Lateef Kayode Jakande is a name that Lagos will not forget in a hurry. It is a name that the whole of Nigeria, even in its mnemonic failures, will recall for a long time, especially if the subject is competence in governance and political service.
But the first civilian governor of Lagos State passed on at 91 in a wave of gratitude, from a state and a nation he served with so much energy. He made simplicity seem glamorous and glamour overstated.
He experienced everything that a public persona must. He was a public intellectual. He engaged the tempestuous debates of his time and wrote books, including the narrative for the records about the trials and temptations of his mentor – The Trials of Obafemi Awolowo has become a treasure for historians.
He was also an activist and he spent time in jail with Awolowo in the 1960’s in the turmoil of the Nigerian crisis. He was a journalist of great attributes, having served as editor of the Nigerian Tribune, helped to birth the Nigerian Union of Journalists as well as the Guild of Editors, aside from the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Ogba, Lagos. He was the first Nigerian to lead the International Press Institute (IPI).
These laurels would have been enough for a lifetime. But the Renaissance man had more for his boundless energies. He delved into the dark waters of politics and ran for governor when Nigeria transitioned to civil rule in 1979. He contested for the governor of Lagos State and won. It was then he performed what remains a human miracle for his people in the short order of four years.
He hit the ground running and became the point man of the Unity Party of Nigeria’s four cardinal goals. He did not only give the people free education, he radicalized it by instituting a dawn school for all when there were shifts of morning and afternoon for a generation. He did that by building many schools. He did it without compromising class size or teaching quality.
With a synergy of teacher training schools, recruitment of teachers and standardization, he attained a triple miracle. He ran but did not stumble. He exercised deafness to the clamour of critics who saw fall of quality. But his products and their parents are his legacy today. He also built the state’s first and only university, the Lagos State University, which is one of the best tertiary institutions in the country today.
He did not only bring light to the heads of his fellow citizens, he also brought shade and shelter. All over the state are swaths of estate as memorials to his vision and doings. He constructed 38,000 units in 14 months. Even as a communicator, he established the Lagos Television, which still stands today. LTV established the Lagos Weekend Television (LTV), Nigeria’s first 24-hour TV broadcast.
His infrastructure work bears record. He constructed roads across the street, and instituted environmental weekends, and dug road-side drains that mockers saw as eyesores. Today, they have refined the fight against filth and flood.
His rural development work was not always rural. The flowering of places like Lekki and Banana Island testify to his cartographic discovery and pioneering. He opened them up for his predecessors. What may have been his most disruptive marvel, the Metroline Project, an intra-city rail network, fell to the decay of poor thinking of the military junta of Muhammadu Buhari.
Yet, no one can forget that the same Jakande sullied his sterling life when he joined the Abacha junta and failed to exit when his people suffered under the regime. The Yoruba tarred him with the reproach of traitor, and he never overcame it till his death. He lived long enough to tarnish his great record. History will determine how much his moral failing would affect the majesty of his gubernatorial stewardship.
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