The birthday of Otunba Gbenga Daniel, it is imperative to appreciate those who in no little way have given their time and a part of their lives to the service of their Motherland. This is the story of the OGD (as he is fondly called) i heard so much about and the OGD that i met on that autumn day in London.
The day was August 24 2012, the sun was out in all its glory even when it was autumn. I was scheduled to meet a man I had vigorously spent everyday criticizing. I always felt justified in my criticism of Otunba Gbenga Daniel giving my belief that a PDP member can never be Afenifere, you only had to be in Alliance for Democracy or Action Congress to be Afenifere. I began to question that line of reasoning when I visited Ogun State and saw the transformation under the Otunba Gbenga Daniel administration which lasted Eight (8) years. Some questions started to prod my conscience, how can a man from the PDP deliver such dividends to my people? Was this not the sole preserve of Afenifere people in the Alliance for Democracy / Action Congress? With this and so many more unanswered questions on my mind, I sought through a friend, an audience with Otunba Gbenga Daniel in London, late in August, 2013.
On the morning, I made a call to Otunba Daniel and we agreed to a 'no holds barred' question and answer session. I was to arrive at 3pm and my impression of Otunba Gbenga Daniel and many more decent gentlemen who have offered their time to the service of their motherland was to change forever.
I was ushered in from the gate by one of his sons, the young man bowed his head down to greet me, and this was the first shock! The kids of most wealthy men I know would not normally show that level of respect, this was not the Daniel kids I read about in the newspaper, could he have been asked by his dad to show respect to me as he opened the gate? The young man ushered me into the living room where I saw a man in a simple shirt and trouser sitting and watching what was a recorded burial event of an elderly woman who lay in a casket. Could this be Otunba Gbenga Daniel I came to meet? I have come across several wealthy Nigerian men and a similar trait with most is the measure of arrogance they possess and as such, I was expecting to wait in the living room for a few minutes or even hours for OGD to make a grand entry through the door.
The man in the living room got up and said his greetings, behold it was OGD! Until I arrived, he sat in his living room watching a video of the burial of his late mother, with an IPAD on his side, a laptop in his front; I could see a man at peace with himself.
Before I arrived, I had told my people where I was going and asked them to ring the Police if I do not return, after all this was the same man who a section of the newspaper said went around with a killer squad. Just before we got down to the business that brought me to his house, I was offered some drinks, biscuits and cakes. I had vowed not to eat while I was there because I feared poisoning giving how much I have criticized OGD but the man's demeanour, friendliness and simplicity had totally disarmed me, I did not remember when I acceded to being served the refreshments. In what was to follow and beyond my wildest imagination, OGD got up himself to get the drinks and refreshments, could he not have sent his kids to get them I thought? This was meant to be the Former governor of my state, one who was already wealthy as the chairman of Kresta Laurel before he dabbled into the murky waters of politics and lastly, one who was way older than me, how could he possibly be the one serving me?
So the Q & A session began with me asking questions related to his performance while in government. For every answer OGD gave me, he went into either his tablet or laptop to show me and at times, printed out some documents to back up his answers. Where he had no direct answer for questions outside his purview, he would immediately place a call through to Nigeria to ask the Commissioner or Officer tasked with the duty at the time to which my question was related. I was swept off my feet immediately because my impression of the average governor in Nigeria before that day was one of a lack of adequate knowledge of the affairs of their state besides embezzling state funds. That Otunba Gbenga Daniel had so much information at his finger tip was not only impressive but totally changed my mindset about those who chose to serve and give back to a community that has given so much to them.
As the discussions continued, he kept on telling me to ask him many more questions of every kind; he made me feel so relaxed without the awe I may have felt being in the presence of a former governor. I asked questions about the purported killer squad amongst others and he answered all my questions beyond reasonable doubt. This was not the OGD I had hoped to meet going by what a section of the Nigerian newspapers made out about him. How could it ever be blackened out of the news that the man I begrudged for being a PDP member was actually an Afenifere and one who was deeply entrenched in pushing the Yoruba cause at every single opportunity? The level of his involvement in the Pan Yoruba movement was unknown to me as am sure was to so many others. We delved into the bad press he often got from some Nigerian newspapers and it was until we both looked at the composition of those Newspapers before I began to gain an understanding on why some maligned him so much while the other well read national dailies had a different opinion and saw him as a performer and the new kid on the block. Now the politics and journalism of the South West had become clearer.
Our discussion was punctuated by a knock on the door and in came two men of Asian origin who had come to change the Persian rug in the home of the Daniels. It was at this point that I met Yeye Funke Daniel. I may not have an idea of the kind of women OGD 'pulled' in his youthful days when he was still a Bachelor but I concluded that they may not have come any better than the woman he eventually married, the one standing right in front of me. With a smile on her face and that obvious touch of beauty, we greeted. I began to wonder if this was the woman they claimed had slapped someone in Ijebu-Itele, a question I had already put to OGD. As if OGD read my mind, he immediately asked her jokingly if she was the woman they claimed slapped someone in Itele, at this point I quipped, expecting her to get upset. She smiled and told me what did transpire on the day, I became convinced beyond reasonable doubt with her version of events having heard the other version as we then focused on the issue of the Persian rug that brought her downstairs. In a manner you would expect of a good wife, she asked her husband questions about the colour fit of the new rug with other furnishing in the living room and like every good husband, OGD gave her his opinion but wanted her to have the final say on an issue such as home decoration. Alongside the two Asian men, we all fitted the rug and compared it to the former one, it was then unanimously agreed that the former rug still had a better colour match and should be left unchanged, Yeye Daniel then told the men the colour she wanted and they left with the rug they came with.
It was dinner time; Yeye Funke Daniel having come down to attend to the rug went straight to the kitchen to make us dinner. I was expecting my food to be brought to me in the living room while OGD had his on the dining table with his family but again I was wrong. The table was set for OGD and I. There is usually a seat reserved for the breadwinner of any home on every dinner table, I was expecting Otunba Gbenga Daniel to take his seat at the top of the table instead he sat opposite me on the longer side of the dining table. OGD opened the bowls and served his meal while I served mine. A lovely meal of fried rice, Jollof rice, Vegetables, Fried Plaintain, Fish and meat was dished, a meal as good as any I have eaten. Could this be the Daniel's I have read so much about? Where was the cook? How can Yeye Funke Daniel engage herself in the kitchen with the cooking when it would cost next to nothing to hire a cook for the time they were around visiting as most rich people do? After all these was a wealthy family? While I was deep in thoughts, I noticed OGD's daughter sat in a corner ready to be at our beck and call while we were having our dinner. The young lady had a bag strapped around her neck as she quickly picked up the used bowls and plates away to the kitchen and brought the Juices and Water. She asked if we wanted more food served and always wanted to know if we were in need of anything, the way she went about it suggested to me that it was second nature from her training. Definitely this cannot be the Daniel kids I read about? These are supposed to be spoilt kids as a newspaper suggested?
Dinner was over and it was time for the Daniels to visit a family friend, OGD handed me four (4) books and a CD, something he said will provide more answers to any questions that may come up again. As I left his house, he said he would not mind if I want to continue criticizing him however he urged it must always be the truth. Does that mean he was not going to pull out some wad of Pound Sterling and 'buy' me over as I have been made to believe by some?
I left Otunba Gbenga Daniel's residence into the now cold autumn evening thinking to myself if indeed I visited the right person I have been sold so much negativity about. If it was OGD and his family that I met, was I then not guilty of jumping on to the band wagon without trying to check my facts? Was I not guilty of assuming that every person who has served in a political office in Nigeria must be corrupt? Was I not guilty of assuming that every wealthy man is arrogant and their kids must also be ill-trained? Was I not guilty of believing hook, line and sinker the mischievous stories put out in some newspaper without first looking at the newspaper's composition and ownership and what they aim to achieve by maligning certain individuals? Definitely I have been guilty of stereotyping in the case of Otunba Gbenga Daniel!
Before I left, OGD asked me to call him at any time, in London or in Nigeria, as he likened himself to an open book. True to his words, at every call, OGD was on the line ready to provide answers to my questions and will always reply an email within a few hours.
My meeting with Otunba Gbenga Daniel thought me a few lessons amongst which was never to judge people until i have heard them out. My mindset changed from then on. I have never regretted my association with OGD, someone who I erected Social Media structures to criticize and pull down.
Otunba Daniel is an icon, one who is appreciated in Nigeria by his people and by the business community all over the world. I celebrate and rejoice with this Icon as he celebrates yet another year on earth. A man who is obviously at peace with himself, one who has changed for ever, the benchmark of performance expected of Political Office holders. One who through his belief in the youths, composed a cabinet of cerebral young men in their 30's and 40's.
I join the good people in wishing an Omoluabi a Happy Birthday, yours is a life of meritorious service to your people.
Social Media Commentator