Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande who clocked 90 recently deserves all the accolades he has received from just about every quarter, by just about every one – high and low – in just about every phrase worthy of the diligent man in every role he found himself – be it journalism, politics, or administration. He has been a thorough professional most true to his calling, a loyal man to his trustworthy leader, above all – or shall we say in sum, a man who brought integrity to every assignment he took on.
Even Nigeria’s leader, Muhammadu Buhari in a tribute marking the great man’s birthday cited ‘‘Jakande’s progressive and liberal policies, especially in education…’’ He is right. For, in this particular respect, the man fondly called LKJ, followed the path of his incomparable leader and executor of the free education policy in the Western region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, to implement that policy in Lagos State he governed from October 1979 to December 1983.
Buhari whose military regime terminated the government Jakande served in 1984, further noted that the former governor left a ‘‘lasting legacy in politics and governance.’’ He could not be more right. Again, like the great Awo in respect of good governance in Nigeria, we dare to say that Jakande remains the defining standard in Lagos State. Both men sought and governed in pursuit of what J. B. Priestley would describe as the greatest happiness of the greatest number in the polity. It is not for nothing that Jakande is fondly called ‘baba kekere’ (younger Awolowo).
There are indeed many more reasons that he proved a faithful follower of his political mentor. The APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, noted correctly, Jakande’s ‘‘unshakeable and absolute loyalty to his leaders.’’ He added, ‘‘at the very crucial time in the history of politics in the country, Jakande was extremely loyal to former Premier of Western Region, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo…’’ Of course, it hardly can be otherwise; as Awolowo, a highly integrated leader himself would put it, ‘‘only the deep calls to the deep.’’
At any given time, Lagos State remains the most complex and the most sophisticated state in Nigeria. It is a huge challenge to manage its affairs and to govern such modernised and densely populated territory with enough sagacity that allows its diversity to thrive even as it retains its unique socio-cultural indigenousness. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo cited the ‘‘grit and vision’’ that impelled Jakande to do several revolutionary things. Yes indeed, a man who seeks and wins high political office must have grit and vision; but he must have more than these. He must have integrity to do what he has to do when he has to do it and according to laid down rules and regulations –irrespective of his personal, sectional or other interests. Jakande has been a significant humanist. He introduced free education – with free books to boot. The policy was available to every child in Lagos regardless of tribe and faith. His government gave grants to a number of needy states including faraway Bornu State. The then governor, Alhaji Mohammed Goni, reportedly testified to this at Jakande’s birthday event.
Many testimonies to his capacity for hard work, to his capability to marshal men and resources efficiently and effectively are well known and lately, widely reported in the media including an extensive piece by Mr. Lade Bonuola, a veteran journalist who should know. And so it should be for a man who has given so much to journalism. The influential leader writer, LKJ rose through the ranks to become managing director and editor-in-chief of Nigerian Tribune. Besides, LKJ was the founding father of Nigerian Institute of Journalism in 1963. Besides, he was also the brain behind the establishment of the Newspapers’ Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) and Nigerian Guild of Editors. But the highest respect that Jakande has earned journalism and journalists has been by being one that achieved so much in the other fields of politics and administration – after a remarkable career in journalism.
Jakande’s landmark achievements span education (Lagos State University), health (Lagos State Teaching Hospital and General Hospitals at Gbagada and Ikorodu), low-cost housing estates from Badagry through Amuwo-Odofin and Iponri to Epe; from Ijaiye through Abesan to Ipaja and more, road infrastructure to all nooks and crannies in the cosmopolitan state.
Jakande envisioned and implemented a multimodal transportation system for Lagos and to this end started the commercial boat transport with two boats plying Mile 2 to Marina. He also conceived and began the very important and desperately required metro-line that would have transformed the mass transportation system of the state. Alas, for reason only best explained by him, Buhari then terminated the contract even as work had begun.
In government and out of it, his values remained essentially unchanged. He lived simple including staying in his personal house and driving his personal car to work. Prof. Wole Soyinka says that a tiger never needs to announce its ‘tigritude’. Not for LKJ is the obscene display of the appurtenances of power that lesser mortal in government do to announce their ‘importance’ these days. Most senior citizens including Chief Segun Osoba, also a notable journalist this newspaper honoured here the other day, think it is a ‘disgrace’ that Jakande has not been awarded a national honour. He is right to an extent. But what greater honour can a man receive than that, which men of worth grant him from the depth of their hearts. Baba Kekere is such a man. For all he has done for Lagos State and for his country, we salute Alhaji Lateef Jakande and wish him more years of good health and peace of mind. Happy birthday Sir.