By Dideolu Falobi
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” – Psalm 23 v 4
On the advent of the 4th republic in 1999, it was only normal for OGD, Otunba Gbenga Daniel to join the process. After all, he had been a silent backer of pro-democracy forces, supporting the leaders, and the support structures for the restoration of the mandate freely given to Aare M K O Abiola. His office, first at Adeniyi Jones, and later at Maryland were rallying points for men and women of ideas.
In 2001, he moved into politics fully, and his campaign efforts as well as policy pronouncements captured in his “Pact with the people” led to a robust win for him against the great journalist and mentor to many journalists, ebullient Aremo Segun Osoba.
Ogun State is a unique state in Nigeria. The State had produced, great, influential sons and daughters whose strategic position in different sectors had enhanced the unique disposition of her citizens, their sense of right and wrong and their inclination to challenging positions and policies irrespective of the promoters. Even the legendary Baba Obasanjo reportedly lost at the polling booth in front of his own house. That was the Ogun State that Justus Olugbenga Daniel assumed the position of its executive governor in 2003. It could be likened to a state with many Indian Chiefs.
Prior to his election, Engr. J. O. Daniel had earned his reputation as a brilliant engineer, astute manager and excellent administrator. In H F Schroeder(West African) Limited(HFS), he rose rapidly to the position of Deputy Managing Director at a relatively young age of 32. At that time, HFS was one of the top three German companies in Nigeria.His own Kresta Laurel Limited which he founded in 1990 had also risen rapidly to the top of the ladder as an indigenous engineering company operating in an area that was the exclusive preserve of the multinationals.
In spite of his forays in his chosen vocation, OGD was also a consummate socialite and philanthropist, a mentor to many young men and women and friend of traditional, political and business leaders. The Sunday Concord, a reputable publication from the stable of M K O Abiola had listed him alongside people like Otunba Subomi Balogun as one of the Nigerian businessmen to watch out for in the last decade of the 20th century. This was the OGD that became the Governor of Ogun State in May 2003.
Unknown to him, the Ayodele Awojobi mentee; one of the youngest friends of Papa Awolowo as at 1979, and the Fesojoye of Ile-Ife had just walked into the den of Lions like his biblical name sake.
He ran what was arguably one of the best governments in the period 2003-2011. He developed a master plan for the state and touched every sector and every geopolitical zone of the state. Awards from international development agencies, local and international reputable organizations, the traditional leadership of Ogun State in particular and Nigeria in general etc rolled in.
However, in order to achieve this, OGD stepped on toes… giant, medium and small toes. These toes do not take prisoners and they were united in their decision that OGD must pay. The first plan was to stop him from a second term in office. This failed due to the grace of God and the will of the people who were united in their support for him. The second move was to impeach him during his second term but this Daniel, like his biblical name sake, weathered the storm again and somehow managed to finish his tenure well despite those battles. This was unlike his contemporaries in the old Western region like Olusegun Agagu of Ondo, Rashidi Ladoja of Oyo , Ayo Fayose of Ekiti and Olagunsoye Oyinlola of Osun none of whom completed their second tenure for various reasons.
His exit at the end of his tenure did not appease his opponents. Rather their determination to make him suffer for his perceived sins increased and having lost his immunity as an executive governor, they went for his jugular. They now saw him as a Biblical David that must be killed or destroyed.
He had to abort his trip abroad for a well deserved rest to show his readiness to answer all queries relating to his tenure as governor.
In the period between May 2011 and October 2011, he as well as everybody around him were subjected to the most hostile investigation possible. Business partners whose relationship with him preceded his days as governor, political associates and appointees, investors invited by him into Ogun State, beneficiaries of his liberal land policy and the state’s concession partners were not spared. Of course, his family, businesses and investments suffered. This Daniel was now sitting pretty in the lions’ den.
Eventually, His Excellency, Engr(Otunba) Gbenga Daniel was arrested on October 2, 2011 and like a sheep being led to the slaughter slab, moved hurriedly to Abuja where he was to spend the next seven days in EFCC gulag. Spurious petitions motivated by sheer hate and inability to accept his “Business unusual” approach to governance; and sponsored by those whose toes he might have stepped on were the basis of his arrest. He was returned to Lagos and arraigned before an Abeokuta high court on October 11, 2011. He was later granted bail after spending 13 days in detention in very inclement conditions.
While in detention, all sorts of fake stories were planted across various media. Otunba Gbenga Daniel had to respond to the stories in a press release authored by one of his aides which stated inter alia, “In the last few days, especially following the arraignment of the former Governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, we have noticed a deliberate planting of stories and peddling of inaccurate reports meant to paint the former governor in bad light and give the impression of guilt even before the conclusion of the trial at an Abeokuta High Court.”
“Before the arraignment, the news making the round was that N58 billion was involved in the allegation brought against the governor but at the beginning of the trial the sum total of the allegation brought by the EFCC amounted to less than N5 billion. And it should be noted that the case against the former governor remains an allegation until otherwise determined by the court. Contrary to the information being peddled, no member of the administration of Otunba Daniel has been arrested.”
“Some of the names being bandied in the public domain as having been arrested have not even been contacted to make clarifications by the agency let alone being arrested. We believe that the deliberate attempt to try and convict Otunba Daniel via the media is the handiwork of some powerful vested interests who want the former Governor out of circulation at all costs.”
“From the various simulations and deliberately concocted stories making the round it is obvious that certain individuals and interests are trying hard to use the ongoing trial to score cheap political points and ultimately assail the reputation of the former governor, the outcome of the trial notwithstanding.
“Now that the case against him is in court, we want to appeal to all and sundry to allow the rule of law to prevail and the cause of justice to be served. We believe that ultimately, those stoking the propaganda against Otunba Daniel for purely political purposes will fail to achieve their evil agenda.”
Interestingly, the charges were amended from 16 to 48 counts after granting him bail whereas the financial element went down from around N5billion to N211million.
The charges were later amended to 36 counts and finally, 32 counts.
In all, the presentation of the prosecution’s case lasted for over nine years without a single request for adjournment by the defendant. The prosecution called 35 witnesses and presented 1035 exhibits!!!
In response, Otunba Daniel presented a “NO CASE SUBMISSION” and in its ruling on the 17 of May 2019, the judge quashed 15 counts and ordered Otunba Daniel to present his defence of the remaining 17 counts. Dissatisfied, OGD went to the court of appeal at Ibadan where, on April 12, 2022, the court upheld his arguments and quashed all the charges in a unanimous judgement.
In his comments, Abba Bello Mohammed JCA; held as follows “I had the privilege of reading the draft of the lead judgment just delivered by my learned brother Yargata Byenchit Nimpar JCA, I agree that this appeal is meritorious for all reasons and conclusions stated therein, which I fully adopt as mine.
I also hold that the trial judge was wrong to have called upon the appellant to enter his defence when there is no evidence on the record that the prosecution had made out a prima facie case on any of those counts for which the appellant was ordered to enter his defence. It is only when the prosecution has made out a prima facie case by establishing with credible evidence all ingredients of the offences for which the defendant is charged that a defendant will be required to enter his defence.“*
He continued “It needs to be stressed that the prosecution of criminal offenses is not a fishing expedition. It is to be embarked only when criminal offences legally so defined have been committed, and there is sufficient evidence to justify prosecution of a defendant for such offenses. Embarking on prosecutorial fishery for non existent offenses or in the absence of necessary or sufficient evidence can only waste valuable time, waste scarce resources, lower public confidence in the responsible public institutions and subject hitherto innocent defendants to unnecessary and avoidable rigors of criminal litigation.”
Furthermore, Abba Bello Mohammed JCA concluded “What is apparent in this appeal is that the defendant was subjected to prosecution for non-existent offences and for offences for which there was clearly no evidence to substantiate. While lamenting this situation, I join in allowing this appeal and in discharging the defendant, in total concurrence with all the detailed reasoning and conclusions contained in the lead judgment of my learned brother Nimpar, JCA.”
Thus, OGD could breathe an air of true freedom devoid of bail terms, after 11 years of excruciating experience, unjust persecution and unimaginable assault on his reputation and character.
This Daniel, like his biblical predecessor, seems to have survived the valley of the shadow of death.
Falobi is an Engineer based in Lagos.