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Legendary Baba Kekere, Lateef Jakande, quits the stage

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Jakande

In life and in death, Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande was a man of many firsts. And his footprint, as well as the epithet – the first civilian governor of Lagos State, will endure as long as the state exists.

“You mean Jakande is living in Ilupeju? I can’t believe it. I thought he lives in Lekki or Ikoyi,” is always the refrain from first-timers going to the Ilupeju residence of Alhaji Jakande, popularly known as LKJ. Born on July 29, 1929, he served as the first governor of Lagos between October 1979 and December 1983 when he religiously implemented the four cardinal programmes of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN).

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He was until his death one of the last men standing among the group of eminent Nigerians who served their respective states as first civilian governors. He was Lagos governor for four years and three months, having been re-elected for a second term in 1983, only for the tenure to be truncated by a military coup.

Till date, nearly 40 years after, his legacies pervade the entire length and breadth of Lagos. Many market men and women, artisans, traders, Danfo drivers, Okada riders and businessmen in Lagos might not have met him before but his name resonates often among them. Jakande’s record has not been surpassed by any governor, be it military or civilian, that served afterwards.

Despite bestriding the state’s political sphere like a colossus, Baba Kekere, as he was fondly called (a reference to Awolowo Junior), lived a decent and modest life, and enjoyed the later part of his life in his one-storey building at Ilupeju.

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Unlike many politicians who amassed stupendous wealth and resources after serving in any capacity and acquiring mansions and flashy cars, LKJ lived a modest life in retirement as a politician and one of the most successful media managers the country ever produced, having started as a journalist, rising through the ranks to become the Editor-in-Chief of Tribune newspapers, and then a newspaper publisher.

His No. 2 Bishop Street, Ilupeju residence was devoid of the paraphernalia expected in a former governor’s residence, especially one of such status. Except for a few people who visited him to solicit assistance in securing jobs, the former governor’s residence was never a beehive of activities where people thronged.

It was to his eternal credit that he lived long enough to watch his baby, Lagos developed tremendously throughout the years. According to him, he is fulfilled that he was able to provide mass houses for Lagosians and implemented free education. 

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Many people believe that Lagos State has not done well to appreciate a man who gave his all in the service of the state, who professed philosophy of service above self and accomplished projects and programmes that directly touch the lives of the people till today. 

Sadly though, unlike former presidents and heads of state who had served this country, only former governors who served from 1999 at the onset of the fourth republic can claim access to substantial resources from the pension and retirement benefits allocated to former governors. Those who served prior to 1999 were exempted from the pension. This is where many analysts fault the present crop of politicians for not adequately taking care of those who laid the foundation for them.

A chieftain of Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, noted that Jakande while alive would not even accept the kind of pension and retirement benefits which the governors allocated to themselves.

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“What they are allocating to themselves is immoral, criminal and I don’t think people like Jakande can take that. I don’t know why former governors should not be given their due and supported in their old age in decent ways,” he said. 

Odumakin added: “He (Jakande) remains a reference point of governance in Lagos State. He recorded unparalleled achievements. Nobody has met his standard. He faithfully implemented the four cardinal programmes of the UPN in his four years in terms of education, health, housing and the rest of them.

“The man has a name. He and Samuel Mbakwe of the old Imo State and Abubakar Rimi of Kano State, these were the old governors of the 80s and I think we should be able to recognize them and give them a prominent place in our national life but that has not been done.”     

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One area where Jakande endeared himself to the hearts of every Lagosian was in the implementation of mass housing projects across the state, the same way he built schools and put in place many iconic projects that have become permanent features of Lagos today.
 
His low-cost houses are in Ijaiye, Dolphin, Oke-Afa, Ije, Abesan, Iponri, Ipaja, Abule Nla, Epe, Amuwo-Odofin, Anikantamo, Surulere, Iba, Ikorodu, Badagry, Isheri/Olowu, and Orisigun. The houses were allocated to workers in a way that was quite easy and convenient for them to pay.
 
Lateef Jakande’s government built the current Lagos State Secretariat, which houses all the state ministries as well as the popular Round House, which was occupied by subsequent governors until Babatunde Fashola moved to the Lagos House.

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Other monuments he embarked upon were the House of Assembly complex, State Television, Lagos Radio and Lagos State University. He also established the General Hospital in all zones in the state, a Teacher Training College and a College of Education, the Water Management Board and Waste Disposal Board.

Also notable among his achievements was the construction of numerous waterworks, to ensure availability of potable water.  Jakande was said to have modernized and expanded the Iju Water Works, which was first commissioned in 1915. This increased its daily capacity from 159 million to 204 million litres of water per day.    
His administration constructed, rehabilitated and resurfaced the Epe/Ijebu-Ode Road, Oba Akran Avenue, Toyin Street, Town Planning Way, Alimosho-Idimu-Egbe Road, Idimu-Iba-LASU Road and the new secretariat road, among others.   

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In the area of education, Jakande’s government raised 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 a 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 named “Baba Kekere” and “Itafaji” to run the Mile 2 – Marina (CMS) route via the lagoon were inaugurated by his government to mark the official launch of the Lagos State Ferry Services. He established the Small Scale Industries Credit Scheme which preceded the EKO Bank as well as LASACO Assurance Company.

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His attempt to revolutionalise rail transportation in the state was quashed when Major Gen. Muhammadu Buhari toppled the civilian administration of Alhaji Shehu Shagari and cancelled the Metroline project.

While many public officials who, despite loud claims to have delivered “the dividends of democracy,” are not ashamed to rush off to foreign countries at the slightest excuse, including grounds of ill health, Jakande, historians state, did not for once travel out of Nigeria during the four years he was Lagos State governor from 1979 to 1983.

If he traveled out of Nigeria at other times, he did it rather sparingly in an official capacity. He was a man of Spartan habits, a man of great personal discipline and focus who, first as a journalist and later as a governor, knew that performance was of the essence. He excelled in journalism, especially as an editor at the Tribune group of newspapers.

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His tenure as governor was marked by the same results-oriented zeal. He shunned the trappings of office, abjured self-aggrandizement, and decided, instead, to set about the task of achieving certain goals. He promised free education for all school-age kids in Lagos and delivered on it. He pledged free healthcare and made it happen. He said he would provide affordable housing for low and medium-income earners, and he built more than 20,000 units.

As a governor, Mr. Jakande did not court the image of an intellectual; he was content to cleave to the idea of service. He did not come across as charismatic, and would not be favoured to dominate a debate. He had his eyes set on the prize—delivering the goods to his constituents.

His achievements didn’t mean an absence of critics. Some questioned the quality of facilities at the majority of the new schools he built. Some argued that the hospitals in the state were mediocre. Besides, no critic could accuse Mr. Jakande of hypocrisy as a leader, or of having two standards—one for himself, the other for the rest of the state’s residents. In fact, he ensured that members of his family went to the same state-run schools and hospitals.

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He was once asked during an interview: “Your children attended public schools. How do you feel today that leaders send their children abroad to school?” His answer was straight to the point: “I feel that it is wrong and unfair for leaders to educate their children abroad while other children are educated in Nigeria. It is not fair.”

Those were the words of a man of deep convictions. If you are a president and insist you are God’s gift to Nigeria, or a governor who contends that you are the very definition of exemplary leadership, prove it by living the way most of the people you presume to govern live.

During his 85th birthday in 2014, Jakande had expressed shock that he never thought he could attain the age of 85. According to the former governor, reaching the age of 85 was God’s blessing for him and his family.

Jakande, who was very happy to hear the majority of the guests attended some of the schools he built during his time, said: “I never thought I could still sit here at 85, in 2014 to hear people saying they attended a Jakande school. I remember that when we started implementing all our policies in education while I was governor, many people said it could not be done. Today, it is a different story. It is God’s doing and it is marvellous in my sight.”

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