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Why I refused to quit Abacha govt, Jakande, at 80, opens up

LKJ: Lesson politicians won’t learn



THERE is no shortage of critics of Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande, easily the father of modern Lagos. Where his accusers have nothing to say, they address his looks – it is not in their interest to take a look at the enduring transformation that LKJ imposed on Lagos in four years of being its first civilian governor.

Let the truth be told, Lagos has hardly developed beyond where the disruption of LKJ’s vision left it on the last day of December 1983. His critics cannot understand how Lagos still runs on infrastructure that he left a quarter of a century ago – simply incredible. They cannot match his frugality (one of the things they also criticise him about), or his visionary knacks that led him into running programmes considered impossible, yet he succeeded.

He began his career as a journalist with the Daily Service and then Nigerian Tribune, easily coming under the influence of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, whose free education and health programmes he implemented. LKJ was a foundation member of the Action Group in 1952 and was jailed with Awo for treason. Alhaji Jakande is not a politician, in the sense of most of today’s free loaders. There is hardly anything to recommend him to anyone. He still lives in his Ilupeju home that he used while serving as governor.

Alhaji Lateef Jakande
Alhaji Lateef Jakande

It is doubtful if he would ever part company with the antiquity that he calls a car, and used while governor. On becoming governor he pulled his children out of private schools and registered them in the public primary school closest to his house, possibly the only official of such ranking to have his children in public schools.

His distinct quality rests on ideas, an uncommon zeal for doing the impossible, a cascading vision that rolls through various spheres of life and the ability to pick out partners to help him get things done. Many who have not gone to other parts of Lagos like Badagry, Epe, Ikorodu, Ojokoro, Oko Oba, Abesan, Ajah, would not appreciate the incredible energy-fired ideas that Alhaji Jakande unleashed on Lagos.

The housing estates he built in these places in addition to the ones in Iponri, Iyana Isolo, Mile II, Maryland, Pen Cinema, Lekki, Ebute Metta, Simpson (Lagos Island), have not been matched in size or quality by all the governors of Lagos State since its creation 42 years ago. In four years Jakande built 21,000 housing units in 18 housing estates. The LEDB delivered 4,502 in 17 years!

Major forte
In fact, all the housing projects of the state government in the past 25 years are less than a fraction of one part of the Pen Cinema estate. Yet they call him names, they vilify him, they find nothing to commend in a man whose main fault is that is acted with standards that made the rest minions. Education could actually be his major forte.

He abolished the shift system that saw school kids on the road  throughout the day. His cheap school buildings deridingly called chicken pens were tailored for the quick task of getting all the children into school immediately. They were cheap, easy to construct.

They are still in use, 25 years after they were built at N1,500 (yes, one thousand, five hundred naira) each. The number of  primary schools increased in four years from 604 to 954  with  a 54.4 per cent increase in enrollment. The number of secondary schools increased over the same period from79 to 319.

Government put available spaces to use. An example was the conversion of buildings ministries vacated on Victoria Island into three secondary schools. Alhaji Jakande started the Lagos State University in 1983 to address the educational needs of the state at tertiary level. Lagos at this time was listed among the 13 educationally disadvantaged states.

Today’s self-acclaimed financial managers pale beside his financial wizardry. By October 31, 1982, of the collected revenue of N455.29 million (10 months), N341.62 million was internally generated. His master stroke would have been the metro line on which the military cancelled on its return. Lagos was to repay the N698 million over 15 years; by 1997. Lagos planned to offset the loan from revenue the metro line which would have borne 44,000 passengers per hour in either direction would generate. The ferry service was running, providing alternative ways of reaching some parts of the state.

The state government had N288 million placed in some commercial banks from which it earned interests of N2.06 million monthly and $4.3 million in a New York bank at an interest rate of 13 per cent. It also earned N22 million yearly from other investments. In 1983, its N1.01 billion budget was the first time a state government made a billion naira budget. The Jakande administration celebrated its financial prudence and had a surplus budget every year, in addition to having enough to lend to state governments that were in financial binds.

Few would remember that Victoria Island ended at Maroko, a slum that nestled next to where the Mobil headquarters are located. The decision to build the Lekki-Epe Expressway extended the island, created the new settlements that are the buzz of the moment. His developments in water, other roads, electricity, health services, which he provided free, agriculture, rural development, industries remain sterling. Why do other politicians hate him so? They have carried on about his stint with General Sani Abacha as if he was the only one who served that blighted administration. There was more to it.

The race to succeed Awo started long before Abacha became a factor in Nigerian politics. The pettiness that has been used in rubbishing LKJ’s achievements has something to do with the fact that Chief Awolowo affectionately called him Baba Kekere (young father), a title that some understood to foreclose their ambition to succeed Awo. At 80, LKJ is the most successful Nigerian politician in the past 25 years. If his achievements in only eight years are benchmarked against what others did with more time, he is possibly the most achieving Nigerian politician since independence.

Why is he not celebrated? To politicians he is a bad example. He is a towering example of the fact that a politician can strive and achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of people. LKJ makes the point that a politician is an ordinary human being, who must remain human because power is transient. Politicians would not follow his example because his prudence, hard work, vision, selflessness unmake politicians reveal the secret that Nigeria might not be too difficult to manage as is popularly believed. Happy birthday sir, you have made you presence around him count, no matter what your detractors say.

Why I refused to quit Abacha govt, Jakande, at 80, opens up


HOW would you describe life at 80?
I want to thank God Almighty for sparing my life to this time. I am grateful to God Almighty for preserving me until this day. I shall ever be grateful for these past 80 years from day one to date.

Going by your experience, what is the secret of longevity?
Quite frankly, everything is God’s own gift. No human being should presume to be responsible for his own longevity. It is the choice and wisdom of God Almighty. That is why I am saying I am grateful to God I am 80. It is not because I have been wise, careful or I have been careless, it is just entire gift of God for which I am personally grateful.

Perhaps you have been cautious in the area of health?
No. It is total unqualified gift and favour of man’s creator. Nothing more.

How was it at the beginning, I mean particularly growing up?
My growing up was normal. I grew up as you all know in Lagos in the compound of Olowo Jakande in Epetedo, Lagos Island. I am grateful to have been brought up by very great people, people of discipline, character and that has carried me on for the rest of my life. That lesson of discipline, in particular, godliness and good character, those were the things I learnt from my parents and which are what I have grown up with.

In retrospect, is there anything you wish you had done that you didn’t do?
In life there must be. In life, as we go along, you do certain things you wished you had not done. I am quite satisfied that whatever I missed, whatever I did not do was the wish of the Almighty.

I tried the little I could to help humanity, to help humanity the best way I could and this is the way I have been taught, to love your fellow men and serve them. In the course of growing up, I was fortunate to have gone through schooling in Lagos, in a school owned by my late uncle. I ought to have gone to Port-Harcourt with my father who was then a civil servant in the Marine department as we called it which became Nigerian Ports Authority. Coming back here to Ilesa Grammar School where I had my secondary education, God has been so kind to me. In Ilesa Grammar School, I had teachers who were good and it was one of these teachers, I think two of them, that told me that journalism was good for me.

So, after leaving  Ilesa Grammar School, I went straight to journalism. As a matter of fact, I started journalism at school. We ran a quarterly school magazine and I was the editor-in-chief of the magazine. So, by the time I was ready to work and I applied to Daily Service, Daily Times, Pilot, I used the materials that I produced as evidence of my ability. They were impressed by it. And so Daily Service took me in as a reporter. That was the beginning of my journalism career. From journalism, I went into politics.

Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande
Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande

How was journalism in those days compared to what we have now?
You cannot compare the two because journalism in those days was not the product of professional training. We had no journalism school and we did all our training on the job. It was very easy, rewarding and satisfying because we learnt from the masters because our own generation took over from the older generation of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Herbert Macaulay.

These were great journalists and we followed their footsteps while at the same time making our own marks. In particular, in training of journalists, we established the Nigerian Institute of Journalism with the support of the International Press Institute.

We created professional bodies, Nigerian Union of Journalists, Nigerian Guild of Editors, Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria and the Nigerian Press Organisation. It is my generation that brought all these institutes into journalism and I think we have been justified in bringing them in and I must say I am happy that these organizations still exist all over the country because they have made sense of the journalism profession.

You said you practised journalism in those days with Awolowo, what kind of journalist was Awolowo?
He had African Press Limited and, as proprietor, he started publishing the Nigerian Tribune. In his earlier years, he was a contributor to Daily Times but his greatest contribution to this profession was the establishment of the Nigerian Tribune which also had other titles on its stable.

I must also mention  Chief S.L.Akintola as one of my mentors in the profession. He was a journalist and when I started work with the Daily Service, he was the chairman of the editorial board. Daily Service was the political organ of the Nigerian Youth Movement and I  was on the board of the Service at the time I was employed by Mr A. B. Olumuyiwa who  was the editor of the Daily Service.

It was from the Daily Service that I moved to Tribune and I had always admired Chief Awolowo when he was general secretary of the Nigerian Youth Movement and a regular columnist but when I moved to the Nigerian Tribune, we became closer and I felt  indebted to him for the experience I earned, not only as a journalist but as a politician. We had a lot together and I realised that Awolowo was a gift of God to  Nigeria.

One thing people do not know about Awolowo was that he was totally committed to public service, all his thinking, even when eating, was all about the people. I followed his footsteps in that direction, he inspired me. I will never forget what I acquired from him in that regard.

At  what point in time did you go to full time politics from journalism?
I told you, the moment I started journalism, I was practically in politics because my newspaper, the Daily Service, was the official organ of one of the major parties of the day, the Nigerian Youth Movement. While I was in the Tribune, Chief Awolowo formed the Action Group. I was at the foundation ceremony and I participated in most of their activities. During the Tribune era, I became more and more involved in politics of the Action Group and eventually I decided to go into full time politics and it came about that I was nominated as a candidate and elected as governor of Lagos State.

What are your vivid recollections  of the First Republic?
First Republic and even Second Republic are generations  as recorded by history as laying the foundation of this great country of ours. Politics in the two republics was principled politics and leadership was committed.

They had big visions among the leaders but there was a meeting point which was Nigeria as our common property. We had great men like Sir Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. If you go back to these years, you will find that politics was a serious business because you had men who had great commitment and totally devoted. They saw Nigeria as their own right. Take Ahmadu Bello, for instance, he was a conservative but he had no reason to regret it or to apologise for it. He had a vision about Nigeria where the north is north, the south is south.

Alhaji Jakande
Alhaji Jakande

Principles and ideologies
As I see it, he wanted Nigeria to make progress but he was not prepared to give up the place of the north because he was totally committed to the north. Some people will criminalize him for not being a  nationalist or for not seeing beyond the north. I don’t.

I believe that he served well according to his right. But the trouble you had in this generation is that they are doing politics without principles, ideologies and I do not see how such politics will ultimately succeed. In the First and Second Republics, everybody knew his party and you knew where you belonged but that did not stop us from fighting for the Nigerian nation as a nation.

Chief Awolowo, for example,  believed almost religiously that Nigeria should be a federation; at that time, we were not a federation. Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, on the other hand, believed in unity government because he saw it as the best way to unite the country.

These great men fought hard and stood by their principles. But one day I will never forget in my life was when the groups came together, not losing their identities, Dr Azikiwe, Chief Awolowo, there was a meeting point and I remember Chief Awolowo selling the idea of federalism.  What came out of that meeting was a declaration by Zik that federalism was imperative.

That has gone into history. It was at that point that I can say that our federalism became a reality. These were great men who exchanged ideas but stood by what they believed, they stood by principles. They had clear cut ideology. Today, we don’t have it. Politics has been monetised.

You spoke glowingly about these men of the First Republic. But there was a crisis, could it have been avoided?
Which crisis?

The crisis that brought about military rule
Don’t forget that these great men had strong views. Remember that there was a crisis in the Western Region within the then Action Group and the government at the centre, I think it was natural, took advantage of that crisis which eventually became national and the military took advantage of the crisis to come in. S.L Akintola was deputy to Awolowo.

Awolowo was premier and when he left for the centre, S.L. became the premier. It was at that stage that we had this problem  within the party and other parties took advantage of it and then the violence started. It was this violence that the political opponents of Chief Awolowo saw and supported S.L. Now the military took advantage of that crisis to install a military government under Aguiyi Ironsi, I think he was the head of the army, they took over until we came to that historical bus stop of the civil war.

Are you saying the crisis of the First Republic was inevitable?
It was not inevitable but I believe the crisis was consequential on the other developments that came in. I would say that those leaders were acting in accordance with their beliefs of Nigeria of their dream. This led to this clash. I do not want to be partisan in the assessment of the crisis, I would have told you that on our side, the other group was wrong, they just took advantage of the situation, they  had no business with you, the leadership of the Action Group.

But I don’t want to say that, I want to take a broad view of the crisis. It might have been easier to accept what one thought was the best, for example, one would have said Chief Akintola should not have rebelled against his party just as the party had actually sought to discipline S.L. and held a meeting to require him to quit the office of premier to replace him with D.S. Adegbenro as premier.

Growing pains
But as I said, I want to take a broad view that these were growing pains for the country. I believe that our leaders, on both sides, fought and worked for the best according to their beliefs. They were all totally committed, mistakes were made, definitely. One would say why did S.L. rebel against his own leader? But as I said, I look at all of this as history and even in spite of what we said, I can tell you, I know them, these leaders were great.

Perhaps if they had come to a round table….
Oh yes. Oh yes. But, you see, one can look back and say if they had met, and resolved these issues, we might not have had all the other crises, the military might not have come in, and people might not have joined the Biafran Civil War.

How did the treasonable felony trial go? You were one of the key actors.
That was trial of trials. The allegation made by the prosecutors was that we wanted to overthrow the government of Nigeria and what strikes me each time I remember is that we, that were accused of wanting to overthrow the government, yet we had no arms, no soldiers or troops. So, how could we now overthrow a government with a strong military base? It pleased the opposition to Chief Awolowo to use that to eliminate him.

The judge, Sowemimo, unconsciously, when he was about giving his judgment, he said his hands were tied. And that summed up what went on. The nearest thing they gave in evidence was that we trained some boys; sent them to Ghana, to receive training. Fortunately, Ghana was a democracy and Nkrumah  had good organised young men. So, we sent about half a dozen of them to try to know what was being done in Ghana by way of training youths, politically.

What Nkrumah did was to recruit them and get them to protect his party, serve the government, it was a way of getting young people employed, so to speak. I was in charge. I remember some names, like Obor, he was one of the boys we trained.

Is he still alive?
No, he is long gone. Another one was Henry. So to say that exercise was evidence of treason was far fetched. I was accused number 13 and as I said providence forced it out of Sowemimo to say that his hands were tied and today, everybody knows that his hands were indeed tied.

How many years of imprisonment did you get?
I got seven years.

Were you married then?
I was married but it affected me because my family members were disturbed. I will always remember how my wife at that time, my first wife brought food to prison for me, initially at Broad Street prison and at Kirikiri Prison.

Why do you think Awolowo lost the 1979 election?
We fought a good battle and we believed we could have won but the extent of the bitterness of our opponents went beyond what was considered reasonable. I think FEDECO was involved and we knew that Awolowo should have won;  however, we did recognise  there were powerful elements against him, they would stop at nothing to prevent his emergence.


Perhaps Nigeria would have been a better country if Awolowo had become president but the opponents were powerful and they used their power to stop what I considered to be the best thing we had. If you will recall, Odumegwu Ojukwu, in his stylish way, declared Awolowo was the best president Nigeria never had. That is enough certificate.

Obasanjo as the head of state then was said to have a hand in the way Awolowo lost the election especially when he reportedly  told Nigerians that the best candidate might not win?

That was it. I believe that Obasanjo did not want Awolowo.

Why, after all, he, like Awolowo, is Yoruba?
That was my thought too but because he did not believe Awolowo would permit his own ways of life, there was nothing one can say Awolowo did that justified the bitterness of Obasanjo, nothing.

You were the governor of Lagos State in the Second Republic. How did you run the state at that time?
You will have to go and find out about that because I cannot speak about myself. All I can tell you is that when we decided to contest, my first interest was to remain in the press. I was in the Tribune because I thought I would be serving the country better by remaining in journalism but my colleagues in the party overruled me and decided to put me up as candidate for governorship.

Having been so nominated, I then went all out to prepare for the election. I had a clear programme of action, about five programmes which I embarked upon immediately we came into office.

Free education
One was free education. I remember after the election, I met the incumbent governor, Ebitu Ukiwe. After pleasantries, I said I would ask him for a favour. I said I would want him to tell his teachers not to demand or accept school fees from the students because I was going to make education free. Ebitu looked at me straight and said ‘I am sorry for you’. I said ‘why are you sorry for me?’ He said ‘all these issues of free education in Lagos, free services, I can tell you that there is no money for it. Lagos State has no money’ because even as the time he was speaking to me, he said Lagos State was relying on the goodwill of the Federal Government to survive. However, a few days after I was inaugurated and after that, I announced education free from that date. I will never blame Ukiwe for saying what he said. On the contrary, I respect him even till today for telling me his own idea because he did not do anything thereafter to obstruct our programmes.

How did you raise the money to fund the free education going by what Ukiwe said?

It was a question of organisation. I organised the finances of the state. I also mobilised public opinion and mobilized the civil service.

Take, for instance, I started by examining the figures, what we had in the kitty and how much we needed  for the free education which gave me a good beginning because I knew we had money in the state which we could use to start the programme as I cut down where I thought there were wastes, I economised in various ways. I brought down the prices of constructing classrooms. It was N6,000 per classroom, I brought it down to N1,000. I also built schools within 100 yards radius. The populace were joyous. When we had problems with land, I authorised  the ministry of works to build school in any open land in the state. It would surprise you that most people gave up their land.

One significant example was General Benjamin Adekunle known as Black Scorpion. When the contractors went to his land and began to build schools because I told them that they should go into any open land and
begin to build schools  immediately and ‘if they ask you, tell them that I the governor have decided to build school there’, Scorpion came to my office one morning. As I saw him, I said, ‘Scorpion, this is a great honour, to what do we owe this honour?’ He said, ‘well, I want to thank you first of all for giving us a school in our area.’ It is Ikeja GRA.

Sentimental attachment

There was no school there. Thereafter, he said ‘I have a problem’. He said ‘that land was given to me by the military when I retired and I have sentimental attachment to it’. So, I said ‘General, suppose I give you another land’, he said yes. So, I called the ministry of lands, give him another land and they did. That just showed how the people reacted and with the support of the people and total loyalty of the civil service, we made it.

What was your relationship with the State Assembly at that time?
We were working together. It was one party. Practically every measure I took was discussed with them before the announcement and we were doing it together so that they themselves were committed as I was because they knew that my success was their own success.

You abolished the morning, afternoon shift system under your free education programme as well.

Yes I did. There were three shifts. I abolished everything the moment I got in.

How was it serving under the late General Sani Abacha?
Abacha government for me was a divine call to serve. As soon as they took over, Oladipo Diya came to this house and invited me for discussion, I went to Ikeja, we met and he said they would like me to join their government and I told him, ‘you should hand over to Abiola who won the election’. Diya told me that he and Abacha were friends of Abiola but they were afraid that if they handed over power immediately, opponents of Abiola might cause trouble, so they were going to have a conference and the conference would decide and it was what the conference decided that they would do.

Bola Ahmed Tinubu and MKO came to me here in this house and MKO said `they are my friends’. I told them that the  ministry that suited me was ministry of works and housing and asked MKO that ‘these your soldier friends, when would they go?’ He said it won’t be long but Tinubu said it might be 12 months, it might be 15 months. I then said I would think about it.

Then came my national missioner of the Ansar-U-Deen, he was my religious leader, Alhaji Alaaya. He came here two days after and he said that he had been told by Abiola that I was reluctant to take office under Abacha, he prayed for me and advised that I should take the appointment. I held a meeting with my political associates here in this hall. We were meeting every Sunday, I gave them the news and after much debate, we put it to vote and it was 60-1 that I should go.

At that point, I felt I had no choice and as I said this must be a divine call.

Was there input from your colleagues in Afenifere at that time?
No, there was no Afenifere at that time.

How about your associates then in former Action Group and Unity Party of Nigeria like the late Adesanya and the rest, they gave you their support?

Yes, all of them. Bola Ige came here himself.
That arrangement I am sure they believed would have solved the June 12 problem
The military told us that they would hand over and the man in the picture also said ‘please go in, they are my friends’. Beyond that point it would have been irresponsible of me to say no. I took it as divine call and with few things like National Housing Programme which I launched with the full support of Abacha, we wanted to build 123,000 houses, but before I left  we built 38,000.

Your stay in that government eventually pitted you against your Afenifere colleagues.
It never pitted me against anybody. I left the government after 14 months

You left or you were sacked?
Well, I left because I was not sacked. Abacha just announced one morning there was cabinet reshuffle and I was dropped. In those 14 months, we did what we could. Some of my friends held a meeting, moved a motion among themselves that we should leave the government. I rejected that because those of us in government should have been invited to answer questions if they had questions to ask. I was not the only one. There was Ebenezer Babatope, Osomo, Dr Olu Onagoruwa and myself. They did not ask any of us for what they thought was wrong before saying ‘leave the government’, not only that, they said Yoruba should leave the government.

Apart from the injustice which these people committed, I believe it was wrong to have asked Yoruba to leave the government because if Yoruba left the government, the government would go on. I felt the procedure they adopted was wrong. If they thought we were wrong, they should have called us.

Maybe they knew that Abacha was no longer going to hand over to Abiola which was the primary motive of pushing you into the government.
Nobody could have known. Abacha during the 14 months I was there  was pro-Abiola but I also knew that he was under pressure by his military colleagues. They too had groups and there was a particular group that wanted Abacha to carry on even promising him being life president.

So when Abacha did what he did, reshuffled the cabinet, I thanked God for him because I knew he was under pressure. Eventually this group took over Abacha and I am sure this must have led to his disaster. So, their telling us to leave the government was a wrong decision and a wrong demand.

What kind of person was Abacha when you were there. Billions of naira were allegedly stolen by him?
Quite frankly, whatever happened in that respect happened after I left and I believe that Abacha was well meant. The first meeting I held with the government, they had not appointed ministers then, Abacha announced that I was the chairman of the economic committee of the government in addition to being minister of works and housing. When I took over as chairman of the economic committee, I ordered serious restrictions.

I called down the deficit budget that we had and restricted even the president to awarding contract without due consent and even the consent must be within the limit of the budget. There was a firm budget control. He did not strike me as a thief because all the things I brought in were accepted. It must be that  after I left, they took him over because these billions of naira they are now talking about, there was no way  anybody could have taken even one million out of the public fund at the time I was there, no way.

How about your assessment  of    Obasanjo leadership?
Obasanjo was a bad leader because I did not see his contribution to any good of  the country. As far as I know, he did not have any programme. Obasanjo came in by accident through Murtala Muhammed. Murtala was the prime mover. Murtala became popular because of certain measures he took. I can’t point out even now at any measure by Obasanjo which can affect the people positively.

But I know that Obasanjo took nobody’s advice. He was his own adviser and I think that must have been the cause of the disaster he created. He did not do well for this country because he wasted that period which belonged to the west. He was full of himself and he did not care enough for the Nigerian people.

There was a race to  succeed Chief Awolowo shortly after he died. We had thought you were going to succeed him as you were known as Baba Kekere. The race we learnt was between you and the late Bola Ige. What happened?

It is normal for people to think who succeeds who. Chief Awolowo, in his own way, was commissioning the Amuwo-Odofin Housing Estate which is still there today. I asked him to come and commission it for us, that was where he went out of the way to give me the title Baba Kekere. And here Baba Kekere in Oyo culture was next to the Alaafin of Oyo which of course led to many gossips. But he himself never put  anybody, he only expressed his mind, that as far as implementation of measures, what we all agreed about his concerns, he felt I was next to him. But I told my colleagues particularly after Awolowo’s death that ‘it was not my fault that Baba named me Baba Kekere, and did not give any of you any title, please be patient, when Baba comes back, I will ask him to give you your title’.


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