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Tribute: Indeed, Jakande was a great leader

In September 1978, as a graduating student from the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ), Lagos, I had the honour of being the recipient of the Chairman’s Prize – Jakande’s Prize – for the Best Graduating Student. Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande (LKJ: 1929-2021) was then chairman of the Board of Governors of the institution and he presented the award himself at the City Hall on Lagos Island. As young journalists, many of us looked up to him because he was a man who practiced what he preached.

I had first met Alhaji Jakande in 1975 when as a young reporter; I was assigned to cover his visit to prisons in Benin City in his capacity as President of the Prisoners Welfare Association of Nigeria. I was then reporting for the Bendel State Ministry of Information and I followed him to the main prison on Sapele Road and the smaller one at Ogba, both in Benin.

That was my first experience visiting prisons, including the death row, and it stuck in my head because it was not a pretty sight, even then. But that was the beginning of the fond memories I have of the man.

As far back as the 70s, Alhaji Jakande was already involved in seeking the good and welfare of people, including those who had lost their privileges. It was not surprising to those of us who knew him then when he entered politics and set examples way ahead of his other governor colleagues and taught them lessons in governance, rule of law and ‘welfarism’.

When incumbent Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu on Thursday, February 11, 2021 announced the death of Alhaji Jakande on his Twitter handle @jidesanwoolu, he described the deceased as a venerable statesman, outstanding politician and public administrator who spent a worthy life in the service of Lagos State, Nigeria and humanity.

According to Sanwo-Olu, “Baba Jakande’s record of service as a journalist of repute and a leader of remarkable achievements as governor of Lagos State will remain indelible for generations to come. His death is a colossal loss and he will be missed”.

Indeed, Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande was a great man. He would have been 92 on 23rd July 2021. He was the first democratically elected Governor of Lagos State between October 1979 and December 1983 and was in the third month of his second term when that democratic experience was truncated by the military coup of December 31, 1983 which brought General Muhammadu Buhari to power.

Before becoming Governor, LKJ, as he was popularly called, was a renowned journalist, editor and politician whose mentor was the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Jakande’s nickname, Baba Kekere or Small Baba (young Awo) was therefore a fond name for him by those who knew him in terms of his vision, philosophy and wisdom that were aligned with those of Awo who was the original Baba Agba or Big Daddy.

Apart from being the Editor-in-Chief of the Nigerian Tribune stable owned by Chief Awolowo, Jakande was chairman of the Board of Governors of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, when the pioneer journalism school was funded by the International Press Institute and run by professional journalists from Switzerland to develop the core of trained journalists who flew the profession’s flag from the 70s.

When LKJ was Governor, his Press Secretary then was my brother and friend, Prince Bayo Osiyemi who helped to chronicle the list of achievements by Baba Kekere – the Action Governor – when he was at the helm of affairs in Lagos State – in only 4 years and three months! The ever popular Jakande Housing Estates spotted all over Lagos State are some of his legacies.

Jakande’s government built the current Lagos State Secretariat which houses all the state ministries as well as the popular Round House hitherto occupied by all subsequent governors of the state. His government built the Lagos State House of Assembly complex, the Lagos State Television, the Lagos Radio, and the Lagos State University.

His government established General Hospital in zones all over the state with assurance of free health care, it also established Teacher Training College and the College of Education. It also established the Water Management Board and Waste Disposal Board, the Adiyan Water Works to increase water supply in the state to 18.16 million litres per day, modernised and expanded the Iju Water Works which was first commissioned in 1915. This increased daily capacity from 159 million to 204 million litres per day.

His government purchased and commissioned the giant car crusher equipment at Shale near Epe. The equipment was designed specifically to crush derelict vehicles in Lagos State. It had the capacity to crush 45 vehicles per day

Jakande also constructed, rehabilitated and resurfaced Epe/Ijebu-Ode Road, Oba Akran Avenue, Toyin Street, Town Planning Way, Alimosho-Idimu-Egbe Road, Idimu-Iba-LASU Road, the new secretariat road and several others.

His government constructed Victoria Island/Epe Road and thereby creating an ‘oil rig’ for Lagos State. His government established Asphalt Plant for the Department of Public Works at Ojodu-Berger, established Electricity Board for Rural Electrification with provision of street lights at the Old Secretariat Works yard opposite Air Force Base, Ikeja.

His government modernised, expanded and commissioned Onikan Stadium in 1982, established a singular school system and ensured genuine free education in Lagos State and the beneficiaries of this policy are in different positions of eminence in the country and around the world today

His government raised the primary schools in Lagos State to 812 with 533,001 pupils (against 605 primary schools with 434,545 pupils he met in 1979) and secondary schools to 223 with 167,629 students (against 105 schools with 107,835 students in 1979)

His government constructed 11, 729 classrooms with the maximum of 40 children per class between March and August 1980. By 1983, he had constructed over 22,000 classrooms

In July 1983, two commercial passenger boats christened “Baba Kekere” and “Itafaji” to run the Mile 2 – Marina (CMS) route via the lagoons were inaugurated by his government to mark the official launch of the Lagos State ferry services

His government took over the ownership and financing of Lagos State Printing Corporation in July 1980, and established the first State Traffic Management Authority (Road Marshals).

Jakande’s government also established small scale Industries Credit Scheme which preceded the EKO International Bank, established LASACO Insurance, expanded existing market and built new ones, and as well, established the Traditional Medicine Board.

He did all this in 4 years and 3 months! And did I mention that he preferred to reside in his Ilupeju home and be driven around in his trade-mark Toyota Crown moving library of a car, when he was governor? LKJ was indeed a great man!

Epa Ogie Eboigbe is a veteran journalist and public affairs specialist.

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