The passage to eternal glory of Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande on February 11, 2021 was a rather sad day for our democracy as he was the last man standing among the few politicians that gave genuine meaning to the now abused buzzword ‘progressives.’ He was a true disciple of the late Sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and was mentored by the Ikenne born philosopher through the twin professions of journalism and politics.
After he left Ilesha Grammar School where he discovered his innate flair for writing which culminated in his editing the school’s magazine, he joined the services of the Daily Service in 1949. He transferred his services to the Nigerian Tribune owned by Chief Awolowo in 1953 and became its Editor-in-Chief in 1956 at the tender age of 27. His editorials were brutally frank and pierced the soul of the then colonial authorities and wrote a widely popular column where he lent his voice to the decolonization struggle. He was instrumental to the establishment of the International Press Institute and the Nigerian Institute of Journalism.
He initially wanted to further his education in the United Kingdom by either studying law or economics but the vicissitudes of life occasioned by paucity of funds nailed that ambition to the coffin.
The country returned to democracy in 1979 with the birth of the American Style Presidential System of Government which was the hallmark of the defunct Second Republic. He heeded the call of his kinsmen to contest the Governorship primaries of the then Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). He got the ticket and went on to be elected the first civilian Governor of Lagos State defeating heavyweights like the late Chief Adeniran Ogunsanya of the National Peoples Party fame.
The then fifty-year old Governor settled down to work and faithfully implemented the cardinal programs of the UPN in making life better for the citizenry especially the hoi polloi who have always borne the brunt of bad governance since the Union Jack was lowered.
He believed that hardworking Lagosians should own their houses and not be at the eternal mercy of Shylock Landlords and embarked on the construction of over thirty thousand housing estates in Amuwo-Odofin, Dolphin, Ijaiye, Oke-afa, Abesan, Ije, Epe, Iponri, Ipaja, Abule Nla, Surulere, Iba, Ikorodu, Badagry, Anikantamo, Isolo etc.
He ensured the construction of free primary and secondary schools across the states which made quality education affordable to the poorest of the poor as he was a firm believer in the potency of education as a poverty alleviation tool. He abolished the shift system which was the lot of students then and established the Lagos State University with Satellite Campuses all over the state as well as residential quarters for its academics in Ojo and Badagry. He expanded the transportation services in the state to include that of ferries and linked one from Festac to Marina. He was in the process of building a metroline which will terminate at Yaba before the sad military incursion of the regime of Muhammadu Buhari which put the spanner in the works of the noble project.
Health is wealth goes the age-long cliché and it greatly reflected in his administration’s cardinal focus. He built a general hospital in Ikorodu and Badagry. He established a red brick factory in Badagry as well as a coconut factory. Baba Kekere as he was fondly called shunned all forms of ostentation and rose above the vice of the pilfering of public funds. He lived in his modest Ilupeju residence and didn’t move into the official government residence. He drove his car and cut all forms of red tape and waste. He ensured probity and accountability from his cabinet members. There was no financial scandal throughout the duration of his administration.
Jakande was indeed a miracle worker. His was the first budget to hit and surpass the N1billion appropriation mark in the history of the state. From his administration, Lagos became the most financially buoyant state in the whole of the federation, generating billions of Naira every year in internally generated revenue (IGR). His was a clear departure from the norm of reluctance governance that has tragically defined our governance as many of our so called political leaders assume office unprepared for its rigours.
He was unarguably the best Governor – civilian or military that the ‘Centre of Excellence’ ever produced and it is tragic that with the enormous disposal of its resources in modern times that his achievements is yet to be matched.
In later years he served the Late General Sani Abacha regime as the Works and Housing Minister during the heady days of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). This decision cost him the respect of many highly revered Yoruba leaders and elders and it made him to have a near pariah status when democracy finally returned in 1999. Every mortal has his or her own shortcomings and he was no exception. His service to Abacha doesn’t in any way blight his gargantuan achievements in the fields of journalism and politics where he devoted his entire life to. His was a life of dedicated public service propelled by the burning desire to serve the common good and to use it as a platform to empower the downtrodden.
His legacies will forever live on as he has been immortalized in the hearts of Lagosians. It is a huge shame that the system never made it possible for him to replicate his Lagos wonder in the entire country. Nigeria truly sacrifices her best and brightest!
May his gentle soul rest in peace and may Allah grant him Jannatul Firdaus!
Ademiluyi wrote from Lagos.