Ogun would Have Been Ahead Of Lagos If My Successor Had Followed Our Master Plan - Daniel - THE DAILY CRUCIBLE

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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Ogun would Have Been Ahead Of Lagos If My Successor Had Followed Our Master Plan - Daniel



Daniel

Former Governor Gbenga Daniel  recently unveiled his mind to The Daily Crucible and some selected media organisations on issues bordering  on hospitality business, jobs creation, Ogun Master Plan among others at the premises of his five stars  multibilion naira Conference Hotel located at a choice section of Abeokuta, the Ogun state capital and ready to be declared open to the public.

Excerpts

You are an Engineer, a reputable one at that but you are now investing in hospitality sector, there is Conference Hotel at Ijebu Ode, there is another one at Sagamu while that of Abeokuta is just opening for business, can you please tell us why the interest in hospitality business?


Thank you very much. As you are have rightly positioned, I am first of all an Engineer, I run a lift company and this is what I have done for about 30 years, so any other thing you see me doing is an aberration, politics is an aberration and may be this one too, the hotel businesses are another form of aberration based on necessity.
And I will quickly go to the background, you will remember  that when we came into Ogun state, we were developing sports because we felt that we needed to develop few things due to the large number of the unemployed that we have. Apart from that, my credo as the goverrnor was that government has no business in business but government has the obligation to facilitate business. 

What then did your government do to facilitate business at the time?

When I got to Ogun state as the goverrnor because of large number of the unemployed, creating employment became our major priority. Most of what we did were pushed towards solving this problem. This was really our central thrust. Developing the sports sector, if you could remember led us to hosting the 2006 Gateway Games. Everybody agreed that that was the best national games festival ever before 2006 and I don't think any other one done after has been better. This opened our state to sport, and we cashed in on the opportunity to develop our stadia, the one at Ijebu Ode, that of Abeokuta was upgraded etc. I recall that sometimes in 2008 when Nigeria wanted to host the junior world cup, the Deputy President of FIFA then, Jack Warner came into the country for inspection of sporting facilities and he said of all the stadia inspected across the country, that of Ijebu Ode excited them most but there were no good hotel facilities that could encourage them to come and play those international matches at Ijebu Ode. That was part one of the challenge,  part two of the challenge was the poor management of some of our local hotels at that time, the then Gateway Hotel and we decided to concession them so that they can be properly managed, afterall, we have said goverrment has no business in  business. We don't want to spend the money meant for roads construction on all this again. Luckily, we concessioned Gateway Hotel at Ijebu Ode to a company partially owned by Ogun state government, Equity Insurance company. Many people did not know this because during the recapitalization of the insurance companies, Tower Gate insurance which was then an Ogun state company had merged with Equity Assurance. In fact, the Chairman was a nominee of the state government. So luckily, Equity bided for the Gateway Hotel at Ijebu Ode and won and that was how we killed two birds with one stone because while it will on on its own look for money to put the hotel in good shape, government will still have control over it. But FIFA said all the rooms there were still not enough and then, suddenly, my friends started blackmailing me saying while my businesses are in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja I have been telling them to come and invest in the state and that I should lead by example. That was what made me an accidental hotelier. So we started the experiment of the Conference Hotel at Ijebu Ode and luckily enough, it came out on time and during the second visit of Jack Warner in preparation for the hosting of the Junior World Cup, he said Ogun state has been considered as one of the places to host the matches. To the glory of God, I think Argentina, Spain and America played at Ijebu Ode and that was how the idea started. The one in Sagamu was not planned to be an hotel but an old people home which I personally want to donate to the community but it's like our people are yet to buy into this idea of keeping our aged ones in a place as it is done abroad.

Our culture believes that it is like you are throwing your aged ones away when you take them somewhere, so, our people will rather want to stay with them and take good care of them, though, our wives suffer for it, but then what can we do? So, after leaving office, we get busy with that too and get it done very well. The story of this one at Abeokuta, I don't want to waste my time on it, what has happened has happened, forward ever, backward never, this was the credo of Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, we thank God we are still very much alive, we are grateful to God that we survived whatever it is.

The most important thing which was my own passion was that while I was in part 2 or 200 level in the university, University of Lagos, UNILAG to be precise, three companies came to interview me for jobs. The companies are Shell, Chevron and UAC. In fact, a subsidiary of UAC gave me scholarship to complete my education and this was in addition to that of the federal government, so, I had two scholarships. As a 200 level student, I was already having three jobs waiting for me. That was the background of where I was coming from, so, when you now see graduates roaming about the street, we all feel that as a people, we have failed. The only thing that excites me is to see our people engaged and that was why when we were in government we did not sack anybody. Rather, we double the civil service, the local government service and the teaching service. I was shocked to find out that the civil service did not have more than 5000 when I became the goverrnor. And 80% of whatever came in went into paying the civil servants. This was why Ogun was said to be a civil servants state because if anything should happened and the civil servants could not get paid at the end of the month, the economy collapses because there will be nothing to take to the market. So, part of the challenge then was how to diversify the economy and make sure the economy of the state did not only depend on the civil servants to survive. Part of what we look at that time was tourism and that was why we developed Olumo Rock and all that believing that other people will be bringing in money. After our various efforts in the area of industrialisation, we employed additional 5000 into civil service, 17000 more into teaching and 7000 more into local government and by the time I left office the staff strength was still less than 100,000 and yet the institutions in the state alone produce an average of 100,000 per year, so in five years, we already have 500,000 unemployed. How can we now expect that our state, a civil servant state to accommodate all this. This was why we were begging our people to come and invest in the state, we were even ready to give land free of charge. We just wanted our people engaged and the economy of of the state to be buoyant. So, when the opportunity for this hotel came, we grabbed it and also did it well. I really don't know if it is five star like you have stated, but what I know is that whatever I do either in my public or private life I do it very well. It is part of OGD's life, my house that I built over 26 years ago can still compete with any one in Lagos today. It is just my passion


Are you not worried of over concentration of hospitality businesses around this Oke Mosan axis?


There is nothing like that. I have been to other places outside the country and you will see all kinds of hotels lining the street be it in America, Hong Kong and Dubai. In fact in Dubai, 80% of the properties are for hospitality.  It is important we have competition because if there is no competition, standard will dropped. It is through competition that we can raise standard in tourism and hospitality business and this will encourage people to come. It is not the money we are generating in this place that will turn around the economy. Look at Rwanda, where the Tutsi and Hutu were killing themselves some years back is now one of the fastest growing economy in Africa. It is now the investment destination of choice because they have created enabling environment that can now make people to come and spend their money. This is virtually what is driving the economy of the developed country of the world. Some of us might have been to London to see Trafalgar Square and what is in Trafalgar Square, a fountain that I also want to believe the one here is far better. When you get there you started taking photographs and Britain has made so much money from it. Same thing for the House of torso and Buckingham palace where you go and watch the palace guards  parade with their red caps. This is what we tried doing with Olumo rock and we installed a lift there, to make it more attractive and inviting, people will come and of course pay money... that is how economy is developed. I am hoping that along this line we can up the ante in Ogun state.  We have New York and we have New Jersey, there is no reason why we can't take over from Lagos State. If we had gone by our Master plan, we would have overtaken Lagos with the plan for a refinery that is capable of taking over 20,000 people. Well, the dream has been killed, you people killed it and when it was being killed nobody talked, so lets leave it as it is. (Laughter) I was happy about two weeks ago when I heard that wagon assembly plant was being flagged off in Kajola because it was already in our Master plan, go and check it. That is where we have our free trade zone for transportation in Ogun Central. All of this we have envisaged but when our people came and started dancing palongo....(laughter)


Can you please quantify your losses for the eight years when immediate government locked up Conference Hotel, Abeokuta?

Well, there is no crown without a cross and there is no success without a challenge. And you will notice that I have not complained, I have not sued anyone. My decision is that that is how God wants it at that point in time and I have moved on with my life. I told you that Awolowo's credo is forward ever, backward never. I am alive, so glory be to God. It is not the intention of some of these people that we will still be alive, so why should I still be questioning God? I don't know about these losses that you are talking about. Yes, we had challenges and God has given us the courage to surmount it, so what else? God has put us here and it is still the best hotel in town.

As one of the leaders who have enjoyed this country such that while still in school three jobs were waiting for you, how can we have Nigeria of yesteryears back ?

It is really going to be a bit tough due to the explosion in population. Some of the factors that led us here are very well known. Our population as at that time was 56 million but now over 200million. The universities as at that time were also just six. University of Ibadan, UNILAG, UNIFE now OAU, University of Nigeria, Ahmadu Bello University and much later UNIJOS and UNILORIN joined. In fact as at that time when you are looking for admission, you will only take one admission form the universities. While at UNILAG our population was around 2000 but I am not sure if it is not more than 20000 now. Unfortunately, our leaders did not take proactive measures to deal with this, so it has happened, it has happened. Consequent on this is our value system that have also dropped.It is now era of anything goes. It is in the realm of politics that I begin to hear just go and win the election either by breaking the window or through whatever and after that we will then begin to talk. This is where the value has shifted to. It is really bad because you can't do these things during our days and get the respect of anyone. It is really going to be tough returning the country to days of yesteryears. It will take a lot of perseverance.


Have you forgiven the person who locked up this place for eight years?

Well, to forgive is divine. You know me now, I don't waste time over what I don't have powe to change, it has happened, it has happened and I have moved on with my life. I guess if anyone has regret fine but if not it is fine too. It has not affected anything. The most important thing is that I am alive, many have died in the process, so glory be to God.


How much of unemployment will this place help to curb?

When we resumed here, 300 people were working here every day, in fact, we had about 32 cleaners. When I saw  one of the cleaners here today, I shed tears of joy because she is now a waiter. She worked quite hard as a cleaner and while we were considering people for other things, we asked her what she wanted and she said she would be a waitress. She went to the polytechnic, so why was she cleaning in the first place? We decided to train her and she is a waitress now. The last time some Europeans came here she was the one talking to them, canvassing them. We have raised her profile, built her confidence, added value to her life and she is no more a cleaner, that is what we are talking about. In a nutshell, during recruitment, we employed over 200 people and you can imagine the multiplier effect of that. Part of what I think we are not doing very well and which is the bane of our society is the unwillingness of some of the well endowed in the society to see how they could help to create employment for our people. I look round Abeokuta and I don't see one except this one. Wherever you see massive construction going on anywhere you see crane, it is the government.  Until our people imbibe this discipline of creating something like ours, then the problems of employment will be getting bigger. For instance if 10 people will depend on each of the 200 people working here, that means, 2000 people will be getting a feel, assuming ten of this is replicated across Abeokuta, you can imagine the impact in reducing unemployment. The Journalists are also part of the problem because we must begin to choose what we celebrate. You all know the noise made on the land this hotel was situated that I never paid the N10Million and it became an EFCC matter. The truth of the matter is that the land where I built my house at Maryland in Lagos is  N500Millon, is it N10M that I won't be able to pay but that is the tragedy. So, before writing anything, you too must be able to do some questioning.

There is this N9bn power projects which you initiated but is now rotting away at the Governor's Office, have you had any discussion with Gov Abiodun over this?


Well, I have not and I have not even discussed anything with him. It is good the governor takes his time without any inhibitions because Ogun state is very delicate. Meanwhile, our comprehensive handing over note is there for any information. In fact, the governor told me the last time I visited him that my handing over note was in his cabinet, may be that is to say look I am studying your efforts in government. Except that in 2019, we had expected to see same but we have seen nothing. Much I can say is that I accidentally ran into a document prepared by someone working for the immediate past government saying that the power project that we did was the best and cheapest. As far as I am concerned, we have virtually solved the problem of power and water in the state with what we did that time. It is sad to hear that the construction had destroyed all the pipes laid, let's stop here because we have agreed that we are not talking politics.

In closing, I think it is important everybody tries to facilitate business or ensure that business is facilitated.Incidentally, I don't think I want to agree with the government that the money comes from taxation, this I think is due to lack of deeper thinking. While in government, our IGR was around N1Bn and we never over taxed anybody but another regime came and the IGR went up to N7bn and the civil servants paying N2000 during our time now pay from N5000 and above. We were never unaware that the workers were paying lower taxes but how much is the civil servants salary that you will have to cut off N5000 as tax, you are only killing the people. Must people be taxed to death? The last goverrnor said he met an IGR of N700M and that he has taken it to N7bn but I asked what has this translated to? Are our people happier?


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