By Owei Lakemfa
LATEEFÂ KayodeÂ Jakande last week turned 80. But in the twilight of his life, there are many who strive to consign his progressive contributions to the dustbin of history. There were momentous periods in our national life when he played major roles. These were in the First and Second Republics and during Abachaâ€™s despotic military rule.
Two years after independence, the ruling politicians decided to destroy the main opposition party, the Action Group (AG) and bring the Western Region under the control of the Federal Government. Jakande was one of the leaders of the opposition who organised resistance against this onslaught on democracy and the federal system.
Due to the stiff resistance, the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa governmentÂ which had already engineered a violent political crisis in the West, decided to seize the region directly by declaring a state of emergency. The then Governor of the region, Sir Adesoji Aderemi had, based on a vote of no confidence passed by the Western House of Assembly, removed Premier Samuel LadokeÂ Akintola.
Tafawa Balewa had in his contribution to the debate on the state of emergency in the federal parliament justified the move on the basis that â€œThe Premier (Akintola) went to the courtÂ and filed a motion, but before the court did anything about the motion filed by the Premier, the Governor appointed another Premierâ€
Chief AnthonyÂ Eromosele Enahoro who nine years earlier had moved the motion for independence, warned that the move is myopicÂ and that: â€œIt may well be the beginning of a chain of events nobody knows; and nobody can tell when it will endâ€.
Prophetically, it ended with a bloody coup, a catastrophic civil war and a cumulative 29 years of military dictatorship.
Back in 1962, Jakande was under the emergency, detained in Kwale and later convicted of treasonable felony. He stood by principles, went to jail with his head held high and returned in triumph.
In the Second Republic, he was the electedÂ Â two-term governor of Lagos State. One of his major achievements was the construction of mass housing for the working and low middle classes in many parts of Lagos. Although he named none after himself, they all, by popular consensus became known as Jakande estates.
He carried out an education revolution in the state by phasing out the afternoon arm of public schools and building the largest number of public schools in the countryâ€™s economic capital while making education free. Also his administration carried out one of theÂ largest job-creating schemes in the countryâ€™s history, especially of teachers.
One programme he embarked upon but which was sabotaged by anti-people forces was the metro line project. With a consortium of French companies, the N700 millionÂ line consisted of 19 trains which could carry about a million commuters daily.
This and its possible expansion would have saved Lagos the traffic jam nightmare. Jakandeâ€™s administration paid N70 million advance payment with the balance N630 million to be provided by the consortium and payable overÂ Â 15 years.
Unfortunately, the Shehu Shagari Federal Government delayed in remitting the money and then, the military struck again. The Generals Muhammadu Buhari/ Idiagbon junta which seized power, having demonized the civilian administration, would not acknowledge the foresighted-ness of the metro project; it simply killed it.
The third period of his role in history was following the 1993 coup which brought Abacha to power. Jakande was prevailed upon by his political allies led by Chief MoshoodÂ Kashimwo AbiolaÂ to serve as a minister in that insidious regime. He was in fact offered a choice of ministry, that of Works and Housing. When later asked to quit by the same allies, he refused.
This led to his being condemned, and is primarily responsible for the continuous attempts to deny him his rightful place in history.
The fact is that Jakande was a victim of the confused thoughtÂ process and the political harakiri committedÂ collectively byÂ the political class and most of those who later claimed a moral high ground.
While many politicians campaigned for the 1993Â coup and shored it up by getting credible persons like Jakande to serve in its cabinet, there were those who saw clearly that Abacha, Oladipo Diya and their crowd were power-hungry people.
Some of us publicly campaigned against the coup, and when it was carried out, organised mass street protests against it.
We thought Abiola and his lieutenants were betraying the cause of June 12 by supporting the AbachaÂ gang, especially when Abacha was personally responsible for theÂ Â massacre of 118 pro – democracy demonstrators in Lagos just four months before.
I was part of the pro – democracy delegation that met Abiola to try talking him out of this suicidal path. He tried to convince us that he was being tactical. I told him that he was actually building credibility for the regime and helping it to consolidate by openly identifying with it.
He replied that if you want to greet a dwarf, you bend down to his level, to which Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti retorted: â€œ Chief you donâ€™t need to bend to his level, you can put him on a pedestalâ€. Abiola laughed uncontrollably and we parted.
It is, therefore, unfair to try crucifying Jakande for the mass political suicide politicians carried out under the Abacha dictatorship.
I do not seek to exculpate Jakande for his role in that infamous regime,Â nor can I forget the fact that while he was a good journalist, he was a bad employer in the industry by his refusal to payÂ salaries for many months.Â All I have done is to put his role in proper context and recognise his positive contributions in other times of our political history.