LAGOS State House of Assembly recently honoured former Governor of Lagos, Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande with its Legislative Lifetime Outstanding Performance Award. The Federal Government followed with a national honour for the man who has remained a reference point for developing Lagos, 27 years after he left office.
LKJ, as his admirers call him, was 81 on 23 July. He is remembered for his transformational and visionary leadership that set the pace for the development of Lagos. He laid the foundation for the modern Lagos, a foundation that still sticks out like sore fingers in some parts because those who came after him failed to follow the LKJ dream.
Jakande ranked among the best governors of the second republic. Others were Chief Sam Mbakwe of Imo State and Alhaji Abubakar Rimi of Kano State. Both have passed on.
Lagos was still the federal capital when LKJ was governor. The state was saddled with catering for the social and economic needs of the hundreds of thousands who trooped into Lagos daily in search of opportunities.
Jakande tapped into the welfarist agenda of the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, to break frontiers in education, health, housing, transportation. He started a metro-line in anticipation of the emerging mega-city status of Lagos. The military interruption of 1983 stopped the project.
Education could be the area where he made the most impact, abolishing the school system that had pupils attend schools in shifts in order because of inadequate facilities.
LKJ built new schools in record speed. His opponents derided them as chicken pens, but they ensured that the massive increase in enrolment and the beneficiaries of free education, had spaces to attend school at the same time after abolition of the shift system. Free education was implemented without discrimination.
It is commendable that LKJ is being honoured in his life time, instead of waiting until he is gone to recount his achievements. LKJ should retire in the knowledge that his labours were never in vain, not swept into the dung of history.
The political life of LKJ is a lesson for those who want to enquire about how he failed to succeed Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Why was it that when Awoists regrouped in 1993 to fight for the revalidation of the annulled presidential mandate of Chief Moshood Abiola, LKJ was not in their ranks? Why was he with then military Head of State, General Sani Abacha, as the Minister for Works and Housing, with another Awoist, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, Minister of Transport?
Poor management of the succession process of Chief Awolowo by Awoists eventually led to the collapse of the Awoist political group and the rise of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo to power in the West. Obasanjo became Nigeriaâ€™s President for eight years, while the Awoists, comprising both those who drifted to the Abacha government in 1994 and those who later dined with Obasanjo (and opened themselves up for political emasculation) have faded from the scene.
LKJâ€™s rolesÂ in these affairs are subjects of debates, depending on who is telling the stories. Nigerians are however, happy to remember the man for the model he made of Lagos in the 80s.
His examples of prudent financial management â€” and choice of faithful implementation of populist programmes â€” without the resources easily available to governments these days, remain for anyone with interest in the peoplesâ€™ welfare to follow.
Happy birthday, LJK, may your tribe never fade.