By Kazeem Ugbodaga & Eromosele Ebhomele
Former governor of Nigeria’s western state of Ogun, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, has, in a rare appearance before the media and civil society, described his prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, as persecution, claiming that he was “a victim of the environment.”
The former governor, who held an interactive meeting with journalists in Lagos yesterday, denied most of the allegations contained in the 38 counts under which he was charged by the anti-graft agency for allegedly stealing public funds, bribery, fraudulent conversion of public property and false declaration of assets.
EFCC had alleged that the former governor stole N211.3 million between 2004 and 29 May, 2011 and also converted government’s land in various parts of the state to his family’s use.
But Daniel, who spent over two hours explaining how he ran Ogun state for eight years as governor, absolved himself of all the allegations, saying the state had no money he could steal at the point he was at the helm of affairs.
He said the way he ran the state made it very difficult for either him or any member of his cabinet to steal.
According to him, his persecution was the result of a well researched and orchestrated ploy by the opposition to bring him down. “And they won,” he declared.
On the allegation of false declaration of assets, the former governor said he was the first governor to declare his assets after the President and the Vice President.
“I would have been the first political office holder to publicly declare his assets but I didn’t want it to look like I’m proud. So I waited for President Umaru Yar’Adua, followed by then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, then I publicly declared mine,” he said.
Daniel said he had looked back at his administration and had told himself that he did his best to put the state on a sound footing even in the face of heavy public condemnation cooked up by the opposition in their desperation to take over the state and executed by the media which often refused to take his own side of issues.
Declaring that as governor, he never borrowed any money on behalf of the state, but decided to run the state with what the state could afford, lamented that the current administration of Senator Ibikunle Amosun had continued to feed the people with lies that it inherited debts off between N59 billion and N100 billion.
Giving details, he said he only left a liability of N49.2 billion and not debt as the current government had claimed.
He displayed the statement of account which he handed over to Governor Amosun, saying “we were magnanimous enough to have a liability of N49.2 billion, out of which N13.9 billion was outstanding money owed banks that was the result of short-term overdraft.
“What made up the liability, which you cannot regard as debts were arrears of tertiary institutions’ subvention, arrears of running cost, money you give to schools for routine maintenance, arrears of pension, which all sum up to the total N49.2 billion liability.
“We were determined not to leave arrears of pension but around 2008, and 2009 there was downturn in world’s economy. Nigeria was not an exception. Our situation was made worse because of our local politics.
“Therefore, the cash liability which we left behind was N13.9 billion. God has helped us and the truth is now coming out.”
He said after a forensic evaluation by the current government, the overdraft was again reduced to N3.75 billion wondering why the state government had decided to engage in propaganda against him instead of to allow him enjoy his retirement.
He also recalled that his own predecessor, Aremo Segun Osoba, left a liability of over N36 billion and hurriedly employed 2,000 people at the twilight of his administration with the hope of pitching him against his people.
“But I didn’t sack anybody. In the whole of my eight years, no one person was retrenched,” he added.
He also recalled that he completed the dualisation of the 48-kilometre Sagamu-Abeokuta road, built an estate for those whose houses were demolished on the corridor, fixed 999 street lights on the road and built power substations for communities on the corridor at a paltry sum of N1.9 billion, saying he was shocked to discover that the current government built a kilometre of road at the cost of N500 million.
He confirmed that he had traitors in his government who were being used by the opposition.
One of such traitors, he said, had claimed that he escaped assassination by people sent by the governor and that he ended up killing two of them with his pump action rifle while driving. He wondered how that could be possible and asked where the corpses of those killed were dumped.
He also denied that he prevented members of his state House of Assembly from sitting for eight months even though he said the crisis was beneficial to his government as some of the lawmakers made frantic efforts to get him impeached for not making more money available to them against due process.
Daniel said he wished the government of Ogun state well, but added: “I don’t want to discredit them. If they have left me alone and allowed me to have my retirement, I wouldn’t have said anything.”
He also urged the media to investigate his activities and help come out with the true story, saying he is no longer interested in any political office, but only wanted to redeem his image which he considered battered.