Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande, LKJ for short, deserves all the kind words heaped on him as he turned 90 on July 23, 2019. This self-made man who had no university education embarked on several transformational activities in furtherance of the goals of an educated society.
He rose through dint of hardwork, perseverance and forensic engagement with the educated public to the Editorship of the Nigerian Tribune, Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s newspaper.
Jakande transformed the paper through robust but fair journalism into the scourge of political scoundrels and the nemesis of dictators and tyrants. He has done for Nigeria’s journalism, I believe, more than anyone living or dead. He was the one who, working with the International Press Institute (IPI) and the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria which he founded, planted a journalism continuing education centre in Lagos called the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ).
Today, that institution has blossomed into a facility that awards certificates in tertiary education. This is in addition to producing high-quality graduates for the expansive media market. He also thought it fitting to initiate the founding of a professional body at the decision-making level of the Journalism profession. One that would stand guard over issues of professionalism and ethics, work for the advancement of journalism practice and the sustenance of press freedom and responsibility.
That Guild of Editors remains an anchor of the profession today. During his birthday celebration, very little was said about his trenchant journalism, his hard-hitting John West column or his exertions for press freedom.
The reasons for the low reference to his journalism are the effluxion of time. Also, his exemplary role as the activist Governor of Lagos which put his journalism achievements in the shade. In a democracy where governance has been reduced to unrestrained legislative and executive promiscuity and licentiousness, at all levels, the Jakande administration remains a shining example of what a government should be.
The dark and drab backcloth that governance presents today offers us an eloquent reason why Jakande matters. As the first elected Governor of Lagos State under the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Jakande brought hardwork and a sense of urgency and purpose to the business of governance. He developed very speedily a number of housing estates. A transportation system that worked, complete with a parking metering service in some busy areas.
This was the first attempt by any government in Nigeria to address through technology the illegal and irregular parking which had become a serious menace in the metropolis.
Jakande’s hardwork was legendary. He was reputed to work for at least 12 hours a day, starting promptly at 8am. At close of work, he would pack heaps of files home for meticulous attention in the early hours of the morning.
During the Muhammadu Buhari coup of December 31, 1983 the soldiers that went to arrest Jakande were surprised to find him working at that unholy coup hour. During his short four years in office, Jakande established the Lagos State University, Lagos Radio and Television, built many primary and secondary schools and the Lagos State Secretariat.
Furthermore, he declared free education. This was in the same manner that his mentor, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, did as Premier of the Western Region. His critics described the primary and secondary schools that he built as “poultry sheds”.
But his children also went to those public schools. He did not send them abroad as is the practice with many political leaders today. He did so to prove the critics wrong.
The schools were not flambouyant but they served the educational needs of the state. Besides, he proved that the schools were good enough for all the children including his own. The lesson derivable from the decision to send his own children to those public schools is that the government was likely to work hard to keep them at standards that were reasonably high.
If those who rule us did not have generators humming where they live, we would have had efficient electricity service today.
There was consistency about Jakande’s philosophy of governance. He probably saw himself as a servant-leader. Indeed, a leader who wanted to live as much as possible, the way his people lived. Throughout the four years he was in office, he never junketed abroad for medical check or for a vacation.
He was treated in government-owned hospitals in Lagos State. Moreover, all his vacations were spent within the country. Throughout his tenure, he lived in his one-storey-building in Ilupeju, a house that he built when he was a journalist.
When he was asked why he chose to live as a Governor, in his house in an area that lacks the flamboyance of Victoria Island or the serenity of Ikoyi, he said: “I believe I should live among the people instead of living in a remote area. I wanted to serve. Also, I believed my people should have access to me. So I stayed in my house.”
The house is as ordinary as they come. It was not a gilded fortress. Neither were the neighbours driven into exile or asked to flee from the area. They remained his neighbours as they had been before his ascension to the gubernatorial office.
He continued to maintain his modest lifestyle, bringing himself to the level of the ordinary people of the State. He avoided flamboyance and the exhibition of irresponsible grandeur and extravagance which were the defining attributes of some of the Governors of that era.
Jakande was different, very different, refreshingly different, from most of the rest. He still drove his old banger, a Toyota Crown. Also, he sat on the left side of the car behind the driver, shunning the right side which is vaingloriously called “owner’s corner.”
Jakande was the owner and if anyone did not know that he owned the car, that was their business. He did not travel in a convoy of cars with sirens blaring hoi hoi hoi and driving people into the bush. He went to work quietly and went home quietly. But everyone knew without any exaggerated show of power that he was in charge.
Further, he dressed simply and lived simply. But even in that aura of simplicity, there was nobility. Simplicity is noble if it is enacted with dignity, free of rabble-rousing, loud-mouth boastful exuberance and haughtiness. His simplicity had admirable affinity with non-officiousness and self-effacedness. However, it was not lacking in self-assuredness.
The convoys of today’s power wielders are probably longer than the roads they have built in years. For them, it is the long convoy that conveys to the people that there is power in motion. For Jakande, it was the achievements on the ground that spoke volumes for him.
That is why the people dressed him with the sobriquet “Action Governor,” an accolade that fitted him like a pair of gloves.
When Muhammadu Buhari took over the government, Jakande was one of the State Governors probed. As expected, he was free of corruption charges. Most members of the public knew that Jakande was not only uncorrupt but also incorruptible.
The clean bill of financial health given him by the Buhari government was no surprise to me. His government was like an open book, anyone could read it. He believed fervently in accountability and transparency as pillars on which democracy had to be built. For performing wonderfully as a Governor, he paid unspoken tribute to journalism that nurtured him into eminence.
The reason that Jakande matters is that in his days and in his government, the people of Lagos State were at the epicenter of governance. Their well-being, their security and their future were issues of major concern to him. He pursued these goals with unstinted dedication.
Today, these things matter little to those who run our affairs. That is why Jakande matters. Today, the lifestyle of our political elite is repugnant to good conscience.
In an economy that is facing strong headwinds, a high debt burden and a low revenue intake, the extravagance and the corruption are disconcertingly outlandish and blatant. So Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande stands tall like a solitary beacon of simplicity, prudence, incorruptibility with an array of measurable and imperishable achievements under his belt within a short period of four years. All the kudos directed at him are truly, truly, well deserved.