The late first civilian Governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande (LKJ), was the quintessential administrator, whose 50-month tenure brought governance close to the people as never before.
LKJ ruled Lagos State for a total of four years, three months, until the unfortunate New Year Eve coup of December 31, 1983, which terminated the Second Republic and brought Gen. Muhammadu Buhari to power, in his first stint as Head of State. The coup did not allow us to see the best of LKJ.
He was the first civilian governor of the state, and fully conscious of that milestone he hit the ground running from his first day in office. Jakande fulfilled his pledge to cancel the chaotic school shift system he met on ground. The shift meant that schoolchildren went to school in the mornings and closed in the afternoon, and others resumed mid-afternoon to close around 6pm. It’s wasn’t tidy at all.
Once in office, Jakande, who came in with a sound blueprint, abolished the shift by building make-shift schools on any available public space in Lagos. The system worked, as schools began to run normal 7am to 3pm daily sessions. It was the miracle that announced the arrival of the “Action Governor”. To complete his magic, his “Free Education” programme took off without hitches and his popularity soared.
LKJ ruled under the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, led by the late, dynamic sage, and visionary Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Free education was one the party’s four cardinal programmes and all the UPN governors in the five states it controlled, Lagos, Oyo, (Osun), Ondo (and Ekiti), Bendel (Edo/Delta) and Ogun, popularly called Loobo States, were all governed by dynamic, purpose-driven governors like Awo himself as the Premier of the defunct Western Region.
Jakande’s Lagos State was like a giant construction site. Nowhere in Lagos was left untouched. He built low-cost housing estates, markets, schools, health centres, and roads, name it. These projects were spread everywhere in the state, including the satellite towns. The projects were truly people-oriented, because they were affordable and easily accessible to all and sundry, without encumbrances.
The governor designed his projects with the poor masses in mind. Low-cost housing was what it is. People won each of the housing units by ballot, which was truly transparent. You didn’t have to be a Yoruba or party man/woman, or know anyone to win a “Jakande House”. His government was for nobody but for everyone, rich or poor. He actually was more sympathetic to the poor, in his distribution of social amenities.
One of the hallmarks of LKJ’s administration was the dynamism, speed of service delivery and transparency he brought to governance such that people trusted government during his tenure. People who were in Lagos State between 1979 and December 1983, remember his government with nostalgia. LKJ was the benchmark of good governance. His integrity was confirmed by the military when he was released from detention, where top political leaders were held after the coup for suspected corrupt practices, but Jakande came out clean. That consolidated his reputation. He was truly the father of Lagos State, who left a legacy of service.
What stood him out really was his prudence. He used little to achieve much. Few doubted his ability to do much because of the meagre resources at his disposal, but the governor was a master planner and financial wizard who knew how to manage funds well. His austere lifestyle was legendary. Jakande lived in his modest home at Ilupeju, on the mainland, rode in his Toyota Crown car and lived without all the paraphernalia of office.
Fondly called Baba Kekere (Small Baba) in deference to his great mentor, Baba Awo, LKJ was the star-governor of the Second Republic whose government even loaned the poor Borno State, in the semi-arid northeast some money for development projects. This set the stage for inter-party cooperation among progressive governors.
His developmental strides are too numerous to be captured in a half-page write-up, but I remember the water transportation he introduced, between Marina and other outlets on the Lagos coastline, which eased road traffic congestion considerably.
The ambitious metroline project designed to tame the notorious Lagos traffic was truncated by the Buhari military regime when it seized power. That action was one of the serious blights of the Buhari/Idiagbon regime, which still haunts President Buhari to this day.
Jakande retired to his home in Ilupeju and went back to private life until Gen. Sani Abacha seized power and he was invited to participate in his military government. He did, after due consultations with Yoruba leaders and was offered the Housing portfolio as Federal Minister. As usual, he discharged his duties brilliantly by building the biggest Federal Housing Estate to date, even though many people don’t even realize this fact.
We cannot thank LKJ enough for his humanness, thoughtful service, purposeful governance and love for the people. He was the greatest star of the Second Republic and the Action Governor who touched the lives of all Lagos State residents in his memorable years in office. Rest well, our beloved LKJ. We’re proud of you and I am sure, the Angels, too are proud of you.
Weekend Spice: Today’s mysteries are tomorrow’s revelations, when eventually unveiled.
Ok folks, let’s do it again next week Friday. Keep safe. COVID-19 is real. Stay motivated.
•Ayodeji, author, pastor and speaker, can be reached on 09059243004 (SMS, email & WhatsApp only).