Friday, April 8, 2016 2:02 pm
By Bolanle Bolawole
Otunba Justus Gbenga Daniel aka OGD, two-term governor of Ogun state (2003 – 2011) turned 60 years last Tuesday. Encomiums from family, friends, political acquaintances, and those whose lives he had touched positively in diverse ways greeted the day. When my path and OGD’s first crossed in 2005, we fought before we became friends. I had written a caustic critic of his Government’s white paper on the disturbances at the state-owned Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye. In it, I described the white paper as a “white-washed sepulchre”. My grouse was that the white paper clumsily attempted to please everyone connected with the crisis but ended up pleasing no one.
I later learnt that OGD was enraged by my views and sought an audience – better still, confrontation – with the writer. Not knowing his intentions, I obliged to meet with him. Also invited were the editors of this publication. Getting to the Governor’s Office at Abeokuta that Monday afternoon, the members of the Executive Council were meeting. Kayode Samuel, a fire-spitting columnist at the Vanguard newspapers that was a must-read for me in those days, answered the door to usher me in and we embraced. I later learnt he was the Chief of Staff.
Looking around the long row of seats I could pick out Sina Ogunbambo, who had been Chief Press Secretary to my friend, Gen. MB Marwa, one-time military administrator of Lagos state. I knew another professional colleague, Niran Malaolu, was a member of the Cabinet as the Honourable Commissioner for Information but he was absent that day. OGD wasted no time in putting me on the “hot seat”. I returned fire-for-fire as we traded tackles and the ding-dong lasted for hours. OGD narrated his yeoman’s efforts to douse the fire ignited by the crisis, restore normalcy to the institution, and prevent a repeat. He believed he had done well and it pained him that I made his efforts look like a trifle. I insisted his Government’s media handling of the crisis as well as the genuflecting white paper did little credit to his efforts. We parted not as friends that day.
Later, Samuel asked that I assist a group of friends, which I later learnt were OGD associates, to turn around the fortunes of a publication. Working on the said publication brought me closer to OGD. As I prepared to undertake that assignment, OGD one day asked me to join his campaign train; I did on a few occasions. As we were filling out for one such campaign outing one day, OGD’s deputy chief of staff said to me, “Oga said we should give you a car”. Perplexed, I asked, “Which Oga?” He replied: “His Excellency” I asked again: “What for?” He replied: “Go and ask him” and, as he walked away, added, “When the car is ready, I will call you” Truly, when the car was ready, he alerted me and I picked it up. Initially, I thought it was a joke or a plot that I could not fathom; so I kept the car under wraps for months, thinking that if they said, “sorry, we made a mistake”, I could quickly returnit. But after many months of waiting, my wife registered the car.
For a very long time I kept wondering what I did to deserve that car. It never crossed my mind to charge for the “consultancy service” I rendered on the few occasions that I witnessed OGD’s campaign train and offered advice. Later I knew it was a reflection of OGD’s kind-heartedness and disposition to assisting those around him. I saw many of that subsequently.
I saw many who climbed on the back of OGD to high office but later turned round to stab him. I saw how OGD campaigned for a lady to become Senator but she later turned an implacable political foe. I saw many leaders change political alignments as if changing their briefs, not minding the feelings of those being betrayed. I also saw how easily such elements turned around to recant, eat their vomit and keep a straight face as if it was not a big deal. I saw how OGD accommodated such characters time and again. “We have to deal with all sorts”; he once said. From my interactions with leaders, OGD inclusive, I learnt that it is not everything that aides do that leaders have fore knowledge of or approve.
Sometimes, they are taken aback by the actions of their aides but dare not publicly disown them. I know that the greatest difficulty leaders have is with those who surround them; whose thrust is always to discover and exploit the weak points of Oga to further selfish interests. Once aides discover Oga’s “template”, as a prominent player described it, they cash-in on it to manipulate him. I saw one of the adverts placed by an embattled political leader eulogising OGD at 60 and marvelled. Here is someone who had been friend and foe many times over. How do leaders negotiate such sharp bends and sudden twists and still maintain their balance?
From my dealings with leaders, I know that the fact that you appointed someone into office does not mean he\she will be loyal to you. I also know that cut-throat rivalries and competitions thrive amongst Cabinet members who are supposed to demonstrate unity of purpose in carrying out agreed goals. I know that the fact that you put someone in office does not mean he\she will work to protect your interest or do your bidding. Many appointees turn implacable foes if they don’t get the plum office they desire or think someone else is more favoured by Oga. In government, big title does not translate into big influence or relevance. You may hold no post and still be more powerful than those who hold big posts.
You may carry a big title and yet be an outsider in the same government. In government, be careful; you are not the only person that is relevant. You may not see or know the relevance of that man or woman but I tell you something: he\she may be even more important than you. Gossips thrive in government; knocking of heads, too. They gossip about everyone – from top to bottom. Ogas are called all sorts of names, such as “use and dump”. Note that the person making that allegation may have just lost a very important position, such as carrying Ogas phones or bag. But the moment he\she gets restored, the story changes and it is now “there is nobody as pleasant to work with as our Oga”. Removing Oga’s shoes after an outing is a very important job. To work in government, you need to have the spirit of discernment. Not everyone who smiles at you is your friend. Only God saves! At many corridors of power, I saw that again and again.
Now, let me talk directly of OGD. I noticed that when he was angry or had an axe to grind, he was formal. It was “Mr. Bolawole”. One day he summoned me and the moment he began by saying “Mr. Bolawole”, I knew there were issues. It turned out that some people had told him that I had employed a lorry-load of the natives of my place of birth into the company. I told him that “information” was news to me. I summoned the Admin Manager to bring the nominal roll and it turned out that since my coming on board as managing director\editor-in-chief, not a single worker had been employed from the entire Ondo state where I hail from. His frozen face dissolved immediately and it became “Bola, you can see I did the right thing by taking this up with you; otherwise, we would not have known the truth”.
On another occasion, the chairman had promised, again and again, that I would be given a jeep; one day I got fed up and shut him up. OGD, of course, got to hear about it and when we met, it was “Mr. Bolawole, I understand you are angry bla bla bla” I explained and that very day, he ensured the jeep was delivered and the relationship reverted to “Bola” again. OGD accepts his faults and makes amends. It may not be as fast as you would have wished but be sure he will do once he had said he would. On one occasion, he said he would double-cross a cheat and he did one year after! I have seen few big men say sorry; OGD is one of those not shy to say sorry. On an occasion, he said to me “Bola, I know you will say, ‘but I told you’…” I responded that I would not. You don’t blame a man who invested confidence in others; rather, you chastise those who shamelessly betray such confidence for a mess of pottage.
OGD’s tenure in Ogun was trail-blazing, especially his first term. In his second term, foes distracted and slowed him down as they engaged him in relentless political battles. Nevertheless, he transformed Ogun from a sleepy, Civil Service state and set the tone and pace for the investment destination of choice that the state is fast becoming. To date, OGD holds the record of the best achieving governor of Ogun state. I witnessed OGD work tirelessly to make Olokola EPZ a reality.
I remember the day he had to drag the Ondo State governor, Olusegun Agagu (now late), out of bed in Abuja around 1am to discuss the way forward on Olokola. Agagu, on crutches, had to oblige because of what he described as OGD’s passion for Olokola. I can say more on OGD but space will not permit. Recently, he complained of abandonment by some of the associates he invested so much on. I saw it coming but it has not diminished OGD in any way. Ingrates – their good grief! On his 60th, I wish OGD the very best of life. When sentiments give way to sensibilities in the search for enduring solutions to the myriad problems slaying this country, a pride of place will be found for OGD’s talents and competencies.
The writer can be reached on: firstname.lastname@example.org 0705 263 1058