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CONSCIENCE, NURTURED BY TRUTH
LAGOS, NIGERIA.     Saturday, May 24 2003

 

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'I Disobeyed My Father To Go Into Politics'
BY YINKA OLUJIMI, YEMI OGUNSOLA AND MUYIWA ADEYEMI

"Why are so many people against you?"

Chief Hezekiah Oyeniyi Obafemi Awolowo to whom the question was addressed, was silent for a while. He regarded anew the specimen of humanity in front of him who had just posed the question.

Why? The boy was barely out of his teens ... what gave this fry the guts to ask such a question. But then there was something about the boy. Awolowo, the astute politician and philosopher broke into a wry silence. He remembered he used to be just like that about 50 years ago. Chief Awolowo answered the boy. He took pains to explain his political ideas and sundry issues.

That marked the genesis of a friendship across two generations. The boy stuck to the sage. That boy, with Awolowo's permission, united erstwhile opponents for one-on-one discussions with the sage. And gradually, relations thrived between opposing camps.

That way, the late eminent physicist, Professor Ayodele Awojobi became friendly with Chief Awolowo. Radical administrator Chief Ebenezer Babatope and several others soon joined the rank of Awolowo's think-tank.

That go-between boy is one Justus Olugbenga Daniel.

He was an undergraduate of Engineering at the University of Lagos. That year, 1978, when he posed that question to Chief Awolowo - Gbenga was just 22 years, Awolowo 69.

DRESSED in a simple native attire with a black cap, the 47-year-old governor-elect exuded confidence as he went down memory lane on his first incursion into politics especially how the life of late political sage Chief Obafemi Awolowo influenced him.

"I asked him 'how is it that everybody is against you.' And I reeled out names of all these intellectuals from the University of Lagos and the University of Benin who were all his critics... Then I asked him, 'can I write some of these people to meet you?' So I started inviting all these people..." he said.

At such a young age, Daniel had come in contact, through voracious reading, the major actors in Nigerian politics and had picked many of them as role models: Awolowo, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Chief Bola Ige, Ojetunji Aboyade...

But Chief Awolowo, he found unique - politically. Awojobi, he rated above all others intellectually. In fact, Daniel opted for Engineering through the inspiration of Awojobi.

"I became attracted to Ayodele Awojobi. And believe me, it is for this reason that I went to the faculty of Engineering and studied mechanical engineering.

You see, I would not survive a day without reading all the newspapers. I met Awojobi in the journal... and I became attracted to him. And so I decided that I was going to study whatever course this man read..."

Daniel's political baptism dated back to his youth. He was born and bred in Oke-Ado, Ibadan, in the very vicinity of the political juggernauts then. Chief Awolowo, chief Bola Ige, Chief Olabisi Onabanjo - all lived in the area in those days.

So when the ban on politics was lifted in 1979, young Daniel turned himself among the first crop of Awolowo's party, the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN).

Under the aegis of an association, the Dynamic Club in the University of Lagos, Daniel led what was actually a youth wing of the UPN and was able to get Chief Awolowo to deliver addresses on national issues.

However, all the while, Daniel's father, a cleric had no knowledge of his son's political activities. But then one day, the elder Daniel turned on his television set. And there in the very midst of all those political bigwigs of those times, he beheld his son!

The elder Daniel did not send a message. He drove personally to his son in Lagos. "Boy, politics is not for a young man", the father told him. Gbenga Daniel recalls: "I made a U-turn and went back to face my studies squarely. But I was interested in all that went on. I kept abreast of the happenings".

Looking back today, Daniel is grateful, he obeyed his father's order. According to him, he was not even a graduate then and his level of involvement would have really hampered his engineering course.

So what if his father now ask him, after being declared governor-elect not to take the public office? Gbenga beamed: "Of couse no. I had disobeyed him two years ago when I entered the race. He did not want me to join.

According to the governor-elect, the circumstances in those heady days of his as an engineering student were different from today. His father knew better then, being about 49, the prime of his life and it was right that he (Daniel) heeded the advice. But today, at 47, Gbenga believes he has also come of age.

Daniel recalled that he was rather gentle and obedient in his childhood days. In fact, he said, he could recall being caned only once at school, by his then Agriculture teacher, Mr. E.O. Ogunremi. Incidentally, Mr. Ogunremi, now a Chief, was one of the foot soldiers of his campaign team.

Something kept cropping up as the interview progressed: hard work.

Hear him: "There is only one language I understand, apart from the voice of God, that is work. In the whole of my life, whatever I have achieved, it is hard work. I believe the surest and easiest way to success is work. I don't believe in luck, yes it may come, but I believe men are masters of their fate...I believe that man is the architect of his fortune."

And so for the people of Ogun state, Otunba Daniel's message is simple - "sit up and be prepared for hard work." He recalled the jingle on the state Radio and Television: Ise Ya, Ise ya, Omo Ogun Ise ya, Olodumare Ise ma ya oo ee. Meaning: "It's time for work, hard work, O ye Ogun sons and daughters, gear up for work."

He spoke further: "Anything I do...I sit down and work it out. I also believe in the adage that hard work does not kill. So with all that at the back of my mind, I just fire on."

Otunba Daniel recalled his days as a youth corps member at the Lagos State Polytechnic, disclosing that he usually resumed as early as 8am and worked till late in the evening. And he was involved in all aspects of work, from lecturing to Administration without additional allowance.

"In all the places I have worked, I have worked very, very heard. I don't remember going on holidays, maybe I just get away for three days and that is all. In fact, if I'm away for too long, I will fall sick." he said.

Daniel, worked with Mandilas (Nigeria) Limited as a Design Engineer; Metal Box (Nigeria) Limited as a factory supervisor and African Petroleum Limited as Distribution Engineer. At Metal Construction (W.A) Limited, he was Assistant Commercial Manager and was Deputy Managing Director of H.F. Schroeder (W.A) Limited, before launching out to found his own company - Krestal Laurel Limited. He was the first black man to attain the position of Deputy Managing Director of Schreoder.

But even though he had a lot going for him, at a point, he started getting restless to reach even higher.

"I realised I had reached the pinacle of my career there. Though I had quite a number of expatriates reporting to me, I had cars, two big generators for my house, in fact, all the comfort of this world. I knew it was time to leave. I gave them one year notice. They didn't agree. And finally when they agreed, they said I should not make it public so that it would not cause trouble in the system.

It was about three months before they allow me to make my resignation public.

Otunba Daniel left to start Kresta Laurel. Kresta, he explained, is the name of the largest lift system at that time.

The governor-elect reserve some good laughs at so-called political pundits who had predicted a defeat for him at the polls. "We planned and worked so hard... There was nothing to do that we did not do. And then we put everything in the hands of God." His victory at the polls, he asserted, was just the only thing that could have happened, that is, if God really intends to move Ogun state forward.

His words: "If God intends that this country will move forward, at least in Ogun state, there could not have been any other result. If any other result had come out in Ogun State, I personally would have come to the conclusion that God is not yet ready to help Nigeria."

On his philosophy of life he declared: "I think life is meaningless if you cannot impact positively on the lives of people around you." And in line with that philosophy, he said he plans to get the millions of graduates roaming the streets of Ogun State off the streets into gainful employment. " We should create opportunities, many people roam the streets today because they don't have somebody to help them to get a job, even though they are qualified. So that for me is the immediate challenge."

Daniel places much emphasis on technical competence. And so he plans to revolutionise the education system in Ogun State towards acquisition of skills. And to him, no job is menial. "I am ready to sponsor students willing to do HND bricklaying, HND Tailoring."

On his political life, Daniel said 'as we grew up, we saw so many role models around us, especially those who attended my secondary school, Baptist Boys High School, Abeokuta. I was told that Prof. Adeoye Lambo, at a point the highest officer of the World Health Organisation (WHO) was an Old Boy of the Baptist Boys. Of course you knew M.K.O. Abiola. He was an Old Boy. Prof. Ojetunji Aboyade, a very intelligent intellectual was also an Old Boy. And you can go on and on like that. Those were the people we saw while we were growing up. And when things like that happened, we could not but become interested in their lives. Then, I was debating for the school. I was representing the school during quiz competitions, in the course of doing that, we had to know everything under the sun and in fact, beyond the sun. When you go for a quiz, there is no question you cannot be asked, so you have to read wide, far beyond your normal curriculum.

On his friendship with the late Prof. Ayodele Awojobi Otunba Daniel said: "My first encounter with him was in the press; reading about him. Later I read his books. He played such a pivotal role in my life. He was my mentor. And he was simply a genius. A lot of people have forgotten that Awojobi invented so many things. "Autonov" is still at the University of Lagos. It is now a relic. "That Autonov is the vehicle that has the capability of driving in both directions. And when we asked him why he did it, he said in war situations sometimes you don't have the opportunity to reverse your car. But while we in Nigeria have abandoned the invention, Americans and Russians have taken it over and have produced so many variants.

The developed world will take raw materials from here, refine them and sell to us. Awojobi's autonov is wasting away here. "He invented another thing they called Poker. It is a vibrator. And at that time what he postulated was the theory of vibration and control. There is a concept called resonance. Resonance can be good and it can be bad.

And he was the one who first made us know that even houses vibrate and that bridges vibrate and that whenever you build up a structure, you have to make provision for vibration. Because if you don't, bridges will collapse and houses will collapse.

And that is why when you see bridges that are being built, you see some gaps and you wonder why they put the gaps. You see, they do that deliberately; to allow conservation. Because if that gap is not there and resonance occurs, the bridge can collapse.

"That was a discovery by our Awojobi. Just imagine, what he could have achieved or what this nation could have achieved if we had got our politics right. And that is why he said no, I can't continue to invent things like this continuously. If we don't get the politics right, nothing will work, my inventions will rust away.

"I became attracted to Ayodele Awojobi and, believe me, it is for Ayodele Awojobi that I went to the faculty of Engineering to study Mechanical Engineering.

"I was simply referred to as Awojobi boy because I did not only read Mechanical Engineering but I was with him in all the extra curriculum activities. As a matter of fact, you may remember a programme that was going on on NTA (Nigerian Television Authority) in 1975. It is called Mastermind and Prof. Awojobi was the quiz master.

"I also went to take part in that quiz competition. It was a national and very popular competition. And I think if you won five consecutive times, you become the Mastermind of the year. And I won. So, once you win five times and nobody could defeat you they will not let you face anybody again. I was the Mastermind in the year 1975.

According to him, he "was attracted to Chief Obafemi Awolowo at the University of Lagos library. We had different floors for different faculties. Engineering faculty was on the third floor, but I would leave the third floor and go to the first floor to read mostly biographies, and autobiographies. And I read everything - Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sardauna and of course, Mandela." Then I encountered Awolowo's books, his early life and political writings. Of course I must not forget to say that while I was much younger, I lived at Oke-Ado in Ibadan. I was born and bred there.

"There was also something that happened. I then decided that of all the national political leaders that I had seen or heard about, Awolowo was unique and so when I got to the University of Lagos, I decided to get in touch with him and I went to him without the help of anybody.

"I went to 31, Park Lane and I said that I wanted to see Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He said 'Young man, what can I do for you?' And I said, 'I got one question I want to ask you Papa. Why is it that everybody is against you?'

"When the ban on politics was lifted, I was one of the few people with papa that night. This should be 15th of September 1978. Immediately that announcement came, we all moved to Park Lane. We already had our party logo, constitution and everything. The name was ready. And then Papa said 'look, let us call a press conference and announce the formation of the party. But then, we were not able to get the press that night. I think it was Mr. Gbolabo Ogunsanwo that was supposed to gather the journalists that very night, but we could not get people. So the following morning it was arranged and got some of the national leaders and the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) was announced.

Otunba Daniel says "Nigerians are guilty of conspicuous lifestyles. To me, no matter how rich you are, you can not sleep on more than one bed, in one room at a time. And you are not going to ride more than one car at a time. There are some times I believe what the Bible says 'Vanity upon vanity is all vanity' I think our people have become guilty of conspicuous living. I look at even the richest people in England, they would have at most two television sets in their homes. But here in Nigeria, you will find a man having television sets in each room of his house, some up to 12.

"If there is anything that is driving me today, it is the need to impact positively on our needs. The man who is where he is is not because he is lazy but the main thing is that he did not have the opportunity. Therefore, we must create opportunities. We must create a level playing field. That people must not be on the streets because, they don't have somebody to help them to get a job, after they might have been qualified. So, that, for me, is the immediate challenge.

On the activities of Afenifere, Otunba Daniel says "Afenifere is supposed to be the main socio-cultural organisation in Yoruba land. It is an organisation that sets upon itself to fashion a direction for Yoruba race. That is why it started, and to that extent it was good, because when you look at Nigeria, whenever the military strikes, they ban all political associations, but the cultural groups will remain. The UPN, AG, etc. were banned, Afenifere can not be banned, because it is a socio-cultural organisation. But then it can give political direction and people tend to follow.

"But today's Afenifere leaders decided to make it a socio-political organisation. And regrettably they have allowed the political aspect to dominate the other aspect of their existence.

"To the effect that it is a socio-cultural organisation, everybody who is a true-born Yoruba is supposed to be an Afenifere. And to that extent, a lot of us supported them. But can you name up to 60 Yorubas who have Afenifere cards? Go and do a research whether you can get 60 Yorubas who are holding the card and say yes, this is the card. I'm an Afenifere member, May be 10 or five. So, Afenifere is in the mind. What I think happened is that the leadership which emerged in the days of total annihilation of Yoruba under the Abacha regime and some of the other military regimes defended the interests of the Yoruba and became the credible voice of the people. We all rallied round it. But between 1999 and now things have changed in Nigeria. There is no Federal government that can be admonished as oligarchic when it is one of you that is there. I am sure the Afenifere leaders are credible, but they should not have run a closed shop in 2003.

"President Olusegun Obasanjo can not be accused of killing Yoruba people or not performing creditably as president. So, if the federal sit occupied by Obasanjo is no longer seen as evil by the people, why won't the people support his party? The political coloration in Nigeria changed, and even if the Yoruba wanted to cry marginalisation, it is one of them that is in power.

"And even, if people said this Obasanjo is not our own, that he was imposed on us by the northern oligarchy as some Afenifere men would want us to believe, he (Obasanjo) has proved that wrong within the first two months of his coming back. He has proved that he is his own man, a man who will be fair to all no matter your ethnic origin.

 

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