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Quintessential LKJ at 80

By Kunle Oyatomi
Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande will be 80 years  in the next five days. He will then join the club of Octogenarians that Nigerians will love to respect.

Not many politicians are privileged to attain that age and fewer still would hold their heads high after a hectic time in the unusually challenging political arena of Nigeria.

But Jakande’s case is unique. He was not only a record breaker in his political career. He was and still is an institution in his chosen profession of journalism.

It is not anything about the man LKJ that I  personally experienced. I heard about his fantastic editorial writing were a major source of discomfort for most politicians at the time.

I was told that not only did his editorials effected changes in government’s policies, it changed the course of a couple of wrong directions in which government’s actions were leading.

According to reports, no politician at the time felt comfortable in a day without reading what the Nigerian Tribune under LKJ’s watch had to say.

It was the tonic of the political era and Jakande was the one who brewed it.

LKJ’s professional performance as a journalist took him to the highest possible level as president of the International Press Institute (IPI) in 1974.

Prior to that achievement Jakande had built up his reputation in Nigeria as a prime mover and founder of most of the organisations in the journalism profession in the country today.

For instance, he co-founded the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, and  the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN).

He was the founder and the first president of Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), and under his leadership, the three bodies established the Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO).

However at the high point of his career as IPI President, Alhaji Jakande got the Institute to support the creation of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ) which was funded by professional bodies in the country’s mass media in 1973.

Space will not allow me to continue with Jakande’s spectacular achievements as a journalists. But suffice it to say that LKJ is one of  the last of the titans still standing.

Jakande’s name as a national phenomenon incidentally did not come from his profession as a journalists, but from his calling as a politicians.

After the miracle of the Action Group between 1956 and 1962, Jakande broke all records in performance as Governor of a state.

From 1979, when he became Governor of Lagos State, Jakande stunned Nigerians with the achievements he recorded in governance.

Nobody before LKJ provided houses for the poor like he did. As if it was magic, houses sprang up throughout Lagos like mushrooms.

Parent could not believe their eyes and hears that not only were their children in school free of charge, they were provided with books.

In what was considered as a world record by UNESCO, Jakande constructed within 4 years, 23,093 classrooms; increased the number of primary school from 604 in 1979 to 954 in 1983.

Also the number of secondary school increased from 79 to 324 within the same period.

So outstanding was his overall performance that at a point, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, his political mentor gave him  the title Baba Kekere.

That was in 1982 while the sage was commissioning Amuwo Odofin Housing Estate.

Even as a Federal Minister of Works and Housing, between 1993 and 1995, Jakande set an unparallel national record.

Within 9 months, he commissioned 1,144 housing units and by the time he was leaving the office, he had 38,000 housing units under construction.

Everything the man sets his hand on virtually produced a record.
As a young man, one of the things that shocked me about the man Jakande was that he demonstrated such sincerity and commitment that when he took over in 1979 as governor of Lagos State, he was reported to have instructed all his commissioners to withdraw their children from private school, into the same public school that the government was building for the public.

According to the report, “if the schools were not good enough for their children, then it can’t be good for the public.”

And to demonstrate leadership, Jakande himself withdrew his children from private school, and put them in the so-called Jakande school.

Dr F.I Adike of the Nnamdi Azikwe University, Nnewi in 1992 said, “as the governor of Lagos State from 1979 to 1983, Jakande laid an example in uprightness,  morality and public accountability that will be difficult … to match.”

At 80, Jakande stands a  tower of strength, politically,  professionally, ethically and morally, the like of whom is a rare commodity in Nigeria today.

This is a life well worth celebrating.


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