By Remi Ladigbolu, Kunle Olayeni, Abeokuta & Biodun Akomolafe

• Ex-President, Amaechi, Ajibola, Otudeko, Dokpesi, monarchs, others hail Daniel at 54

Former Military President, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (rtd), yesterday gave the clearest indication of his intention to contest the 2011 presidential election, when he disclosed that he had begun wide-ranging consultations on the issue.

Babangida, who ruled the country from 1985 to 1993, made this disclosure at the venue of a lecture in Abeokuta, Ogun State, which was part of the activities marking the 54th birthday of Governor Gbenga Daniel.

The former President, popularly called IBB by his admirers, said he considered it premature to make his intentions public until he had concluded consultations with political leaders and other personalities across the country.

His words: “I wouldn’t like to preempt it. There are very important people and personalities and friends and family that I would talk to before I make my views public.”

Babangida, who accepted that “I am not the only answer to Nigeria’s problems,” said he would have to accept the call if he is asked by the people to contest in 2011.

“There is no such thing as absolute. If I have a contribution to make, surely this is the only country I have.”

The retired General also said he expected the 2011 elections to be determined by issues and not personalities.

Speaking earlier during the lecture, Babangida said “people have not stopped asking me the motive behind my close relationship with Daniel,” judging by the high degree of affection between both of them.

He said the reasons were no more that the unique attributes Daniel possesses, among which were his visionary leadership, his dominating presence, his rare capacity to choose the best people to work with, his ability to easily carry people along and his leading role among the younger generation.

He stated: “When I got back to Minna after visiting Daniel at his country home, in Sagamu, sometime ago, I got a lot of calls from people asking me for what was coming up. They said it seemed there was an established romance between me and Daniel. They said I couldn’t have left Minna to visit him in Sagamu for nothing.

“But, just like Tola Adeniyi had said, Daniel sees far beyond the present. Daniel’s tomorrow is not April 2, it is not even 2011, but 20111. I see in him a man who has a vision. He also has a dominating presence and easily dominates his environment.

“Also, he has a rare capacity to choose the people with whom he will work with and this reflects across every level of appointments, from commissioners to advisers and others. And I like that because I will go down in history as the man who put together the best cabinet in this country.

“He has a way of carrying people along in whatever he wants to do and I also see in him the hope of the younger generation. We are proud of leaving people like you (Daniel) behind. We are confident we are leaving Nigeria in good hands.”

Commenting on the lecture, Babangida, who was the chairman of the occasion, said, contrary to the widely held belief that he believed in confederacy, he was a strong believer in federalism and agreed with the guest lecturer that absence of true federalism was a major issue in Nigeria.

“True federalism is the issue for this country. It is a settled issue in Nigerian politics. Let’s look to the next 50 years to see where we wish to be. I believe in small government and not big government. I don’t believe government should do everything. The best brains in the world are Nigerians. Why not make use of their creativity? Anybody who believes in this will have my vote in 2011,” Babangida stated, amid applause.

The former president, who spoke extempore, was given a standing ovation.

Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State, who was the Guest of Honour, described Daniel as a grassroots governor, who keeps in close contact with the people he is ruling, where others have chosen to personalise governance.

He said: “Presidents and governors must listen to the people, because the power they carry with them is your (the peoples’) power. But government is personalised in Nigeria. However, I have seen on television that your governor (Daniel) goes round to listen to his people and hold village square meetings.”

Amaechi also advised Daniel not to listen to what people are saying, but wait patiently for the judgement of history, which he was sure would be favourable to him.

Further, Amaechi expressed support for electoral reforms, saying it was the only way to ensure that the 2011 election was decided by issues and not personalities.

He decried the current federal structure, which he described as a ruse. He added that no individual should be bigger than his country, while advocating that government structures must be institutionalised.

“The rich in Nigeria are unproductive and depend solely on oil wealth, which is held by government. This is the reason for the war-like struggle to be in government, especially in oil-rich states and Lagos. The rich will never allow free and fair election, because government guarantees their wealth.

“We are not a federal structure. We have no fiscal federalism that will open our eyes to the inherent resources that can make each state self sustaining. Our federal structure is government by servitude, which ensures a leader-servant relationship between the President and the governors. If not, why should a governor court the president and be forced to turn Abuja into his home, in order to be in the good books of the president?” Amaechi asked.

In his lecture entitled, “The Personalities, the Institutions and the Future of Democracy in Nigeria,” Dr Don Kroah, the founder and president of Salem Communications, Washington DC, the United States, identified the ascension of the wrong personalities to positions of authority as the major obstacle to democratic developments and good governance in Nigeria.

Kroah, who is also the host/executive director of the acclaimed WAVA Don Kroah show, said some of the factors aiding the elections of the wrong personalities to power, included electoral malpractices, godfatherism and voters’ apathy.

His words: “It is the personalities and institutions that determine how exactly democracy will be practised. Where the institutional roles and responsibilities as prescribed by any document, such as the constitution, are in line with the roles expected of the institution, but where wrong personalities are assigned to execute such roles, the consequence and effect are that the roles that the institutions are expected to perform are totally ignored in many cases or in certain other cases execution is done in an entirely different manner.”

Kroah, who changed the popular Daniel acronym (OGD) from Otunba Gbenga Daniel to “Only God can Do It,” described him as “the only exception to this category of leaders as demonstrated by his visionary leadership and the records of his achievements since he assumed power.”

“Governor Gbenga Daniel is one that has potential for social engineering, judicious use of resources and an uncommon desire to effect positive changes to socio-economic landscape of the state. It is for this reason, in part, that a personality of his status has produced phenomenal dividends of democracy, which has transformed the lives of the people of the state,” Kroah stated.

In his welcome address, the former Managing Director of Daily Times, Dr Tola Adeniyi, described Daniel as “a visionary leader that sees beyond tomorrow and one who cherishes integrity and transparency and also one whose commitment to details has earned him international recognition.”

He said Daniel, like all great men before him, was a largely misrepresented man by “myopic minds, who are too narrow-minded and self-serving to understand his vision for establishing several world class projects in the state, such as three world class stadia, a deep sea port, an international airport, three free trade zones, four Information and Communication-based polytechnics and the first University of Education in Nigeria.”

In a commentary on the lecture, veteran broadcaster, Dr Yemi Farounbi, likened Daniel to “a leader who stands alone on the peak of a mountain and sees farther and further, takes actions his followers don’t understand, which consequently, make them become critical. And could even make them turn against him.”

He recalled how the people of the defunct Western Region criticised Chief Obafemi Awolowo when his government introduced the free education policy in 1954 and went further to punish him for this singular action by voting against his (Awolowo’s) Action Group (AG) in that year’s federal elections, causing to lose to the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) for the first time.

He counselled Daniel to take solace in the fact that he is “in the same company with great men” whenever he is facing criticisms.

While expressing his gratitude, Daniel said he felt honoured by the presence of Babangida at the occasion, adding that in the last five years, he (Babangida) has identified with him anytime he needed support and affection.

He said it was a photograph taken at one such occasions that a media outfit doctored to make he (Daniel) appear as if he was in shrine performing occultic acts.

His words: “His very first outing with me was when I took the title of Otunba Obalofin of Ijebuland in 2005. It was the picture of that cultural event that was mischievously transmuted to a cultic ceremony by people who would play dirty and destructive politics, with an age-long and hallowed traditional ceremony of the Ijebu people.”

He appealed to Nigerians to forgive Babangida for whatever might have been his mistakes, because of his sincere concern for the growth of the nation.

“While we may fault some of his actions and inactions, while holding the reign of power of our country, his passion for the progress and peace of Nigeria can hardly be faulted. Yet, his errors of judgement at one point or the other, I am convinced, are not unforgivable. At the debris of anger and rightful indignation, we must erect a highrise monument of forgiveness, lest we are consumed by a sad memory which can only mar our progress and unity as a people,” Daniel stated.

He also expressed gratitude to Amaechi for coming and for “taking good care of our (Yoruba) people in Rivers State.

He equally thanked all the dignitaries and the people of the state, who left their businesses to come and honour him in their hundreds.

Dignitaries at the event included former Senate President, Chief Adolphous Wabara, former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Prince Bola Ajibola (SAN), Ogun State Deputy Governer, Alhaja Salmat Badru, Nigeria’s Ambassador to Zambia, Chief (Mrs.) Folake Marcus-Bello, Chief Rasaq Okoya and his wife, Folasade, Dr Lateef Adegbite, Sir Kessington Adebutu, Mr. Oba Otudeko, Ambassador Segun Olusola, Asiwaju S.K. Onafowokan, Dr Sunny Kuku, Chief Agboola Alausa, Senator Ayodeji Otegbola, Chief Raymond Dokpesi and the state Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chairman, Elder Joju Fadairo.

Also, the Alake of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Gbadebo, Olowu of Owu, Oba Adegboyega Dosunmu, Olubara of Ibara, Oba Jacob Omolade, Air-Vice Marshal Hamza Abdullahi, Chief Anthony Ojesina, Dr Doyin Abiola, Chief (Mrs) Iyabo Apampa, Chief (Mrs.) Titi Ajanaku, Dr Kunle Olajide, Rev (Mrs.) Tola Oyediran, Princess Abba Folawiyo and Hon. Kayode Amusan were there.

Others are Ogun State Chief Judge, Justice Oluremi Jacobs, Secretary to the State Government, Otunba Adegbemi Onakoya, former Speaker of the House of Assembly, Chief (Mrs.) Titi Oseni, Apagun Oluwole Olumide, Dr Jide Awosedo, Hon. Lola Abiola-Edewor, Chief Niyi Adegbenro, and Prince Yanju Lipede.

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