Three prominent Nigerians lately passed on, each of them, in his own right, a patriot. Best known among the lot was Lateef Jakande, about whom so much has been written as pioneer civilian governor of Lagos State, such that virtually nothing more could positively be added. As a human being, he couldn’t have been a saint, a search for whom will be fruitless anywhere in the world. Was Jakande, accordingly, a sinner? Even if that were so, it is that tag that is being unfairly hung on the man.
The second prominent figure was Chief Theophilus Oluwole Akindele, a retired director-general of the defunct P.&T. Again, so much has been written about him but not much of the man’s sterling qualities may be known, especially his personal vindication against the mob approach to major state policies after the overthrow of General Yakubu Gowon in July 1975.
The third prominent Nigerian who passed on was Junaid Muhammed, a member (from Kano) of House of Representatives from 1979 to 1983. Stormy petrel of northern politics?
The injustice and, perhaps, malice done to Jakande are more of pinning wrong and non-existing sin on him. The cancellation of the Jne 12, 1993, presidential election produced political opportunists, false messiahs and fraudulent civil rights agitators, all parading as advocates of Bashorun MKO Abiola’s mandate. But Jakande was never, repeat, never, among the hypocrites. From the beginning of MKO’s nomination as the Social Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, Jakande’s support for his ticket was unadultrated, and as old as he was (almost thirty years ago) the man was one of the closest, very sincere supporters and campaigners throughout the country for MKO Abiola. Following the political stalemate after the nullification of the 1993 presidential election, the so-called “progressives,” as they were wont, discovered a saviour, indeed a hero, in General Sani Abacha, who sold them a dummy that he knew nothing about, and disagreed with, the election annulment.
Basorun Abiola not only addressed the world press to that effect but also made it a constant public issue. Crafty fox General Abacha, he collaborated with the bogus and indolent progressives who were falling over themselves publicly issuing statements calling on General Abacha to “rescue” the country, all of them seeking recognition by General Abacha for eventual ministerial appointment. The hot exchanges between Gani Fawehinmi and Olu Onagoruwa on the pages of The Guardian newspaper featured roles and ambitions of the two men, among many others, with one accusing the other of either frustration or betrayal.
Jakande was never part of that hustling. A naturally calm man, he limited himself to sound political advice and guidance for caution. One laughable offer as an inducement to those propping him (Abacha) to seize power was that, within weeks, he would hand over to Chief Abiola. A military officer to risk treason to handover to a bloody civilian? The rest is history.
Owing to the prevailing political tension, the SDP stakeholders, including Chief Abiola, thought it inevitable that Jakande’s personal integrity, political influence and generally recognised leadership qualities would be needed to shore up and solidify the new Abacha administration.
Hence, the pressure, yes, real pressure, on Jakande to serve in Abacha’s government. For days, he rejected the offer and resisted the pressure, until he was persuaded to regard the gesture as a personal sacrifice. Eventually, the stakeholders were faced with the shock that Abacha led them into a trap and was going to perpetuate himself in power rather than hand over to Abiola. Any precipitate step by Jakande would wrongly and riskily expose him as antagonising the Abacha military regime. With previous years in jail as an alleged accomplice with Chief Obafemi Awolowo for alleged treason? Was Jakande expected to even remotely give the impression of being hostile to a military regime? I wouldn’t. Olu Onagoruwa, as federal attorney-general, merely repudiated strange military decrees issuing from unknown sources. That was a courageous public stand except that the consequences were unpleasant. The son, a lawyer, who by now might have been appointed a SAN, was shot inside their home in Lagos by unknown killers, a sad experience that later seriously affected Olu Onagoruwa’s health, leading to his death. How many of Jakande’s critics would have risked antagonising a military regime by resigning in protest? It was a choice between foolhardiness and common sense. The easiest at any stage in life.
If, therefore, it was a sin for Jakande not to risk his life and that of his family, it was worthy of him to return to his maker as the most offending soul. But in reality, Jakande is more glorious, whether so appreciated or not. Furthermore, at the early stage of his political struggle, MKO Abiola escaped abroad and continued his campaign. What happened? Useless so-called “progressives” accused him of being cowardly. The man innocently returned home only to die or be killed at the age of 60 (August 1937-July 1998). If alive, MKO would be 84 next August. Worse still, hardly had Abiola died than the traitors posing as progresives somewhat callously claimed they must move on. The evidence today? The billionaire politicians and wretched poor in the country.
Another great Nigerian who lately passed on was Chief Theophilis Oluwole Akindele. He wasn’t a politician but nonetheless a distinguished patriot throughout his years in public service. What marked him out was that, unlike the subservience and sychophancy for which civil servants are notorious and which become more pronounced the higher they rise in rank, Chief Akindele was a bold man who spoke truth to authorities even when his decades-long career was on the line. And who confirmed that distinction? General Yakubu Gowon, the second in that capacity to acknowledge the man.
One of the first decisions of deceased former Head of State, General Murtala Muhammed, after assuming power in 1975, was the unilateral mass retirement or dismissal of high-ranking civil servants. It was a season for pettiness and victimisation especially in cases of disagreements and/or rivalry over government policies or contracts. National interest? Not in any way tenable to save careers. It was also a cheap opportunity for ambitious subordinates to undermine superiors, in the full knowledge that the purge excercise offered the victims no opportunity to defend themselves.
Prominent among victims of the 1975 public service purge was Chief T.O. Akindele, director-general of the defunct P&T. But, within five months, (General Murtala Muhammed ruled for five and half months), while going through files, General Muhammed was able to discover the principle, personal integrity and patriotism for which Chief Akindele stood throughout his career. Remarkably, Murtala Muhammed was humble enough to send an apology to Chief Akindele through a minister (in Muhammed’s cabinet) Major-General Henry Adefope. General Muhammed still ensured he invited Chief Akindele to his office to tender apology personally. That was Theophilus Oluwole Akindele.
Chief Akindele long preceded my generation at CMS Grammar School, Lagos, and we acclaim him, even in death, for upholding the school’s abiding admonition that “Truest fame lies in high endeavour.” The best tribute Chief Akindele’s family can pay to him is to reprint the old man’s Memoir of Mixed Blessings. You will be shocked at goings-on in government circles
What can we say of Junaid Muhammed, a medical doctor who also died lately? Not in any way of the same status as Jakande or Akindele, the much younger Junaid Muhammed all the same could not be blacked out from Nigerian political history. An ordinary member of the House of Representatives in Lagos for barely four years, he was one of those who adorned the national political scene with brilliant, even if ever controversial, contributions on national issues.
Frankly speaking, very often and much to the disquiet of other parts of the country, Junaid Muhammed was an unrepentant advocate of the Fulani race and northern interests. In 1984, he ended up in detention when he complained that there was not a single Fulani in the Supreme Military Council headed by the then Commander-in-Chief, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari. But if truth must be told, who is an enemy of his race or regional interests?