February 19, 2021

Jakande: The last of the titans

 
Nobody will live forever. But, history will be kind to mortars who left good legacies in their fields of endeavour, in politics and national service. At 91, Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande, veteran journalist and eminent politician, bade the world farewell on Thursday. The ideologue, social critic, author, administrator, and associate of the indomitable leader, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, died peacefully at his Ilupeju residence, the same house from where he steered the ship of Lagos State in the Second Republic.
Jakande, fondly called ‘Baba Kekere’ by admirers, was an asset to the polity. Following his demise, the class of 1979-83 governors has now been completely decimated. The survivors now are Chief Jim Nwobodo (old Anambra State), Dr Omololu Olunloyo (old Oyo), Senator Donald Etiebet (Cross River) and Senator Cornelius Adebayo (old Kwara).
Jakande will not be remembered by any fat bank account, property in choice areas and penchant for primitive accumulation. He will be remembered as a professional and ethical journalist, an honest politician, a workaholic and result-driven governor and minister, and a man of honour and integrity. Of course, he will also be remembered for demystifying the hallowed driver’s seat. His simplicity and lack of avarice were legendary. With his simple Buba lace, an Awo cap to match and horsetail, he sometimes drove himself in his austere Toyota Crown to the Governor’s Office, Alausa Secretariat, Ikeja, which he built.
There is no record without a hollow. Although LKJ tried to explain his participation in the Abacha government, Nigerians were not convinced because he did not quit until he was booted out by the maximum ruler. But, the singular error or miscalculation has never obliterated his place in the hall of fame. Thirty-nine years after leaving power in Lagos, his administration has remained a benchmark for others in the Centre of Excellence. Jakande, son of the former Oluwo of Lagos, stood before the mirror of history as an elder statesman, mentor and role model. He was a special gift to humanity. He was born on July 23, 1929, at Oshodi Tapa, Lagos Island, by humble and deeply religious parents. But, his progenitors have their roots in Omu-Aran, Kwara State. He became a child of promise while at Ilesa Grammar School under the principal, the late Rev. Noah Lafimikan.

Jakande took off as a reporter. He worked with “The Daily Service” and “Nigerian Tribune” where he rose to Editor-In-Chief. Since he started his career in the days of colonialism, Jakande was a nationalist-journalist who used his pen and paper to fight against colonialism.
Early in life, Jakande had a pact with the late Awolowo, his leader. To underscore his loyalty to the sage, he jettisoned his university admission to study Economics abroad because Awo wanted him to stay on in “Tribune” where his service was valuable. Jakande did not desert his mentor. Jakande was pencilled down for liquidation during the treasonable felony trial. Like Awo, he received his jail sentence from the judge, whose hands were tied, Justice George Sowemimo. But, he Eventually, he triumphed over the ordeals. When he regained his freedom, he catalogued his experience into a book: ‘The trial of Chief Obafemi Awolowo.’
Jakande’s campaign promises were premised on the four cardinal programmes of free education, free medical services, full employment and rural development. The outgoing Military Administrator, Commodore Ebutu Ukiwe, doubted his ability to execute the proposed programmes due to lack of fund. Jakande inherited a hostile civil service, which also frowned at the programmes. Undaunted, Jakande declared at the inauguration ceremony that the implementation of the programmes had started. The revenue came from sheer financial engineering. Also, Jakande examined the area of ground rents for government lands in Ikoyi, Victoria Island, Ebute-Meta, Ikoyi and other key areas. He turned revenues from land into his cocoa proceeds or oil boom.
From day one, his incorruptible nature came to the fore. To Jakande, Lagos State was not for grab. He shunned materialism and opulence in public office. As governor-elect, Jakande had no generator in his residence at Bishop Street, Ilupeju. But, he insisted on conducting the affairs of the state from the one-storey building, which he had built as a journalist. Reminiscing on his tenure as governor, Jakande said: “I believe I should live among the people, instead of living in a remote area. I wanted to serve. I also believed my people should have access to me. So, I stayed in my house.” Remarkably, his role model, Awo, also lived in his private residence at Ibadan when he served as Premier of the defunct Western Region.
Jakande did not permit frivolous spending. Former Secretary to Government in the Jakande administration Olorunfunmi Basorun said: “The former governor disliked unprofitable foreign tours at the expense of the state. He was a workaholic who resumed duty at his Alausa office at 8 am, only to close at 6 pm. The former governor acquired lands all over Lagos and built many primary and secondary schools on them by direct labour. He cancelled the daily double shifts within one week in the office. Critics dismissed the emergency schools he hurriedly constructed as poultry sheds. Reminiscing on that epoch, Jakande said: “Lawyers, doctors, engineers were produced through our free education. Occasionally, I came across them. Up to yesterday, some of them saw me and told me so.”
Asked whether he looked forward to any pension from the state government, he said: “I receive my pension daily. People will come to me at home, or when they see me at functions or at the airport and give me an envelope. I will tell them that I don’t know them. But, they will say they knew me as the governor who served well.”Jakande administration was the best in the country in the Second Republic. A cabinet of talent was set up, made up of seasoned politicians and technocrats. Jakande carried along with his leader, Awo, in all his activities, unlike some governors who now blackmail their leaders and label them as godfathers and intruders who should be kept at bay. In four years, the administration successfully built 14 housing estates. They still exist in Isolo, Eti-Osa, Ikorodu, Mile 2, Ojokoro, Ipaja, Epe, Iba and Alaska. “If not for many of the houses we built, where will these Nigerians be living today,” he asked.
To demonstrate his national outlook, he pointed out that discriminatory policy was not adopted in their allocation. “It was a policy of ‘first come, first have,” he stressed. To implement free education to the tertiary level, Jakande established the Lagos State University (LASU), Ojo. The institution may now be named after him as befitting immortalisation.
Jakande created additional 23 local governments. He also had a plan to create an additional 14. The councils were monitored. The administration reserved 10 per cent of the total state revenue for the councils. But, the chairmen had to come up with the list of projects to be undertaken by the councils. Jakande’s political relevance started declining. Politically, he never bounced back. But, his legacies are intact. As a journalist, teacher and author, he had raised a generation of journalists who have continued to play a great role in nation-building.
As a member, later president, of the International Institute, he was instrumental to the collaboration between the institute and the University of Lagos on a short service training for budding journalists in the early seventies. Jakande was also instrumental in the establishment of the Nigeria Institute of Journalism (NIJ), Ogba.
The great politician has borne the vicissitudes of life with philosophical calmness and superlative understanding. One of such was the death of his first daughter, Ebun. He also had to contend with betrayal by some associates, who continued to label him as an ‘Abacha man.’ But, he takes solace in the fact that these detractors cannot match his achievements in public life. Jakande is a recipient of many awards. A committed Muslim, Jakande went on the holy pilgrimage to Mecca in 1977. A member of the Ansarudeen Society of Nigeria, he is the Eteba Adinni of Epe and Badagry Muslims and patron of the United Muslim Council of Nigeria. He was also honoured by the Lagos State House of Assembly.