Thirty years ago, ace radio presenter and my very good egbon, Mr. Jimi Disu, who was with the Vanguard Newspaper had an interview with one of the two most senior indigenous Chief Executives of multinational companies in Nigeria as at then. One was Pat (later Professor) Utomi who was the Assistant General Manager of Volkswagen Nigeria and the other was Gbenga Daniel who then was the Deputy Managing Director of Schroeder West Africa. This was in November 1989.
In the rare interview which I came across recently, Mr. Jimi Disu, obviously stunned, asked (Engr.) Gbenga Daniel how he rose to that top position which makes it the highest position by any Nigerian in a multinational company as at then and at a very young age of 33. Daniel with his signature smiling gesture, replied him: “It is through hard work. I have worked hard, I have put in all I can into this company. What I have been able to achieve has been so overwhelming, people have had no choice but to recognise that. I have worked and got results.”
And that actually sums up the personality of Otunba Gbenga Daniel. All through his life, he has remained true and dedicated to any cause he lays his hands on. Through absolute steadfastness and optimum dedication to business, Otunba Daniel became the Doyen of electro-mechanical engineering systems in Nigeria.
To him, success became a second name and with it he navigated through the sturdy paths of the private sector and before the age of 35 he did not just make his mark through his company, Kresta Laurel, he was so successful at his endeavours that he became the owner of choice properties across Nigeria and the United Kingdom.
In 1986 and at the age of 30, he built his first house at Festac, Lagos. That building had the best architectural design as at then. In 1990 and at age 34, he built the Obalofin Court in Ijebu Ode, long before the affluents of his cradle understood the importance of unique designs in structuring a time-lasting modern edifice. The Court had the best design in the entire region.
In 1992 and now aged 36, Gbenga Daniel bought a magnificent London home. In 1997, he built the now renowned Otunba Adeoti mansion at the heart of Maryland. And in 2003, he completed his taste for built environment with the Asoludero Court in Sagamu, Ogun State.
If there was any further definition to success than this, then it is definitely in helping others and not in assets acquisition. But like a goose that keeps laying the golden egg, Otunba Daniel refocused his penchant for building into helping others. He created the Gateway Front Foundation (GFF) to provide succour to numerous Nigerians and give hope to many who have long forgotten what it looks like.
Under the GFF, thousands of Nigerians from every sphere of life were provided with start up capital, health benefits, scholarships and shelter.
Perhaps, coming to the realization that while his GFF was providing the needed but limited succour, those with the power to better the lots of the people via public office on a larger scale were doing badly at the job. He consequently then decided to advance into the realms of governance using the vehicle of politics. In doing so, he had to disrupt an old order political structure and bring governance to bear at the doorsteps of the ordinary people.
He succeeded in 2003 when he defeated a sitting Governor of Ogun state and one of the renowned strongman of the Southwest, Aremo Olusegun Osoba.
For a State whose Governor had won award for the Best Governor back to back for the preceding two years, Otunba Daniel was shocked to meet Ogun as a sleeping giant. But as an Engineer, he didn’t waste time blaming the past administration, in stead, he reconstructed the sleeping state into an investment destination for many companies who were already tired of the high cost of business in Lagos and lack of expansion opportunity in the Centre of Excellence.
On his core motivational factor, Otunba Daniel didn’t fail to make life better for the people. Under his administration, the welfare of the people became a focal point of concern. Civil servants became incentivised by the 13th month payment system of the private sector. Basic amenities no longer became a luxury and life was good for all and sundry.
When Otunba Daniel’s work was done in Ogun state, he defied the addictions of sit-tight politicians to go into the Nigerian Senate and make it a retirement home. Thrice he was offered the ticket on a platter of gold and thrice he rejected them the way they came.
But when Nigeria came calling in 2018 with the agitation for change and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar approached him to midwife the first leg of that mandate, he answered the clarion call and delivered what will be regarded in the history of party primaries as the most keenly contested presidential ticket. Against the run of play, he won!
In spite of the shenanigans of politics, the backbiting, distrust, disloyalty and absolute deception that has occasionally discouraged innovative minds in the private sector from joining the process, Otunba Daniel went in and came out victorious.
When historians decide to write the story of Ogun state and perhaps Nigeria, that of Otunba Daniel will not be written in paragraphs but pages of his resounding sojourn in politics.
By Boladale Adekoya
Boladale is a public analyst and writes from Lagos.