AS JAKANDE TICKLES IN GARLANDS OF HONOUR
The name, Lateef Kayode Jakande (LKJ) is a household name within Nigeria and beyond. The name connotes good governance, democracy dividends, action, performance, achievement, love for the masses as well as hope among others.
As governor of the Centre of Excellence between 1979 and 1983, the name rang a bell in every nook and cranny of the country because of his superlative performance.
While in office, his performance earned him appellations like 'Action Governor' and 'Baba Kekere' (younger father) a reference to his taking after the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Having left office 27 years ago, the 81 years old renowned journalist, administrator, shrewd politician and democrat, his house is always a beehive of activities.
These and several other reasons must have informed the decision of the Lagos State House of Assembly Speaker, Rt. Hon. Sabith Adeyemi Ikuforiji to package a well deserved Award of Excellence for this symbol of good governance.
On that bright Saturday, Pa LKJ was led onto the floor of the House, the venue of the award, by two female legislators; Funmi Tejuoso (Mushin Constituency) and Edet Olatunji (Oshodi/Isolo), amid cheers by other lawmakers and visitors at the lobby. It was a clear departure from when he was in office as 'Action governor' and was on inspection of the uncompleted Assembly project which his defunct administration initiated.
At 81, the agility is gone. So is the energy of youth. As he walked slowly and gently, waving his trademark horsetail to all, he was aided by his devoted wife, Alhaja Abimbola and one of his sons. But his frail look was easily overlooked by the joyous guests who brought into focus the affectionate 'Baba Kekere' years in Lagos State.
Jakande, did not appear in any Awo cap, although he remained an Awoist at heart. Although he has no fat bank account and property in choice locations within and outside the metropolis, his good name and works which are worthy legacies recommended him for the maiden 'Legislative Lifetime Outstanding Performance Award (LLOPA 2010)' by the Adeyemi Ikuforiji-led Assembly.
The special parliamentary session was organized to mark the third anniversary of the Sixth Assembly. All the legislators were resplendent in special costumes. Eminent Lagosians, including Deputy Governor Sarah Adebisi Sosan, former Police Inspector-General Musiliu Smith, former Transport Commissioner, Alhaji Lanre Rasak, Alhaji Abiodun Sunmola, Alhaji Akanni Seriki, and Chief Henry Ajomale, leader of Action Congress (AC) were in a mood of excitement.
The insignia of the award was a golden plaque as well as a brand new Toyota Avensis saloon car with registration number: LKJ 1. The plaque and the car were presented by Speaker Ikuforiji, assisted by other statesmen like Senators Biyi Durojaiye, Olorunnimbe Mamora, Ganiyu Olanrewaju Solomon (GOS), Chief Segun Osoba, Otunba Niyi Adebayo, Chief Rauf Aregbesola, Prince Abiodun Ogunleye, former deputy governor of the state, and Olujobi Badmus, deputy Speaker whose father, the late Adio Mumuni Badmus was the state Secretary of the ruling Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) when 'LKJ' was the governor.
Tears of joy rolled from bespectacled eyes of the veteran politician as his achievements, some of which he could hardly remember, were recalled with fondness by Ikuforiji in his speech titled: 'Honour to whom honour is due'. Perhaps, the most important was his free education policy which produced many beneficiaries, including some members of the House.
Jakande would have been happier if his old commissioners-Afolabi Ege, Fagbeyiro, Hundeyin, Coker, Ganiyu Dawodu and Femi Agbalajobi, -were around him at the ceremony. To the Speaker, the award is more meaningful than the national award that is expected to be bestowed on the former Minister of Works and Housing by the Federal Government.
'We will not wait for this illustrious son of Nigeria, a bonafide Lagosian, an exemplary leader, a humble achiever, a silent workaholic, a conscientious administrator and extra-ordinary personality to pass to the great beyond before we put him in his right place of pride', he said, drawing applause from the dignitaries.
The message Ikuforiji wanted to pass to the audience was that, if the latter-day politicians in power had served society with passion and commitment like Jakande, the country would have savoured more dividends of democracy. Unlike many political actors, Jakande also had an occupation and politics was only a vocation.
When he emerged as governor in 1979, he had not become an accomplished politician, except that he was jailed along with his leader, the late Chief Awolowo during the treason felony trial by the late Justice George Sowemimo. Many even doubted his political experience.
However, in a spate of four years, he achieved what the military governments could not do in 13 years. As Ikuforiji recalled, Jakande introduced housing and educational programmes for the poor, building new neighbourhood primary and secondary schools, and providing free primary and secondary education, adding that he also established the Lagos State University.
'Jakande's government constructed over 20, 000 housing units. The schools and housing units were built cheaply, but were of great value. He also started a metroline project to facilitate mass transit. The project was halted when the military seized power in 1983', he lamented.
The former governor was successful because he mirrored his role model, Awo, former Premier of Western Region and leader of his party. Like Awo, he set an example by living in his own modest private house in Ilupeju. He also shunned official vehicle as he rode in his private car, a Toyota Laurel he had bought before his ascension to power. Ever frugal, his only flamboyant dress was the famous 'buba' and 'sokoto'. Yet, he emerged the best governor the state ever had.
'He did not carry out elastic programmes or robbed Peter to pay Paul, but worked assiduously to touch the lives of the down trodden positively. He was an honest, devoted Muslim and a leader who truly loves Lagos, added Ikuforiji who catalogued the feats of the former governor. His achievements also include the establishment of the Lagos Television and Radio, construction of water works, road rehabilitation, rural electrification, abolition of the tripartite shifting educational system, and prudent management of resources.
When politicians were taken to detention in bad faith, Jakande was not insulated. But, to the surprise of the military, no allegation could be found to tarnish his image. After sometime in detention, the military rulers reluctantly freed him.