Once upon a time, he was known from coast to coast, and from sea to shining sea in Nigeria, as the beloved action Governor of Lagos State, and a potential successor to Obafemi Awolowo. You could say all you want about Awo, but one point, that is never in dispute, are his legacies as the best friend of the common man in our country. He was arguably the best politician and statesman of our time, if you factor in, his imperishable achievements as Premier in the old Western Region of Nigeria, and in his accomplishments as Deputy Chairman of the Federal Executive Council and Federal Commissioner for Finance with Yakubu Gowon as Military Head of State.
If any of the civilian Governors of the LOOBO States at one time could be called the exact reincarnation of Awolowo, the name that stood out, was Lateef Kayode Jakande. He was, in fact. named and fondly referred to, by acclamation, as “Baba Kekere” meaning younger Daddy or successor to the Big Daddy. Obafemi Awolowo. It was an appellation L.K.J. had truly earned based on his performance in Lagos State, the gateway as well as the commercial center of Nigeria, and his role as a fearless journalist who had always sided with the people with his mighty pen. It is true he had never seen the four walls of a University, but Lateef Jakande can stand his own against any graduate from any of the best Universities in the world. He is that good with his pen and intellect.
Lateef Jakande was well on his way to national prominence as a young man, and many, including yours truly, had thought that if any southerner would ever get to be President of Nigeria, the consensus of opinion at one time, was that L.K.J. had to be the man. He was an accomplished journalist before entering Politics, and a great admirer and student of Awolowo brand of Politics and Political engineering and sophistication. In fact, he did, at one point in his amazing career, head the International Press Institute, and was one of the first Africans to be so honored. He was one of the most powerful editorial writers for the Tribune and arguably for the whole country, whose pen was considered mightier than the sword. Many in our country had considered him totally incorruptible, and his life style profoundly reflects that better than those of any Nigerian in public life, with the possible exception of Awolowo. As Governor, he had set a public example, like Awo, by living in his own private house in Ilupeju area of Lagos. He had shunned official cars and protocol by living among the people, feeling and sharing their pains, and driving his own private car, a Toyota Laurel jalopy he had bought several years before becoming Governor. The only flamboyant dress he ever worn was his famous “Buba” and “Soro” and the Jakande trademark cap which bears his name to this day. He was an exceptional Governor, and easily the best civilian Governor of his era in Nigeria.
If he had left the stage or had quit partisan politics at that point in his career he would, no doubt, have also earned the fitting appellation given Obafemi Awolowo by the Cicero of Nigeria, the one and only Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu who had called Awolowo, “the best President, Nigeria never had” Jakande was that good, and he was loved and respected by all Nigerians for who he was. But that was then. He himself should be amazed about how his life and public perception of it has changed for the worse. It sometimes makes me wonder how death, the end of Life and the great divide, has sometimes intervened as a saving grace for some individuals whose names and reputation might possibly have been damaged or tainted irredeemably and permanently, had they lived longer. Such individuals, and they are scattered all over the world, have proved to us the wisdom of not overstaying their welcome in this world by leaving the stage, while the ovation was loudest. A few names of great politicians and statesmen in our country and beyond, readily come to mind.
I can’t help but invoke the name of Patrice Lumumba the first Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo, who could possibly have self -destruct had he survived the evil machinations of his colonial enemies. So was JFK the youngest American President in history. His wicked death in 1963 at the hand of an assassin in Dallas had made him a martyr of all times and a national hero in the minds of his people and the whole world, because he had left the stage at the peak of his glory. Lateef Kayode Jakande would certainly have been so elevated and honored for life had he quit partisan politics at the most appropriate time, instead of going to dinner with the devil, and putting at risk, in one fell swoop, all his credibility as a man and a politician. For what exactly does it benefit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul and self respect or esteem in the process. To me, Lateef Jakande is one disastrous victim of that mindset as we speak, because if you have never been to the valley, you cannot fully appreciate the joy and the glory of being on a mountain top.
We all still remember with nostalgia the 200 hundred days of Murtala Mohammed as Military Head of State of Nigeria and how his whole life and career had been impacted and transformed by that event. I personally served under Murtala Mohammed in the Ministry of Defense Headquarters, Marina from January 3rd 1968 to August 1968 when he was Chairman of the Senior Army Officers Recruitment panel. The young dapper don, Yussuf Gobir from Ilorin, was Permanent Secretary. Mr. B.G. Popo from Delta area was Deputy Permanent Secretary, and Mr. S.A .Ogunleye was Principal Assistant Secretary (Army) and I was Assistant Secretary (Army) in those days. Among our other colleagues in the civilian arm of the Ministry at the time, as I recall, were Mr. Bello and Mr. T. P. Enodien among others. Then Major and later General Agbazikah Innih was then Military Secretary and Captain, later General I.O.S Nwachukwu was Deputy Military Secretary. I was Secretary to the panel and Murtala Mohammed was Chairman.
I came to know Murtala very closely, before he was later moved to the war front where I understand he was in command, when the famous Abagana Disaster had occurred. It never occurred to me at the time I was working under a future Head of State. I knew he had his strong and weak points, and we all do. But one thing was very clear to me at the time. He was a man of action, and was always in a hurry, as if he was running against time for some inexplicable reason, or was, for ever struggling to get his job done and to move on to something else. He had that streak about him, and he, sure. carried it to Dodan Barracks, and it showed in all of his activities as the best Nigerian Head of Government till tomorrow. He too had left the stage while the ovation was loudest, might add.
How about Awolowo himself. Even though he had lived to 76, I guess you could say Awolowo had also left the stage probably at the end of his mission in this world and before making his transition to the next world. Awolowo had believed and he had said so loud and clear, in some of his writings, that Life does not end with death, and I guess he was right. How about Madiba Nelson Mandela? Here was a man who had devoted all of his life for championing the cause of his country against all odds, spending 27 years of his life in jail at Robin Island, for the same cause, and still coming out of jail to continue the struggle, and to fight Apartheid to the very end with everything he has got. He later became the first Black President of a free South Africa. He had laid a very sound foundation for his country, and he quietly quit the stage while the ovation was loudest. He is today one of the foremost world leaders of all times, the pride of Africa and the conscience of the world.
Lateef Kayode Jakande could possibly have left the stage while the ovation was loudest, but he did not choose to do that. He had chosen to go the opposite route, much to the disappointment of his admirers and well wishers in Nigeria The first and only time I ever met Lateef Jakande face to face was at a Church Service at Owo marking one of the last Birthdays of Pa Adekunle Ajasin. I sat a few rows behind him at the Service attended by the cream of NADECO politicians and eminent personalities from all walks of life across the country. Jakande was then serving as Minister of Works and Housing under General Abacha’s Government, but has come to Owo to honor Papa’s invitation as an old colleague, even though I suspect he was not, at the time, in good terms with the majority of his former ideological soul mates in the old UPN and NADECO which Papa Ajasin was leading at the time. He and Ebenezer Babatope had taken ministerial appointments under, Abacha, against the objection of their former colleagues in NADECO. Lateef Jakande, barely noticed or acknowledged by anyone, had come to the Service in his old yellow old car that had become his trademark in Nigeria. He had quietly left the Church, avoided coming to the reception, and disappeared to no where after the Service, because he just intuitively knew all his popular appeal was gone. There was not a single shout of L.K.J. He was treated as an unknown soldier, and he knew it from all we could see and observe. I knew, like Wole Soyinka, right there and then, that the man had died in a figurative sense.
As I sat behind him looking at him with his famous decrepit horsetail by his side, all I could remember were his days as the action Governor of Lagos State, and his days as the alter ego of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, when Jakande was always talk of the town. Of course the second point I could not get off my mind, was a question which has been my motivation for writing this piece today. Is Lateef Kayode Jakande still fit to be called a friend or an enemy of the common man in Nigeria today? The remaining part of this article will be devoted to answering that question.
Lateef Kayode Jakande as Minister of Works and Housing under Sani Abacha had launched a national housing program that he himself had claimed was going to provide affordable housing to all poor Nigerians across the nation, and in every state of the Federation. Based on his credibility and reputation as the action Governor of Lagos State and a serious politician of consequence in Nigeria, I know many poor people in Nigeria who went and obtain Bank loans at ridiculously high interest, to be able to make a down payment for the Housing Units as advised by Jakande. I, for one, had paid a sum of 40,000.00 at the time to the Federal Mortgage Bank at Akure as a down payment for a unit that Jakande had made all Nigerians believe he was going to make available to all of us within a few months. It had turned out to be a hoax. The down payments were collected in millions by the Abacha Government, but not a single unit was sold to any one until the Abacha Government was swept out of office, following Abacha’s death, and the emergence of Abubakar and Akhigbe led Military Government. Lateef Kayode Jakande who calls himself the friend of the common man is still alive and well today, and he knew what has happened to that moribund project of his. He has not lifted a finger, after being forced out of the Abacha Government. Many of those loans taken by Nigerians have more than doubled or quadrupled, and not a single unit of a house had been delivered to any one, and the initial deposit has never been refunded to anyone, including my self, till tomorrow.
The only thing I have heard, is Jakande, running his mouth, and extolling the virtues of Abacha in the News media, and telling the nation, Abacha was a good man and a better manager of the nation’s Economy, and that he himself had done the right thing by joining his Cabinet, and would do it again if he had the chance. The question I ask Jakande today is what has he done to draw the attention of the subsequent Governments to all those down payments that were received from poor Nigerians, but which were never refunded back to them up till now? As a former civilian Governor and elder statesman in Nigeria and as a public figure and a world famous journalist, what has he done to make sure that poor people are not made poorer by a Government claiming to be serving their best interest? Many Nigerians were deceived into participating in that program, because we had thought that Jakande was for real. We little realized until very late, that Jakande was not all that different from Abacha himself who had stolen so much from the country that his family could live for the next hundred years or more without working to earn a living like the rest of us.
Lateef Jakande may have, once upon a time, acted and behaved like a friend of the common man in Nigeria. Not any more. He is decidedly one of our enemies and I can tell you his political sun has set, never again to rise, because he has betrayed the people. Any politician that does that, more often than not, is not entitled to a second chance. Neither is Lateef Jakande, if you ask me.
I rest my case.
Dr. Wunmi Akintide.