By Sunday Ani
Yesterday, a deluge of tributes poured in for the former governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande, who died at the age of 91 in Lagos. But, who would be surprised over the celebration of the life journey of such a colossus? Late Jakande was undoubtedly an accomplished journalist and a political gladiator.
Born in the Epetedo area of Lagos State on July 29, 1929, to Omun Aran Kwara State-parents, he attended Lagos public school at Enu-Owa, Lagos Island. He later proceeded to Bunham Memorial Methodist School, Port Harcourt, and then King’s College, Lagos, where he studied briefly in 1943, before he enrolled at Ilesha Grammar School in 1945. He edited a literary paper called The Quarterly Mirror at Ilesha Grammar School.
Fondly called Baba Kekere, he began a career in journalism in 1949, first, with the Daily Service. He later joined the Nigerian Tribune in 1953, and eventually became its editor-in-chief in 1956. His editorials were factual and forthright, and were treated by the colonial powers with respect.
In 1975, Jakande left the Tribune for his own personal publication. He established John West Publications and began to publish The Lagos News.
An accomplished and veteran journalist, he was the first President of the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN).
In politics, he was a colossus. History will never forget his exploits and achievements as the governor of Lagos State. He oversaw the affairs of Lagos State as governor between October1, 1979, and December 31, 1983, on the platform of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN).
His foray into the murky waters of politics was on the prompting of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who encouraged him to join the Lagos State gubernatorial race in 1979, on the platform of the UPN. He defeated his opponents, Adeniran Ogunsanya of the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) and Sultan Ladega Adeniji Adele of National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and was subsequently sworn in as governor.
His administration’s achievements in terms of democracy dividends have remained unparalleled in the annals of Lagos State. He was effective and open. He implemented the cardinal policies of his party. From housing, health and transport to education, his records remain unbroken. He introduced housing and educational programmes, which targeted the poor, building new neighbourhood primary and secondary schools and providing free primary and secondary education. He established the Lagos State University (LASU).
In the area of housing, Jakande’s government constructed over 30,000 low-cost housing units, which were affordable to the civil servants. Some of the low cost housing estates are Amuwo-Odofin, Ijaiye, Dolphin, Oke-Afa, Ije, Abesan, Iponri, Ipaja, Abule Nla, Epe, Anikantamo, Surulere, Iba, Ikorodu and Badagry.
In the area of health, he also completed the construction of the General Hospitals in Gbagada and Ikorodu, as well as the construction of about 20 health centres in the state.
In transport, he equally started a metro-line project to facilitate mass transit, but unfortunately, the project never saw the light of the day, as the military struck in December 1983, took over government and aborted the project.
The Odd/Even Number Traffic System introduced in the state in the early 1980s to respond to the prevailing transportation problem at the time was his brain child. He also established the first State Traffic Management Authority (Road Marshals), but like the rail project, it was equally halted when he was removed as governor following the military coup of December 1983.
Jakande’s government also built the Lagos State House of Assembly complex, the Lagos State Television and the Lagos Radio among others.
His administration equally enhanced water transportation by establishing the Lagos State Ferry Services Corporation. He is reputed to have established an asphalt plant for the department of public works, as well as electricity board for rural electrification.
He also encouraged the development of traditional medicine and its application for the treatment of patients by establishing the Traditional Medicine Board. This initiative offered wider choices of medical services to Lagosians.
After the military take-over, Jakande was arrested, charged, prosecuted and convicted of treason, although he was later pardoned. After his prison experience, he was appointed as the Minister of Works under the late Gen Sani Abacha’s military regime. Although he was criticized for accepting to serve in Abacha’s regime, he claimed that late Chief M. K. O. Abiola and other progressive leaders pressured him into accepting the offer.
He also played prominent roles at the return of democracy in 1999. He became a senior member of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) when the United Nigeria Peoples Party (UNPP) and the All Peoples Party (APP) merged. In June 2002, he was “suspended” by a faction of the ANPP loyal to Chief Lanre Razaq.
Jakande was the first chairman of the Action Party of Nigeria (APN) when it was formed in November 2006. In May 2009, he was reported to be engaged in a struggle for control of the party with his former ally, Dr. Adegbola Dominic.
Jakande was humble and content with the little he had. He had no interest in public coffers. This attitude was clearly demonstrated with his refusal to move into the comforts of the governor’s official residence. He lived in his private residence located at Ilupeju and commuted to work in his private car.
Jakande also ensured that members of his household attended state-owned schools and accessed healthcare from state-run hospitals.
During his 75th birthday celebration, a former governor of the state, Sen Bola Ahmed Tinubu said he was worth celebrating for his life of consistent commitment to public service.
Also, the former Imo State Governor, Achike Udenwa, was quoted to have said that Jakande’s life and times epitomised resilience, positive audacity, bravery and bravado, and a knack for excellence.
Today, Baba Kekere may have gone to eternal sleep, but his legacies which dot the breath and length of the state will remain subjects of discussion in the state and even beyond. Surely, history will be kind to Alhaji Lateef Jakande.