – from OBJ, OGD, everybody. The one I read today is a direct attack on Makarfi himself. Every single person in Ogun State, in the South-West, there is one issue or the other. That is why I said the environment is completely polluted.
The Supreme Court has ruled on the PDP crisis and the party seems to be back on its feet now. You are one of the people being touted to be interested in the national chairmanship of the party. I want you to confirm if this is true and if it is true, why do you want to be chairman?
Well, I like the way you put the question – being touted. Let me say clearly and this is what I truly believe based my understanding and experience about the party, PDP. The post of the chairmanship is not really contested the way people think. It is for the real stakeholders, the owners of the party to sit down at some point in time and say all variables considered, we think at this point in time, these are the challenges that party is facing and who do they feel will confront and resolve those challenges as best as possible. So, it is for the owners of the party to sit down and come to such conclusion. I want to assure you that if the conclusion is that I am in a position to do it, possibly based on my experience in the party as a governor for eight years. I got a lot of network, possibly also because people feel that along the line, I had the opportunity to also work with others. Don’t forget that in 2011 elections, I was the coordinator for South-West and it was very successful. We weren’t as successful in 2015 as we were in 2011 in the South-West. So, it is possible that people are looking at all of that and feel that at this point in time, I am one of the people who may be able to reverse the fortunes of the party, then I consider it a national service. But I don’t think it is something that we should hit the road and begin to fight in the name of politicking for a party that is really at its lowest ebb. That’s the way I look at it.
If you look at the history of the party from inception till now, that has been the pattern, that the owners of the party will sit down and say all things considered, this is how we want to play the game. Of course, that will be subjected to a democratic process as a necessity. It is not just in the PDP. If you also look at even the APC, how did the chairman emerge? When was that campaign and when was the vote taken? Where was the noise made? Where was the national campaign across the 36 states when the current chairman was elected? So, consensus is also part of the process when it can be achieved seamlessly.
But the aborted convention process in the PDP did not support your assertion as it took a different dimension. We are not sure whether the upcoming one will take that dimension. Ahead of the aborted Port Harcourt convention, we saw Chief Raymond Dokpesi going round the country despite the belief that the chairmanship was zoned to South-West?
You’ve answered the question. Of course, Dokpesi is my person. I have a lot of confidence in him. There is a relationship of several decades. He went on an expedition which is not out of place and I think it was a good expedition. But what was the result? Is it not coming back to my earlier theory that at a certain level the party will decide? And I’ve also told people, not even chairmanship alone, when you look at most national offices, the Vice-Presidency, the Presidency in this country, you find that the race is not usually for the swiftest. That is the experience we have always had and I’m not just saying in recent history; from the Tafawa Balewa days through even the military, through Ironsi, Gowon, to (former President Shehu) Shagari. Shagari didn’t want to be president; he wanted to be senator. Ekwueme didn’t want to be vice-president. He just was a good contributor to the party. Obasanjo was from prison to presidency. Atiku had already won as governorship candidate and he was asked to drop that and become vice-president. And all the people who were running didn’t get anything. Yar’Adua became president. All the people who wanted to be VP didn’t make it. It was Jonathan and when Jonathan also became president and wanted to choose a vice-president, Namadi Sambo didn’t expect it. He didn’t lobby it for it. It just happened. And this current one that we are going is exactly the same thing. The current VP, two weeks to his nomination didn’t even move. Can’t we learn from history that somehow, there is a tide in the affairs of men that tends to dictate some of these things?
But some people will also interpret all these scenarios to mean that we have never really had a prepared leader in this country.
That’s not quite correct. Chief Obafemi Awolowo was quite prepared. While he was in the Western Region, he gave a good account of himself.
Back to the issue of the possibility of you becoming the party chairman. One thing that people feel could count against you is that at a point in time, you left the party, while others remained in the party. Don’t you think that may count against you?
Let’s also go into the history. [Ahmed] Makarfi was not even in the PDP, but somehow became chairman. If you reverse further, [Okwesilieze] Nwodo was not in PDP but he became chairman. [Vincent] Ogbulafor was in the ANPP, he became PDP chairman too. If we now want to talk about me leaving the PDP, I think there is a serious misconception about what actually happened. People forgot and you the media must continuously educate people when people for reasons that are best known to them, decide to be mischievous and interpret and misrepresent what actually happened. What happened is that I was a PDP governor for eight years. We had a proper congress. Somebody was chosen. In fact not just somebody, all the congresses were done under the watchful eyes of INEC, of everybody, of the police of SSS. Candidates emerged. The congress was conducted by a nominee of the party, Major Abdulmumuni and everything was done perfectly under PDP. At that point in time, I was the South-West coordinator for President Jonathan and all of a sudden, that was when the virus that we are talking about started rearing its ugly head. Some people, for reasons that is unclear, went and did another kangaroo congress. I don’t want to describe what happened, but by some miracle, there was a judicial pronouncement that those people who had the kangaroo congress were the correct people. At that time, what else can I do? The other people who won primaries decided that they were going to another party. I had no reasons to stop them because I felt they were truly cheated. But I remained in PDP. I carried through the presidential election as the coordinator of the presidential election in the South-West. The president won and after Ogun State was lost to opposition. Since then, I have brought everybody back as much as possible to the party.
Later on, the same thing happened. People got annoyed and went to Labour Party. I still at some point in time brought everybody back into the party. So you can see that there is consistency to the extent that people were not able to stand firm on principle. I’m a man of principle and abhor cheating under the circumstances. That’s the reality of what has happened.
Some six years or thereabout after leaving Ogun State as a governor, some people are of the opinion that the state perhaps is more developed than when you were there, almost making it look as if you didn’t do anything while you were in the office. It was also said that one or two projects you started are not viable. How do you react to that?
I have nothing to say. It is for our people to evaluate what exactly are the indices of development. If construction of flyovers and extension of roads are the indices of development, then I concede that the incumbent has done better than I did. But is that really the indices if development in a rural setting like Ogun State? I leave all of you to look at that. The second issue is at what cost? Do we have value for money? The final issue is that constructing overhead bridges where there was no traffic and by the governor’s statement, he thinks that he is preparing for 50 years, that some of those things he is doing by way of those bridges will be appreciated 50 years from now. Is that why we must go and take loan, which will take us 20, 30 years to repay because we want to build overhead bridges in a largely rural setting so that 50 years from now, we will now begin to say it’s good we did it. So, it’s a question of priorities.
The government that we ran was people-friendly. Human development was key in what we did. The polytechnics that we established were ICT-based polytechnics. It’s a direct response to the fact that our people had lost out in industrial revolution and the ICT revolution. We were not moving the way we should have moved. In our very eyes, India that developed at the same time as ours had become an ICT hub of the world. They don’t have the kind of resources that we have. They are not as intelligent as our people. So, something was wrong. We established four ICT polytechnics and we established another oil and gas institute called the Gateway Petrochemical Institute, apart from the University of Education, which is the first in Nigeria and the second in Africa that we have done. Those things if you look at them carefully, they are to provide opportunities for our people to take their rightful place in the comity of nations.
What else? We created industrial base. I’m excited when I hear that the IGR of Ogun State has risen so high. That’s fantastic and we thank God for that. But how did it happen? Did it just happen because somebody just woke up and started collecting IGR or some people laid the foundation and created the enabling environment for those companies to come? Is it not after those companies have berthed successfully that we now begin to now tax them? Those are the issues that I think we need to look at. But having said that, I have said in previous interviews that every government has its own priorities. We can’t mark our own exam papers. It is the people who should mark. So, I’m the wrong person to evaluate what he has done. He has his own priorities and I have my own priorities. But I’m persuaded that when you look at what is more relevant to the people at this point in time, for now and for the future, I think we’ve taken the path that is the better path.
Let me take you back a bit to PDP issue. There are still issues about zoning of the National Chairmanship position. Some people are saying it was zoned to South-West. Some are saying it was zoned to the entire South. Is the South-West confident that the position is coming to the zone?
I think that from what I know, in the PDP today, the Presidency is zoned to the North and the national chairman automatically is zoned to the South. I think it is now for Northerners to decide where the presidency should come from. They will look at the parameters, what they are looking for, how to win election and they will also look at which zones out of the three zones have been President before and which has not been President. So, they will work out the arithmetic and come out with something.
When you come to the South, it’s exactly the same thing. The people in the South are looking at where it should go, so that the party will have a good chance. There are so many schools of thoughts and I can tell you what they are. There is a school of thought that says since the inception of the PDP, the South-West is the only zone in the South that has not taken a shot at Chairmanship. The South-South has done it several times. The South-East has done it several times. It’s only the South-West. That’s maybe a strong point for the South-West. The other point for the South-West is that today, PDP is quite strong in the South-South and the South-East. But the weakest zone in the South now is the South-West. A number of people then feel that with the strength of the governors in the South-South and the South-East, there is something that they can still use to sustain the party. But that South-West now needs an impetus, something that will put them in a position where they can also say we also have something in hand. To that extent, let us also now ensure that we do not disappoint these people who gave us the opportunity. On top of that is also the fact that when you look at it carefully, what is left today is actually to bring issues of governance out, to evaluate issues of governance, what the government in power is doing right, what they are not doing right, it has to be properly articulated.
On a more serious note, when you look at where that articulation can take place best, it’s in the South-West. That’s where the media and a lot of opinion is being formed and the thinking therefore is that where the chairmanship of the party is thrown into the South-West, it has a good opportunity, especially now that we know some of the weaknesses of this administration in terms of their challenges with the economy, security and so on.
So you don’t nurse any concern about the micro zoning causing another round of crisis?
Not at all. You know this will not be the first time I have been more or less approached. I was close to throwing my heart into the ring during the last aborted convention. But my friend and brother Raymond (Dokpesi) moved and said give me a chance; let’s do it and all of that. When they now appeared to have zoned it to the South-West, our leader Chief Bode George also showed interest. My friend, Jimi Agbaje also showed interest and I felt, as I told you earlier on, this is not something we should be fighting ourselves over. We have already enough crisis in the party that we must minimise any incident that will lead to further division. Because somebody wants to be chairman, and we begin to destroy the fragile peace that exists in the party. So, to that extent at that time, I said ‘let it go.’ Whatever God wants a man to be, he will be. And sometimes, as I said the race is not usually for the swiftest. But I have no doubt in my mind and I’m sure that quite a number of people also know that I have capacity. I have the right network, the wherewithal and the experience. When we had opportunity to run the party in Ogun Sate, while it lasted, everybody agreed that Ogun State PDP was the modal. We built probably the best Secretariat in the country; we won all our elections at all levels. In fact, Ogun State was the only state in the South-West where no election was upturned by the judiciary.
In 2011 when you were leaving office, one of your aspirations was to be a senator and to also produce your successor from Ogun West. People have said that but for your problem with OBJ, you would have achieved those feats. Do you think that your faceoff with OBJ caused you the goods?
I would not say that I had a faceoff with OBJ. OBJ was a father figure to us in Ogun State. He was the president while I was governor. Some of us felt that we must not disgrace him to the extent that he must not have any issue with Ogun State. We felt that we must make sure that Ogun State was peaceful and seamless, so that people will not say ‘Mr. President, you have not been able to fix your state; how can you fix Nigeria’ and that is precisely what we did. But, of course, along the line, even some of those things we did in good faith, quite a number of people created stories out of it; all manner of stories, most of which were not correct. And if you ask people what were the issues, between you and I, you will not be able to find one that should have led to any faceoff.
It wasn’t a faceoff. In our part of the world, you can’t have a faceoff with somebody that is old enough to be your father. Not only that, somebody who was your president and Commander-in-Chief and you are his governor. No; it’s not a faceoff. As I said to you, communication broke down and a number of us are quite strong on principle. That’s the issue. If we have the rules of engagement, based on the rules of engagement, primaries were held, people emerged, and you have not been able to fault that, but all of a sudden, some other people now do something kangaroo and you begin to now give credit to that. That is the beginning of crisis in Ogun State and we have not recovered. And until we go back to basics, which means that we must learn to respect principles, it’s not going to happen.
So, I don’t think there was any disagreement between President Obasanjo and I. In 2011. Our winning formula was to have somebody from Ogun West as governor. As the governor and the unofficial leader of the party at that time, I preached that for the purpose of equity, fair play and that was why we felt at that time, the governor should come from Ogun West. And when you also know the other candidate that the former president also supported, he is also from the West. So, it’s clear that in terms of perception of what we should do at that time, there was a kind of unanimity of intention. But I think the issue then was simply that somebody, in my opinion, emerged through an open ballot system, another person emerged through the backdoor. So, now on principle, where do you stand? And I think it was better for a man to stand on the right side, no matter what the issues are and that is what people misunderstood to mean that there was a faceoff.
Now that you are the leader of PDP in Ogun State, looking at 2019, are we going to do things differently? How do you harness all the contending forces to be able to further your good to produce a governor from Ogun West?
Unfortunately, let’s say a lot of water has passed under the bridge. A lot of things have happened and what we are busy doing today, first and foremost is to see how we can bring everybody together to enact the winning ways. That is not a particularly easy assignment because people along the line have burnt their fingers and people have lost faith. But I have not given up. Ambition has also not helped matters. When people have become quite ambitious, sometimes between you and I, in Julius Ceaser, Shakespeare says ambition should be made of standard stuff. Sometimes when people are ambitious, they don’t have the capacity to see anything to the contrary. What they see is that ambition and when you ask them the question, they will say it’s God-ordained; their pastor told them they are going to be governor or that Imam told them they are the next governor. Once you have that, who are you to now talk against what they said God has said? Once they go to that angle, it means that they don’t want to listen. They are now blinded by the ambition and between you and I, it’s usually a disaster. But at the point when they are blinded by that ambition, there is nothing you can say. So, we are just now hoping and praying that people can see the reality of the situation. It’s very clear to me. I’ve never had any doubt in my mind about it. Once there is proliferation of political parties, it’s an advantage to the incumbent. So, all the people who say we will go to this party to pick the ticket, they are all jokers. They are all going to lose flatly. The only winning formula that exists is if we can create a grand coalition. That’s the way the Ogun State is. Ogun State is not a place where three, four five parties will say they are running for an election. They are all jokers. The incumbent will win. But the point when people feel that we really want to change, there will be a grand coalition and when that grand coalition comes, if you cannot be governor, you can go to the Senate. You cannot be a Senator, go for House of Reps and let’s see whether we can arrange the house and create a winning formula.
One question that has dominated opinion in the South-West is this issue of restructuring. But your party’s idea of restructuring is not quite clear. The APC has accused you of not having any agenda on restructuring and that that was why for 16 years, your party did not touch anything about restructuring. What really is PDP doing on restructuring and how you want to pull it through?
I think that the position of the party is very clear on restructuring. The party believes of course, first thing first, we need to sufficiently and adequately identify and define what restructuring means, because quite a number of people have misunderstood the word. Some people think that people are talking of secession. No. restructuring is a very simple, straightforward; describing that the current democratic order is definitely not perfect. It has defects and that defect has not allowed the country, either as a nation or the various individual components of that nation to optimise their potentials. And to that extent, restructuring means that all the impediments that are distorting and delaying and obstructing that optimisation of such potentials must be addressed. If it is by way of governance, if it is by way of taking a second look at the constitution, if it is by way of the exclusive list, the concurrent list or all of that. What this actually means is that let us see whether we can tinker with the constitution the way it is today, so that we can run more efficiently. People have said that the Nigerian constitution is too rigid. The American constitution is less than a hundred pages and at the end of the day, there must be flexibility that allows components, individuals to optimize their potentials.
People have talked of various things and we know what these issues are. The issues of security, which is over-centralised; education, over-centralised; Medicare, over-centralised; roads, over-centralised. As governor, we had experiences of water projects, borehole projects being done by the Federal Government in villages where once they’ve done the job, nobody knows where the job is any longer. So, what is the business of the Federal Government coming to my backyard to dig borehole? Those are the things that restructuring tends to address and I think the party PDP is quite clear and all the major people in the party have spoken along this line.
Quite to the contrary, I think the party in government does not appear to believe in restructuring. You know that the former President (Goodluck Jonathan) successfully constituted the national conference. They came to conclusions and I think what the president said was that after the election, they will now begin to take all those issues and try to execute them. That was his intention. Unfortunately, he didn’t win the election. So, to that extent, I think the position of the party is clear as far as the restructuring is concerned.
Are you confident that in 2019, the PDP will have something to sell itself and wriggle itself out of this tag of corruption the APC has pinned on it. Will the PDP be able to survive this kind of campaign?
What I can say is that I think Nigerians have become a lot wiser and increasingly, our people have been able to decipher between propaganda and base facts. And what do I call the base facts? Corruption is not particular to any political party. I think we all must agree if we want to be honest with ourselves that corruption is endemic in our society and it requires a joint effort. We must give it to President Muhammadu Buhari that he has zero tolerance for corruption and I think everybody agrees that he is trying his best. But having said that, quite a number of people also feel that the battle appears to be one-sided, because there has been all manner of petitions against certain people that it appears the system has looked the other way, believing that maybe they are politically-motivated or whatever. But the fact of the case is that there are also quite a number of cases which are going on from the other side, which are clearly politically-motivated. So, my take therefore is that, yes, while we must give it to the president that his disposition on corruption is perfect, we also have to agree that corruption as it is in Nigeria today is not partisan. It is endemic and it is in all fabrics of the society. People have said that even civil servants, when you take a deeper look at them, could even be more corrupt than the politicians. Now, those civil servants, are they party people? Is it possible really for a politician to be corrupt without the active connivance of the civil servant? It’s nearly impossible. So, don’t therefore give the stamp of corruption to a particular party.
Somebody has also said that you will not be able to even evaluate who is corrupt or not until he leaves office. PDP has come out and all their operatives lost their immunity. So, you are now able to put searchlight on them. So, we have to wait until some other people come out and the garb of immunity is erased and the same type of searchlight is put on them before you now know.
My take, therefore, is that corruption is not partisan. It’s an endemic problem not only in Nigeria; in the whole world. It varies from location to location and all efforts to fight corruption must be applauded. But to now say that corruption is PDP is to give a dog a bad name so that you can hang it. Don’t also forget that people have also said that virtually a large chunk of the people who are today flying the flag of the APC were bonafide members of the PDP. All of them who are in APC, many of them were also part of the PDP government. If they now say the PDP is corrupt, then they should bring all the PDP elements that are in APC; governors, ministers National Assembly members and put the stamp of corruption on all of them.