By Olu Fasan
THE death last month of Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande,first civilian governor of Lagos State, brought back memories of the late 1970s and early 1980s when, as a young man, I was enrapturedby politics, without being a politician. Aristotlefamously said that man is, by nature, a “political animal”. Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his prodigious disciple, Alhaji Jakande, popularly known as Baba Kekere, made me such a gregarious political junkie.
Looking back now, at 60, I’m amazed about the two leaders’ impact on me. Yet,the reason was simple: I was utterly captivated by their lives and politics: their grass-to-grace stories; their disciplined and purposeful lives; their passion for education; their commitment to people-oriented politics; their exploits in journalism, their achievements in government, etc.
In 1979, Chief Awolowo, then leader of Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, came to Ondo, my hometown, to campaign for that year’s presidential election.
The town was agog to welcome him, and I saw an intellectually-deep visionary leader who could run any country and transform it by ideas, competence and action. By the time I went to Lagos in 1980, after my secondary education, I was completely fixated on Awolowo.
But, arriving in Lagos, I began to hear about Alhaji Jakande, also known as LKJ, who was, by then, the governor. I began to read that he was Awolowo’s “carbon copy”, hence the sobriquet Baba Kekere.That he, too, was a self-made man, who did great exploits in journalism, becoming editor-in-chief of Awolowo’s newspaper, Tribune, and the first black African chairman of the International Press Institute.
Being a student journalist, I loved reading about Jakande’s journalistic feats. Then, something happened. My “Letter to the Editor” was published in Jakande’s Lagos News. That was the first time my name appeared in a newspaper. The foray into mainstream journalism increased my admiration for LKJ. Whenever he was speaking at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism,I would go there to listen to him!
As governor, Jakande’s reputation as Baba Kekere was indisputable; he replicatedthe results-oriented zeal that Awolowo showed as premier. There’s no space to rehash LKJ’s monumental achievements as governor. But suffice it to say that he wasn’tcalled The Action Governor for nothing.From education to health, from housing to transport, Jakande transformed Lagos State. Like Awolowo, LKJ achieved many “firsts”, and I was enthralled by both of them!
In those days, Chief Awolowowent abroad annually for medical check-ups. Governor Jakande was always at the airport to welcome him back home, and Papa Awo would go straight to Jakande’s house in Ilupeju. I, too, was always at the airport to welcome Awo, and would follow the motorcade from Ikeja to Ilupeju. They would enter and spend some time inside, and I would wait patiently outside until they all came out! Don’t laugh! The chance of seeing Baba and Baba Kekere together was mesmerising!
But what always amazed me was Jakande’s nondescript house, as governor, which was the same house he lived in before he became governor. There was a police station opposite the house, but it was there before he became governor. Jakande also drove, as governor, the same Toyota car he drove before becoming governor. Put simply, as governor, Jakande never lived in government house or drove government car!
He reminded me of Nehemiah, governor of Judah for 12 years, who, unlike his predecessors, did not eat “the bread of the governor”. As he put it in Nehemiah 5:18: “Yet, I refused to claim the governor’s food allowances because the people already carried a heavy burden.” Today, despite widespread poverty, state governors are not only claiming huge remunerations and allowances, but they are also looting state treasuries.
Well, let’s return to the reminiscing because my fixation with Awolowo and Jakande only got more exciting. In 1983, the UPN was holding its national convention at the National Theatre, Iganmu. The atmosphere was charged. Chief Awolowo preferred the governors to seek re-election unopposed, but their rivals wanted state primaries. The convention would be interesting! So, I went to the National Theatre to witness the event.
But there was a snag. I wasn’t a card-carrying member of UPN, and, thus, not a delegate to the convention. I stood outside the National Theatre as the politicians arrived with talking-drummers and praise-singers. It was a real carnival atmosphere!
I wanted to enter the hall, but, sadly, had no pass. Suddenly, there was a pass on the floor; it had dropped off from someone. The security guard took it, looked at me, and said: “I can see you’re desperate to enter, take this card!” It was as if I had won a jackpot. Inside the hall, I was rubbing shoulders with the governors and other prominent UPN politicians.
Then, the meeting started. Chief Awolowo introduced the issue of the primaries, and intense debate followed. Throughout, Awolowo said nothing. After everyone had spoken, he summed up and said the majority wanted state primaries and, so, state primaries there would be. Awolowo was a democrat through and through; he wasn’t a godfather. Today, the governorship candidate would be handpicked and anointed in the leader’s house!
Something else happened. As the meeting progressed, there was a big bang, like an explosion. Those on the high table ran for cover, caps and walking sticks flung in different directions! But Awolowo and Jakande sat still, showing absolutely no panic. Great leaders with inner reserves and courage!
Truth is: Nigeria is in a mess, in part, because leaders like Awolowo and Jakande are not in charge; today’s ‘leaders’ lack their vision, competence and dynamism.
Chief Awolowo, who would have been 112 this month, on March 6, and Alhaji Jakande, who died on February 11, aged 91, hugely influenced my youth. When Awolowo died in 1987, aged 78, I devoted an issue of the campus magazine I edited to his memory. I would have done the same for Jakande. May his soul rest in peace!