A chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party in Delta State and former Minister of State For Education, Chief Kenneth Gbagi discusses his 2023 governorship ambition with Deji Elumoye
As one of those who supported Senator Ifeanyi Okowa to become Delta Governor in 2015, would you say he has lived up to expectation?
You are very right that I supported Senator Okowa, therefore, I want to believe that this is not in doubt that my position is made easier with regards to support for the governor who refers to me and calls me his brother.
I want to believe that the evidence are there for everybody to see with regards to his performance. I have severally said that I believe that the Governor has demonstrated resilience and ability to show that he means well for the state. As to whether or not he has satisfied Deltans, there is nobody who can satisfy everybody, but I want to believe that given his ability and competence, he has done well. I believe very strongly that Dr. Okowa will be remembered for who he is, and who he was with regards to all that he has done for the state. I will not like to delve into specific performances as regards to what he has done during his time so far in office.
Do you see the PDP as the platform to actualize your governorship ambition in 2023?
I believe from 1999 to date, governors have always known who they want to hand over to, but we have seen in our lifetime it doesn’t always go the way they want it to go. When we started the PDP in Delta State, I was the first among the three contestants from Central zone. If you saw that arrangement we followed through, after Ibori finished his tenure of eight years, it went to Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, and now it is the turn of the North, so it is coming back to Central.
I am the oldest founder, I cannot do it alone if the issue is to choose the narrative of Delta. However, I think I am best for the job. I went out to contact notable people in Delta state and they observed that if I can do the things I’ve done with my businesses, then I can bring a whole lot to the table for Deltans. I will not meddle with state funds, rather I’ll bring in my experience to further develop the state.
My hardwork and transparency has gone ahead of me. Let all who want to run come forth and tell Deltans what they can offer. Deltans are wise, you must be able to help yourself before you can manage a complex state like Delta. Let us tell them what we have to offer.
One of the greatest problems we face in this part of our world is that we lie to ourselves. I have managed my life in such a way that I have no blemish. Go and search me, except you don’t want the good of the state. Nobody wants people with no pedigree to lead Delta.
Deltans have identified that we can do the job, and we will key in at the national level.
Everyone knows that Delta has such fantastic opportunity in Africa because God naturally endowed the state, but understanding and identifying opportunities to know what to do is a different ball game entirely. Today, the Governor has told the whole world that I am the highest private investor in the state. I am talking about visible investments that were driven without any bank loan, or without EFCC going after me. As Minister, I was one of those that was never invited by any anti-graft agency for any discussion. It is all this wealth of experience that people have seen, as nothing is hidden. I will contest the governorship election in 2023 by the grace of God, except I see somebody better than me.
Why the decision to contest the governorship seat rather than focusing on your businesses? Won’t they suffer? How do you intend to marry the two?
I have rejected three ministerial appointments. If Delta has gotten its fair share of where it ought to be, then there would be no need for me to run for office. At the moment, Delta still has a lot of development opportunities to explore. There are over 6000 youths trading within my system everyday for their livelihood, therefore, you won’t be wrong to say I have what it takes to translate and transform the state along the lines of improving employment figures.
What are the areas you intend to focus on and how will you relate with other politicians vying for the same position?
I have no reason at all to see a Deltan unemployed, as there is a whole lot to do. I have a strategy to cater for the youths and bring industries back to the state. We have a government in place now, so we do not need to say too much about what we hope to achieve. However, we will ensure the transformation of riverine areas to business hubs. I will ensure that we do not go about governance as though we are in a dictatorship. In fact, every local government has what it takes to stand alone without reliance on monies we are getting today as allocation from the federal government.
Like I said, my friend and brother is the Governor, and I respect him, and you’ll recall that since 1999 till date, given my position in the PDP, I have never associated and worked with any governor as I have done with Governor Okowa. I have worked with him on the basis that he has the fear of God. When I was moving from my Warri home to Oginibu, he was the one who came to commission my chapel. I have worked with him earnestly on the basis that he has the fear of God.
If you’re a father who has 10 children, among them you know the one that is the best. They are not all equal. So, let the entire people from Delta Central who are in government and want to retire do so. Deltans will sieve them, as they are wiser today. Any person that cannot do something for himself, and is being asked to come and do something for a group of people, is bound to fail at the end of the day. If you know a man cannot do something for himself, and you say he should come and help a State, then you’re a failure. I am very positive that the Governor is wiser than that and will not plunge the state into another startup. He won’t do that, and I believe him to the extent that despite being a politician, he is upright. While I have my reservations about people when it comes to character, I can say with certainty that Okowa means well for Delta.
It was alleged recently that you molested four workers who were staff of your hotel in Warri. How do you reconcile the impact which these weighty allegations have on your ambition to be Governor? What’s the true story?
I heard all sorts of stories, they said I’m charged for robbery, that I’m a kidnapper, and even alleged I stripped people naked. I just laugh at them. Who in the world do you want to tell that? Those behind these stories and allegations are these politicians who believe that since they cannot find anything to smear my image such as corruption and so on, they might as well say that I sent somebody to strip people naked just to give me a bad name.
It never happened, it couldn’t have been. I’m a father of six daughters, lovely ones at that. It never happened! It’s all political blackmail. They say that I robbed, who did I rob? Who did I kidnap? It’s just an attempt to smear me and halt my political speed. That’s what they are afraid of. How do you reconcile this: I have businesses in Abuja, there’s no problem.
Nobody is saying I’m a robber here. A good chunk of my businesses are in Lagos, they are thriving and running, and nobody is saying that they are stripped naked and all of that.
Suddenly in Delta where I have a political ambition, I am stripping some women naked and so on. Even the biggest fool knows that it is politically motivated. Who did I send to naked them?
I never sent anyone to go strip people naked, and I never robbed or kidnapped anybody.
These were allegations which I came across on social media just like everyone. When we wanted to do election in 2007, a story came that I don’t pay my workers. You would have read it. A story also came that I have snakes and a lion in my house; and they said TB Joshua was the one who saw the vision. They said I had a lion that was going to devour the former Governor in his house. As a result of the rumour, schools were closed, people started running. I’m surprised they didn’t even include in their story that I sexually harassed the ladies, maybe they felt it would be difficult to convince the public about that.
These are all political gimmicks for you to sieve, it’s not difficult to tell they want to smear my name. How can you wish to destroy a business dynasty which I built in the last 35 years by the grace of God, by suddenly coming to say all kinds of lies because you want to contest election. Now, they are in court, and the court will tell Nigerians who these people are.
Are you saying you don’t know the ladies and that they never worked for you?
The four people in that photograph are freelancers who were swimming against the rules of the business. I don’t work in the hotel, as I have been there only twice this year. On one of the occasions, I went into the hotel that day and the head of department had issues with them, and they came narrating what happened to me because there was a disagreement between themselves. They confessed that one stole over N5million, and the other stole N1.3 million of a guest.
When I saw the situation, I was the one who invited the Police and they all wrote statements that they stole and they asked for forgiveness. The Police charged them to court and some politicians took advantage of the situation and started spreading rumours to change the narrative because they wanted a political story to smear my name. As we speak, the case is in court. Everybody knows that I will not lie, these people are desperate.
People want to work, the hotel has different departments, and it was in the process of the trial to confirm whether they are good for the job that all of this has happened.
With regards to the operations of the hotel, the reason why we have now brought expatriates to move in, we believe some element of carelessness has taken place that is why we are taking necessary steps to restructure. For instance, it has been revealed that one of those freelancers that commited this offence is a girlfriend to one of the lawyers who spearheaded the campaign of calumny against my person.
It was reported in the media that the Commissioner of Police in Delta State declared you wanted over the allegations, while the Attorney General said you had a case to answer. Do you think the Governor is behind this?
I heard they sold such stories to the Governor. I mean the Governor is too wise and exposed a politician to buy all that. The Governor knows that those accusations are baseless, and that it can never be me. I mean why is it now that it is said I’m stripping people naked after I’ve successfully completed consultations around the state? It’s all nonsense. What those behind the allegation and blackmail fail to realize is that they are destroying business opportunities for the state. If you try to destroy my business, you are sending a message to investors that no investment should come to the state as investing there is not safe.
We have mega projects and investments all over the country, and none in other states and the Federal Capital Territory are complaining about non-payment of salaries or coming up with molestation allegations. It is happening only in Delta where I have a political ambition, what does that tell you? For instance, one of the ladies who started work a day before the incident stole N45,000. Some others came with fake POS which customers paid into, not knowing they are using their own account, so politicians cashed in on the issue. Those fighting my ambition will fall by the way side. I want to thank the youths and everybody for disbelieving those irresponsible gimmicks.
What is your relationship with former Delta state governor, Chief James Ibori?
A – Chief Ibori said to me when we met: I want to thank you very much that with all that has happened to you in PDP you have not left the party, even while I was away, you built and held the party together. Truth is truth. Between both of us and God, he believes I am the man for the job. I don’t believe they will lie to me, everybody knows I am a man of peace and integrity. Though it is God that gives power, I have great respect for Chief Ibori and Governor Okowa.