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They hardly make them like that anymore

By Muyiwa Adetiba

Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande, the Action Governor of Lagos State, the ‘Baba Kere’ of yore, became officially certified as ‘Baba Agba’ last Tuesday when he joined the revered and extremely rare club of Octogenarians. I missed the event that marked the occasion.

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It was an event I would have wanted to attend but by the time I heard about it, my day had already been taken up by a meeting that was a compromise of sorts for five busy people one of whom was to travel out of the country shortly after.

In any case, while my presence at the meeting was important, my presence at Alhaji Jakande’s event would at best be tokenism – a token of love and respect from me to one of the men I looked up to during my formative years as a journalist – as I would hardly be noticed in a hall full of political juggernauts.

Strangely enough, I had thought of him at another event that was organised for a Lagos State Governor early in the year. Ken Olumhense, the governor of Nightshift Club had organised an evening for Sanwo-Olu who was then contesting for the State election. I met Bayo Osiyemi, an old friend and colleague there. We reminisced on old times.

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Bayo was the Chief Press Secretary to Alhaji Jakande some forty years ago so it was natural that our discussions would drift towards the old man. I expressed a desire to spend some time with him and Bayo readily agreed to go with me. But I kept vacillating; always finding a reason not to pick up the phone and arrange a date. If this date had taken place, I would have been inside the loop and would have probably known about the birthday arrangements.

How time flies. It seemed like yesterday when Alhaji Jakande in his characteristic buba and sokoto with a flywhisk in hand, was in command of the affairs of Lagos. Yet, half of the people in Lagos today were not born and certainly not in Lagos forty years ago. It’s hard for these people to picture what Lagos was like forty years ago.

To imagine there was hardly anything beyond Agbara; hardly anything beyond Isolo; hardly anything beyond Agege; hardly anything beyond Iju; hardly anything beyond Victoria Island. In many ways, Jakande was responsible for the opening up of Lagos and the exponential growth Lagos was to experience. He made Lagos home to everybody. A Muslim, he was blind to religion. A Yoruba with links to Kwara, he was blind to tribe.  He built a network of roads that nobody before him had done and nobody after him had done.

He complimented them with low cost houses, low cost schools, low cost markets and Teaching Hospitals – some of those roads, like the road to my office in Oregun, have not seen any asphalt since those forty years. He built the Lagos State University and the Governor’s office among several achievements.

He built jetties and started water transportation and would have built the first intra-city rail system – the Metroline – had the coup not truncated it. He was like a man in a hurry. What he achieved in his four years given the resources available to him was probably more in comparative terms, than what the third republic governors have achieved in their twenty years.

He touched every aspect of life from food to water to education to shelter but with emphasis on the poor and the down trodden. He was a benchmark among his peers in the second republic. And today, forty years after, he is still a benchmark.

All of these he did without amassing a fortune for himself. He lived in his own house as Governor and drove his own car. And when it was all over, he retired to his old printing press.

A quiet, soft spoken achiever, he was a journalist before he became a politician. In that sense, he belonged to an era when many prominent politicians were either lawyers or journalists. And his antecedents as an activist, a political analyst and one of the best editorial writers of his time, were his best credentials. He helped found the Nigeria Institute of Journalism which I can proudly say I benefitted from; the Nigerian Guild of Editors which again I can proudly say I became a Fellow of; and the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria which I also became a proud member of. He was involved in anything that aided the advancement of the profession in the sixties and seventies. In addition, he was an officer of the International Press Institute.

He was journalism’s ambassador to public service. He was not the only one like I said. But he was one of our best. Our product, our ‘son’ in whom we will forever be proud.

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On a personal level, there are two things among many, that I will always remember him for with gratitude. I was probably one of the earliest, if not the earliest, to be granted a full length interview by Chief Obafemi Awolowo when the ban on politics was lifted by the Obasanjo regime. Alhaji Jakande made that possible.

Chief Awolowo was naturally reluctant to grant an interview to a young man he did not know. Alhaji Jakande had to stand in the breach and personally guaranteed my professional and personal conduct –just as another senior colleague, Alhaji Odunewu had to do when I wanted to interview Chief Michael Ani, the FEDECO (now INEC) Chairman. (In fact Chief Ani insisted that Alhaji Odunewu had to be physically present at the interview and be held responsible in case of misrepresentation).

The second reason is more profound. It happened after he had left office. I was trying to raise money and looking for investors for a publication. Alhaji Jakande did not only give me a list, he wrote a personal letter to each of them attesting to my good name and reputation. This is apart from printing for me on credit and at a considerable discount when I needed a leg up.

At 90, Alhaji Jakande is at the departure lounge to quote Chief Edwin Clarke. No one knows how much longer he will be with us. But whenever it is, it will be his body that will depart. His soul will forever live with us in the enduring legacies he is leaving behind.

If only our Yoruba leaders could learn about public service and legacies from him and Chief Awolowo. The call to service is an opportunity to serve your people and humanity. On that they will judged by posterity. Their attachments to property and power will count for nothing at the end of the day.

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