Justus Olugbenga Daniel has enjoyed the best of two worlds. He started off as a consummate businessman conquering the corporate world and through this became a major contributor to technological and economic development of the country. He, thereafter, veered to the slippery world of politics.
In politics, he also made his mark becoming in the process two term governor of Ogun state between 2003 and 2011. However, he did not get to the pinnacle of statecraft by sudden flight. While his foray into politics may have been accidental, his motivation to serve and give back to the society was methodical and concretized through the Gateway Front Foundation (GFF) which he founded to give succour to the less privileged in the society.
GFF through which he bonded with the people provided the platform that eventually catapulted him to the highest political office in the land of his birth.
Daniel ran a people-oriented administration and his programmes and policies, were as a matter of rule, invested with human face and compassion for the teeming masses.
It is, therefore, not surprising that years after, his imprimatur of good governance are still clearly discernible throughout the length and breadth of Ogun State and he remains a much loved leader of his people.
So much is known about his contributions here and some have erroneously defined his person via his own acts as governor and what his opponents threw against him in the many contrived war against his person and administration.
But there is more to this Daniel than a political juggernaut who fought many battles and became, perhaps, the most vilified governor of his time.
Daniel is a workaholic whose penchant for paying attention to details is renowned.
He does not believe in half measures and this businesslike approach to all matters became his credo as Governor.
He never relied on second hand information.
He was always on the move and by the end of his tenure he had toured every ward in Ogun State at least twice.
Ogun state was the better for his sagacity and mobility. He built structures and also ensured that he built the people. He cemented his bond with the people, felt their pains, provided succour and changed their living conditions for the better.
Daniel believes that developmental projects that uproot the people without any alternative are not just anti-people but completely incompatible with democratic norms and good governance.
He never allowed bulldozers to demolish houses, buildings and business concerns without first providing alternatives. This was demonstrated during the construction of the Abeokuta -Siun -Sagamu Expressway.
The 38km road was redesigned and reconstructed into a dual carriageway with streetlights all through the entire stretch of the road and a beautifully designed divider with well-groomed grass.
The belief that road brings development was concretized during the process of construction.
Perhaps for the first time in the history of road construction in the country, new houses were constructed for the villagers whose buildings fell within the right of way of the dualisation of the Abeokuta-Siun-Sagamu road.
The buildings were only demolished after the villagers had moved to their new abode. And the villagers also got light and water in their new abode, everything for free from the government. The red brick houses dot different villages along the route of the road constructed entirely by the Ogun State Road Management Agency (OGROMA).
The legacies of Daniel’s eight years stewardship are still as solid as Olumo Rock and imperishable in the landscape of the state and the hearts of its people.
He is seen as Mr. Equity because of his evenhanded distribution of projects across the three senatorial districts and four main divisions of the state. Egbaland, the seat of the state capital, was opened up and given a new lease of life while Daniel held sway.
The emerging new business district accentuated by the domineering presence of the OPIC Twin Tower, Lalubu Road, hitherto a centre of gridlock which was redesigned and re constructed with six macadamized lanes with banks and top of the range boutiques dotting its entire stretch, Abeokuta—Siun Expressway, the refurbished Olumo Rock, the Housing Estates in Asero, the refurbished MKO Abiola International Stadium, the complete turnaround at the State Hospital Ijaiye, the best purposely built State Secretariat in the South West, the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Hilltop Estate, a campus of Olabisi Onabanjo University of Technology at Ibogun, the homestead of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the Laderin Workers Estate, a new Gateway ICT Polytechnic in Itori are some of the legacies that have become signposts of the Daniel era in Egbaland, the home town of the legendary Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola the man who paid the supreme price for our democracy.
They are visible testimonies of the gains of the Ogun Central Senatorial District in the Eight years of Daniel.
Yewaland was lifted out of obscurity and placed on the same pedestal with other sections of the State.
The administration established a School of Nursing at Ilaro, constructed a glittering new stadium of international standard and the most functional Free Trade Zone in the South West in the land of birth of the famous Dr Tunji Otegbeye.
The fledging business enclave called Ogun Guangdong Free Trade Zone in Igbesa is home to many businesses creating employments opportunities for indigenes and non-indigenes.
The Yewas also have a campus of OOU, a new ICT Polytechnic, among the projects they are counting as part of their gains under the progressive era of Daniel.
The Ijebus and the Remos can also hail Daniel for giving them their own fair share from Ogun State patrimony.
The Gateway International Stadium in Ijebu—Ode, which has played host to many international competitions, ranks among the best in the country.
There is also the Tai Solarin University of Education, the first in the country, an ICT-based Polytechnic in Ijebu Igbo, completely turned around water works, several kilometers of road and, of course, the multi—billion naira LNG Project at the Olokola Free Trade Zone, which is still in the making.
The Remos also have a stadium of their own and the best NYSC Permanent Orientation Camp in the country. They also have their own ICT based Polytechnic at Saapade all thanks to Daniel and his team.
The establishment of many higher institutions was part of a deliberate effort to shore up the human capital of the state.
Under the human Capital Development initiative some indigenes were sent to first rate institutions abroad and a number of them are back in the country contributing to its development. Indeed one of them a computer expert is currently making waves at TASUED developing the institutions ICT templates for various programmes.
The conducive business climate created by the Daniel administration attracted investors and entrepreneurs from the country and across the globe leading to the creation of many jobs and the expansion of the economic base of the State. Under Daniel, Ogun became the country’s leading investment destination of choice.
Expectedly the plot to derail his government by some entrenched interests made the headlines in the latter part of his tenure.
There were various schemes to cut Daniel to size and some of his external opponents got internal help.
So much dirt was thrown at Daniel, especially during his second term as many forces from within and without battled for political control and the soul of the state.
While he was in office his traducers with the support of some insiders threw everything at him but they could not overawe him. The war of attrition continued after May 29, 2011 when he finished his second term.
Apparently they had concluded that shorn of the paraphernalia of office and its immunity he would be an easy pick to be taken out.
They never reckoned with his resilience, the transparent way he ran his administration and the people’s appreciation of his contribution to the Ogun project.
It was the same doggedness that he brought into his last assignment on the political terrain when he was beckoned on to coordinate the 2018 campaign of Atiku Abubakar who was seeking the Presidential ticket of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP. Daniel, as the Director General, crisscrossed the length and breadth of the country with his candidate.
And through deft political moves and well defined strategies Daniel led Team Atiku to victory at the PDP Presidential Primaries in Port Harcourt.
The team delivered the PDP ticket to Atiku. And after that through some political maneuverings, the winning team was asked to take the back seat and another ran the Presidential campaign.
Perhaps tired of the shenanigans of Nigeria’s slippery political terrain, Daniel dropped a political bombshell on March 14 2019. That manifesto is still reverberating across the country.
In an unprecedented move, he penned a letter to the leadership of his party intimating them of his desire to bid goodbye to partisan politics after eighteen years. Not to leave room for speculation, he said he would be devoting more time to the GFF and his budding project, the Sagamu based Political Academy (POLA).
Through the Gateway Front Foundation, Daniel will continue to reach out to the less privilege in the society and the Political Academy to deepen democracy by training budding political leaders and shaping discourse that will contribute to the strengthening of Project Nigeria. Of course the latest move has drawn flacks mainly from some entrenched interest who see in it another opportunity to throw dirt and opprobrium on Daniel.
Now, they may quarrel with his resignation from the Peoples Democratic Party and they may twist it to suit their hidden agenda masking such diatribe as public discourse.
What is clear is that Daniel freely entered politics and he can and he has chosen to bid goodbye to partisan politics.
More importantly, it is his inalienable right to do so.
Today, Otunba Daniel still enjoys remarkable goodwill and following across the land. Unlike many of his breed who are often forgotten as soon as they leave public office Daniel remains in the eye of the public essentially because of his good track record of good governance and his many contributions to the development of the people ,his state and country.
This is one leader that remains a man of the people even out office and enjoys remarkable following within and beyond the state that he governed excellently and equitably for eight years.
There is now a certain maturation in his gait and dignified posture on matters public and private.
From all indications, Daniel’s profile as a leading corporate player and statesman in whom the people are well pleased will continue to rise, the old and new plots of contrived shenanigans against him notwithstanding.
And as he commemorates his 63rd birthday on April 6, 2019, may the Good Lord continue to imbue him with strength as he begins another chapter of service to the fatherland via the Gateway Front Foundation and the Political Academy.
*Adebanjo served as Senior Special Assistant, Public Communications and later as Chief Press Secretary in the administration of Otunba Gbenga Daniel.