SOME 14 years ago, like a colossus with a focused vision, Otunba Gbenga Daniel traversed the political landscape of Ogun State, earning honours and unprecedented endorsements.
Blessed with exceptional leadership qualities, impeccable and unimpeachable pedigree, his lucid thoughts and orderliness of presentation in any argument, discussion and debate have always marked him out as a man to watch. Often described as an epitome of humility, embodiment of simplicity and a paragon of excellence, Otunba Daniel’s exploits in business and politics are indeed intimidating. Ogidi Omo, a sobriquet that evolved from his initials – OGD has come to be identified with Otunba Gbenga Daniel which, when translated literally means genuine, unadulterated or original.
A journalist’s delight any day, OGD will never hesitate to talk to newshounds; not even the most inquisitive will put him off. His interviews are good copies for newspapers and magazines any day; it does not matter if it was granted in his bus or car or even his cosy, tastefully furnished residence.
Together with some his friends, this quintessential gentleman, at the turn of the new millennium floated the Gateway Front Foundation (GFF), a non-profit, non-governmental organisation conceptualised essentially to empower the underprivileged and improve the lot of the citizenry. The idea, according to him, was borne out of a genuine desire to impact positively on the lives of the people of Ogun State. He had said: “We meant well, we only wanted to awaken the sleeping giant”.
A man known for more of action than rhetoric, the process was jumpstarted on March 12, 2001 at the Shell Hall of the prestigious Muson Centre , Onikan, Lagos with a summit that evaluated the state at 25. The summit was a huge success, as it drew an array of eminent Ogun indigenes, including paramount rulers and eight commissioners from the then Bola Tinubu’s Lagos State cabinet.
The GFF was, no doubt, a launch pad onto his political adventure in 2003, which culminated in the rout of the then incumbent governor Chief Olusegun Osoba as his (OGD’s) political party then, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) overran the Alliance for Democracy (AD) machine after an out-of-this-world ward-to-ward campaign. Taking a look at the Gateway Front foundation (GFF) activities, which later became Gateway Front (GF) driven by his quintessential wife, Chief Olufunke Daniel while in government, it can safely be said that beneficiaries are evenly spread across the length and breadth of the state through a more diversified package for needs of the people with particular emphasis on the poor through the Micro-Credit Scheme (MCS), Trade Establishment Scheme(TES), Free Medical Service, Financial Assistance for Peculiar Problems (FAPP). Between 2003 and 2011, no fewer than 100,000 people benefited from the micro credit Scheme while over 120,000 people were empowered to start a vocation. Over a million enjoyed free medical service and numerous benefited from Financial Assistance for Peculiar Problems.
Going by his first-rated, five-star performance between 2003 and 2007, his re-election for a second term made him the longest serving governor in the State and his years in governance have always been referred to as the state’s golden moments. This was aptly captured by Right Reverend (Dr) Michael Fape, the Bishop of Anglican Communion, Remo Diocese at the 2014 Annual Thanksgiving service held at the Abraham Tabernacle as he ministered to the congregation and I quote: “OGD, the fact remains that you are an accomplished businessman and a consummate politician whether people like it or not, the fact remains that in your generation, you are an achiever. Whether people like it or not, the fact remains that you are the founder of the first University of Education in Nigeria, a premier university. You are the first to construct a dualised road between two major cities; well-lit with streetlights from one end to the other.
One of the best secretariat complexes for the civil service in history was built by you. A National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) permanent orientation camp that is nullis secondus was constructed by you. But of course, these sterling and unprecedented achievements also have opened you to persecutions. These uncommon achievements have equally made them want to pull you down. They are looking for ways of not making you relevant but the more they try, the higher you are soaring.
His dream to install a credible and worthy successor was thwarted in 2011, when former President Olusegun Obasanjo influenced a sham, parallel PDP primaries in his library overruling the one held by the mainstream PDP version, supervised and presided over by all the necessary agencies – the rest is now history.
Pitching tent with the Labour Party ahead 2015,, his followership soared overnight with both old and new allies openly pledging their allegiance to the ‘master of the game.’ Expectedly, while his followers, who defected to the PPN, following unresolved crisis in the wake of 2011 election are still unalloyed in their support, a sizeable chunk of the present PDP members in the state who believe he is the one who can do it, having handed them victories in 2003 and 2007, are also back in the fold. A break-away faction of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, convinced of his political prowess and poised for a showdown with the incumbent administration, are good to roll out for him when the whistle is blown not to talk of the old Labour Party members who are now convinced that they stand the best chance of winning election with the quality campaign expected in months ahead.
As Otunba Daniel has overtime fitted into the appellation of ‘the issue’ in Ogun politics, political debates have always centred around where he and where he doesn’t belong. No doubt, the ever-rising profile of this wonderful personality is giving his opponents nightmares. His antagonists have searched everywhere; they have gone through the records, looked inside the closets, they have even looked underneath his shoes yet, they couldn’t find any dirt.
While some fifth columnists gathered to stop OGD’s leadership of the Labour Party in the state at all cost, indications are that there is no stopping this ‘issue.’ Last month, the entire members of the Ogun State chapter of the Nigerian Union of Journalists [NUJ], at a retreat organised by the Political Academy (POLA) held at OGD’s palatial Sagamu residence brainstormed on the role of the media in nation-building where several issues were raised and agenda set for future discussions. The leadership of the two labour unions in the state: Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress on the following day after the media group left, came to present him with an award while same day, the Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN) honoured him as the body’s grand patron.
Unarguably, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the first Premier of the defunct Western Region, remains till date the most celebrated and loved leader in the political history of the Yoruba people. Former President Ibrahim Babangida on the demise of Chief Awolowo described the legendary politician as the issue in Nigerian politics. There is no gainsaying that OGD is presently the issue in Ogun politics. Of all his known and trumpeted attributes and virtues, Awo’s infectious charisma tops the list. It is perhaps this same aura that is working for the accomplished engineer, philanthropist extraordinaire and frontline politician, Otunba Daniel. And that perhaps explains why the people do not want to let go of him as he is, reminiscent of post-UPN Awolowo days, OGD is constantly besieged with unparalleled adoration wherever he goes despite the fact he left the office some three years ago.
As they say, life on earth is a mission while every era has its heroes and equally at the risk of being persecuted for no just cause. The hero of this era in Ogun today undoubtedly is no other person than Otunba Daniel – an immensely strong character, coupled with infectious optimism who, going by all indications, gave the people of the state a disciplined, visionary and purposeful leadership between 2003 and 2011.
Yusuf-Adeyemi wrote in from Ajura, Obafemi Owode Local Government area of Ogun State.