In a presidential race that is going to offer nothing but two old faces – all above seventy years of age – Donald Duke offers the handsome alternative of a brand-new face. In a presidential race primed to be dominated by have-beens who have made uncountable attempts at the top office, Donald Duke offers the bold gumption of a wannabe.
Born on 30 September 1961, Duke is one of the few political leaders of note to be born after independence. Before he plunged into politics, he studied law at the Ahmadu Bello University between 1979 and 1982, the Nigerian Law School 1982 to 1983 and the University of Pennsylvania, 1984. He emerged victorious as the governor of Cross River State in 1999 on the platform of the PDP and served two terms.
As governor of Cross River, he is best remembered for his Economic Blueprint, which outlined his Development agenda and vision for the state. This Blueprint was anchored on a deceptively simple but scientific set of prerequisites for development – the provision of sound minds and healthy bodies for the populace. In other words, if government provides education, training and infrastructure for the people and keeps them healthy, they will become economically productive.
His other innovation was the enactment of a unique public-private partnership model for growing major sectors of the economy, especially the sectors where the state had comparative advantage, such as agriculture and tourism. These broad objectives led to one of the most ambitious investment drives of any state in the history of the country.
Cross River State under Donald Duke leapfrogged from subsistence agriculture to large scale commercial farming such that the state became a major producer of pineapple, cashew, cocoa and, of course, oil palm. Working closely with Palm Oil Research Institute of Malaysia, our own NIFOR in Benin and other private investors, the oil palm business blossomed into a major industry. Similarly, the pineapple project became a huge success, leading to the establishment of a pineapple processing plant at the Calabar Export Free zone.
But the biggest landmark of Donald Duke in Cross River is to be found in the establishment of TINAPA and the renovation of the Obudu Ranch Resort. These projects were a part of an articulated and well-orchestrated public-private partnership vision, driven by opportunities in commerce and the new global awareness for environmental conservation.
TINAPA, with its N200 billion annual economy, was to become the destination of choice for the commercial traveler, while Obudu Ranch Resort, from its pristine state, would become the haven for the tourist seeking peace, beauty and tranquility. Put differently, by investing in an area of comparative advantage and strength, Duke, sought, through these projects, to enact a model of economic management that is unprecedented in its transformative effect on the fortunes of the people of Cross River State and Nigeria.
Former President, Chief Obasanjo who hardly commends other Nigerian political leaders had this to say about Donald Duke: ‘This young man is full of fantastic ideas and vision, capable of turning the economy around. He is an invaluable asset to the Fourth Republic’.
Two years after, at the commissioning of the revamped Obudu Ranch Resort, complete with the new cable cars, Obasanjo again betrayed himself: ‘Donald, I wish to commend you again as I did on TINAPA. Truly, where there’s a will, there will be achievement…. I challenge other state Governors to either replicate something like this or unique to the economy of their states’.
If there is any governor that has proved himself worthy of that name in the fourth republic, it is Donald Duke. If there is any politician worthy of emulation in the cesspool of corruption and avarice called the PDP, it is Donald Duke.
The former governor ignited hope in many Nigerians while addressing journalists when he joined the SDP and said he was a loyal member of the People’s Democratic Party for 20 years but decided to leave after the party lost focus.
He said, “I was a member of the PDP but over the years we saw the fortunes and the values of the party dwindle. When a former President walks out of his party, you know there is something.
“That the PDP is zoning today is actually a betrayal of those ideals it started off with because it was a national organisation. Today, in some parts of the country, it is hardly in existence.”
He picked the presidential ticket of the party by popular vote, a fact that is yet to be challenged. And then came in Jerry Gana.
Born on November 30 1945, Jerry Gana is 73 years old. Educated at Ahmadu Bello University, University of Aberdeen and the University of London, he started his political career as a Senator in 1983 which was terminated by the military in the take-over of government at the end of that year.
It was the military that again brought him into political limelight by appointing him to head MAMSER, an acronym for Mass Mobilization for Self Reliance, Social Justice, and Economic Recovery. It was an exercise in political orientation in Nigeria undertaken by President Babangida as one of the recommendations of the Political Bureau headed by Dr. Samuel Joseph Cookey.
Some of Mamser’s official policies was to propagate the need to eschew all vices in public life, including corruption, dishonesty, electoral and census malpractices, ethnic and religious bigotry.
But Jerry Gana soon jumped ship. He aspired to be president under the Babangida transition program on the platform of the SDP. When the Babangida transition train reached Waterloo, he was appointed Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources, in the Interim National Government under Ernest Shonekan. Later he became Minister of Information and Culture under General Sani Abacha, then Minister of Corporation and Integration in Africa under President Olusegun Obasanjo as well as being Minister of Information and National Orientation. He also served as Political Adviser to Olusegun Obasanjo.
Jerry Gana’s brightest moment was when he served as the founding Director of MAMSER. Then he mesmerised Nigerians with his oratory as he embarked on endless tours of the country with Indian Hemp smoking musicians with unkempt hairs who enjoyed themselves and irritated the rest of us.
Maybe I am too hard on him. But his MAMSER achieved some results even if they were unintended. Because of his rigorous campaigns, Nigerians ignored their religious differences and voted in a Muslim/Muslim ticket on the platform of the SDP.
Other than that, there is nothing in the man’s career that suggests that he has any plans to improve the lot of Nigerians. This is the man who was Sani Abacha’s confidant when he unfairly arrested Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and many other Nigerian leaders and condemned them to death. And yet when Oasanjo came out of jail and became President, he ingratiated himself to the man and lobbied to be appointed a Minister. They say he is a professor. I don’t know what is his discipline but I suspect it must be in duplicity.
This is the man who as Director of MAMSER preached against ethnicity, regionalism and religious discrimination. In his recent court case against Donald Dukes emergence as SDP Presidential candidate, he did not say there was any electoral malpractice like rigging. His argument is that the position of President was zoned to the north. Somebody should tell this old war horse that Nigerians are tired of his type. This country must be saved from the agonies of old tactics.