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Jakande, iconic face of fearless journalism

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Jakande

Because of his monumental achievements in politics, specifically in the governance of Lagos State, it is easy to gloss over his giant strides in journalism, his first love. It is easy for the achievements to overshadow his indelible mark in journalism. I am referring to no other than Lateef Kayode Jakande. Step forward, LKJ, and upstanding everyone, yes, every reader, and fill your glasses. We are celebrating the birthday boy at 90, the colossus of Nigerian journalism, and a bright star on the world media stage, alias John West.

Journalism has its compelling way of shaping the vision and a new you. It cannot but be so. Journalism makes its practitioners to march in the column of the downtrodden and sits in the congregation of the lowly. It also throws the practitioner to swing in the circles of the high and the noble, and be at the table with kings, the prime movers of the society.

In the gathering women or in the assembly of the worshippers of Bacchus, he is there to be counted, either as a participant or simply to keep company and watch. In the process, the journalist is brought to experience man, his strengths and his foibles, his peccadillos, indeed the nature of men in general. All of this helps to sharpen gaze and shape vision, if alert, to mature him. In the end, he is imbued with idealism and this indefinable attendant restless spirit of public service: to fight, to create and to build for the public good. Any wonder, they are easily worthy and celebrated ambassadors of their profession.

Name them: Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Anthony Enahoro, Lateef Jakande, Bisi Onabanjo, Adamu Ciroma, and Olusegun Osoba to list only a few. Enahoro and Ciroma may not have been governors or premiers, their contributions to shaping the destiny of Nigeria are unmistakable. Enahoro it was who moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence in 1953 on the platform and on behalf of his party, the Action Group, and Ladoke Akintola also of Action Group moved another motion in 1959 for independence on October 1, 1960, following reforms engendered by McPherson Constitution of 1954.

Adamu Ciroma was the pioneer editor and later managing director of the New Nigerian of old which no government, federal or state could ignore. Nor could our leading politicians or leaders of the corporate world. Ciroma later became governor of Central Bank, and under Obasanjo Administration, Minister of Finance.

Jakande and Osoba, another poster boy of the Nigerian media community, are celebrating their birthdays this month. Osoba’s D-Day was 15 July and Jakande’s two days ago, Tuesday, 23 July. Osoba turned 80, and Jakande 90. I am taking Jakande first in line with seniority, and Osoba next week—as an insider!

Jakande came into journalism with his first port of call at the then Daily Service. From there he moved to the Nigerian Tribune. Until he left in 1979 upon becoming the first civilian Governor of Lagos State since the state’s creation in 1967, the name Jakande was synonymous with Tribune. One could not think of the Tribune without the mind racing to Lateef Jakande. He came to journalism sharing the philosophy of James Reston, the celebrated columnist of The New York Times who had said that because the President of the United States had too much power it was the Press that should help to counter-balance him.

Jakande, a gifted editorial writer, he was unsparing in his editorials. The editorial alone was the selling point of the Nigerian Tribune. It was fierce, pungent, yet robust, researched and well-argued. The editorials were compelling. It was such that legend had it that in his first coming as military Head of State, the first item to take on Obasanjo’s schedule before doing any other thing every morning was to read the Tribune editorial.

In the heady days when Gen. Gowon was in the saddle, Jakande said to IG Kam Salem that if the government found any of the hard-hitting Tribune editorials offensive, they should leave his editors alone, it was he the government should come for.

I recall, for example, the Tribune editorial after the Gowon Administration was ousted, and following a report of enquiry into the stewardship of the state governors, a majority of them fell short and were dismissed. Only two, Oluwole Rotimi and Mobolaji Johnson were cleared of any abuse of office, with no trace of corrupt practices.

The Tribune likened in utter disappointment one of the dismissed officers with Naaman. The said governor was outstanding and exemplary in application to duty in the service to his people and was consequently greatly liked throughout the country. He was resourceful and full of energy. The Tribune said of him after he fell, quoting from 2Kings 5: 10 and 14: “Naaman was a valiant soldier, but alas he was a leper.”

According to the Scriptures, Naaman was the captain of the host of the king of Syria. He was greatly esteemed by the king and Syrians because he was a man of valour who had “brought deliverance unto Syria.”

The king was concerned about his health condition and besought Elisha the prophet to do something about it. Elisha acceded and told Naaman to go to River Jordan and dip himself in the river seven times. Naaman, as celebrated figures are wont to do, poohpoohed it and shrugged his shoulders. He demurred.

In the end, he overcame his arrogance and did as the prophet admonished him to do, and he was healed. The point Jakande sought to bring out in his editorial was that the governor under reference had done well in his assignment in public service and was admired and esteemed by all and sundry, no one suspected he could be probity-deficient.

The Tribune editorial published on February 1976, helped to rekindle my memory of what Jakande had said to my class at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ) some years earlier. He said to us that the rule of journalism demands that “a good journalist must know something about everything and everything about something!” That Alhaji Jakande could delve so authoritatively into the Bible validates the rule he enunciated and that he was a practitioner of the credo.

Gay Talese says in his book on The New York Times titled The Kingdom and the Power: “… there was a lingering notion that The Times was not a business, but a calling.” This aptly defines The Tribune under Jakande’s watch as its Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief. The Tribune fought battles, fought for Nigeria’s independence; it took on repressive regimes and won all the battles, but not without a price.

During the crisis in the Western Region, the government banned the newspaper. The irrepressible newspaper, however, would not bow in the spirit of its founder Obafemi Awolowo. The newspaper still came out, and Jakande and his editor, Ayo Ojewumi, wrote their editorials from prison with contributions from Bisi Onabanjo, also in incarceration, and Bola Ige. Emiola, (now Professor) got into the saddle as editor and to ensure the paper came out.

How can a person know something about everything and everything about something if he does not read widely? You have no place in the newsroom of the Daily Times of Henry Odukomaiya as an editor, and Kunle Animashaun and Chief Theo Ola as News Editors.

Odukomaiya, the editor of editors, would just burst into the newsroom and start a discussion on this or that book. Have you listened to BBC, VOA, Radio Nigeria, etc? Editor Sam Amuka (Sad Sam) and Aremu Alabi could be seen clutching fat books in their hands. Adagogo Jaja could humiliate you in the corridor. Allah-De would deflate you with his accustomed humour if you had not read that book or the London Times. They kept us on our toes. I knew where they were coming from. Jakande proved to journalists that the newsroom is a school from where you never graduate. It is reading and reading without ceasing.

How else could it have been otherwise for Jakande who had to sit at the feet of the sage, the founder of Nigerian Tribune, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, to learn and to discuss the world? In the end, Jakande and Awolowo related like Siamese twins, one able to read the mind of the other. Between 1978 and early 1979 in furtherance of efforts at building his Committee of Friends, Chief Awolowo was away in Maiduguri.

The Federal Government announced a policy in Lagos that got the chief to feel uneasy. How he longed to be in Lagos to call a press conference! Surprisingly on getting to the airport in Lagos, he found that Tribune had written an editorial on the subject. In content and flow, in robustness, it was as if the two of them had sat down to discuss the subject matter.

Jakande would wake up by 5:00 a.m., and after prayers head for office opposite Niger House on Broad Street. By between 7 and 8 o’clock, Jakande had read all the newspapers in the land and by 9:00 a.m. he had banged out his editorial for the next day, ready to be dictated on phone to Ibadan, or faxed.

When necessary, it might have to be taken down to Ibadan by road. When he closed for the day, he would head for Surulere residence of Chief Awolowo and to Parklane, after Chief Awolowo relocated to Apapa. Any wonder he came out in the image of his leader and mentor in journalism and politics. His organisational ability was breath-taking.

Jakande was president of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, the first President of the Newspapers Proprietors Association, a position he held until close to his election as governor of Lagos State, handing the baton over to Olu Aboderin the chairman of Punch Newspapers. Under Jakande’s leadership in 1964, the Nigerian Press had a Code of Conduct for Journalists. This was revised and strengthened by NPO, the Nigerian Press Organization, in 1979.

Jakande was instrumental to the founding of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism of which he was the chairman, Board of Trustees. He went to Australia to recruit the first director of the institute, Mr. Harris, from The Age newspapers.

A widely traveled man, he was President of the International Press Institute, (IPI), the international organisation safeguarding Press freedom all over the world founded in 1950. It could not then have come as a surprise that the battle he was waging for press freedom and the dignity of the journalist in parts of the world, he had to do the same at home.

Mobilising the Nigerian Press forces, he took on the battle with Alfred Diette-Spiff to restore Amakiri’s dignity. Diette-Spiff, governor of Rivers State caused Mr. Amakiri’s head to be shaven because he published an unfavourable story on the governor’s birthday without his consent! Human rights lawyers led by Gani Fawehinmi and assisted by Dr. Olu Onagoruwa were gathered by NPAN and Guild of Editors as their lawyers.

The court awarded damages against the government of River State. Jakande was not only a newspaper administrator, an editorial writer, but a columnist as well which he signed as John West. He was a reporter at large for Tribune and he had solid news sources. In 1978, he filed a report from Saudi Arabia on Hajj operation of that year and what Nigerian pilgrims faced.

The achievements of LKJ, Lateef Jakande in politics and governance of Lagos State are an open book whether in education, health, infrastructural development, and transformation. Upon being sworn in as governor, he hit the ground running. His first pronouncement was to abolish the shift system prevalent in the state.

In some schools, there were three shifts when different sets of students and pupils took turns to use the available classrooms. In a majority what was common was two shifts. He moved swiftly to build simple and functional classrooms in schools and neighbourhoods to bring schools closer to the learners. The schools were models which UNESCO applauded and recommended for several developing countries in similar situations as Lagos. Education was free and books were supplied also free. He set up mini-water works in neighbourhoods. Jakande established Lagos State University (LASU) with satellite campuses in different zones of the state. Quarters were built for staffers, lecturers and all at Badagry for those on the main campus at Ojoo.

In health, he expanded facilities by building more general hospitals in Ikorodu and Gbagada. To ease the perennial Lagos transport problem, he established ferry services from Festac to Marina. He started the building of Metroline that was to ferry about 500,000 commuters a day terminating at Yaba. The Metroline was being built by Spibat, a French company chaired by Chief Michael Ibru. The damages awarded against the Nigerian government for the cancellation were enough to build the railway from the beginning to finish.

Housing estates sprang in different parts of the state to curb acute accommodation in Lagos. They were sold on the owner-occupier basis.He set up mortgage homes to assist interested workers. Some of the red bricks used came from Maiduguri following which he established a red-brick factory in Badagry and a coconut factory. Roads were built and paved in all parts of the state and neighbourhoods. He established what is now known as LASMA after Federal authorities shot down his establishment of State Police.

Jakande worked striking like lightning everywhere. It was one miracle after another. How did he achieve this much within a space of four years at the end of which he was overwhelmingly returned in the election of 1983? Before his nomination to fly the UPN flag, he had gone around all the towns, districts and constituencies in Lagos State. He commissioned papers aside from the knowledge of the state he garnered during his working visits to different areas. The study included funding. His was the first budget to hit and surpass the N1billion appropriation mark in the history of the state. From his administration, Lagos became the most financially buoyant state in the whole of the federation, raking in billions of Naira every year in internally generated revenue (IGR).

Jakande, journalist, editor, publisher, administrator par excellence, lived modestly in his own house at Ilupeju and drove his own car. He had time for the lowly and the mighty in his house after office hours, personally jotting down notes. He read every letter posted to him. He applied himself without reservation in the service of the people of Lagos State and Nigeria in general. He forged a bond with Borno State. There were exchanges and there was financial assistance as well. The two states learned from each other. The performance was so stupendous that President Ibrahim Babangida sounded Jakande out if he would like to be President of Nigeria. He encouraged him to throw his hat into the ring to perform the Lagos miracle in all parts of the country.

Now he is frail with age, but a great many gathered on Tuesday to wish him strength, and join in the most deserved felicitations for an icon, an unmatched colossus that gave his all in the service of humanity. He was all over the world as President of the International Press Institute speaking for the voiceless to regain their freedom and beaming professional light in all the free world. Hip! Hip1 Hip! Hurrah. There goes a great leader, LKJ!!!.

Jakande worked striking like lightning everywhere. It was one miracle after another. How did he achieve this much within a space of four years at the end of which he was overwhelmingly returned in the election of 1983? Before his nomination to fly the UPN flag, he had gone round all the towns, districts and constituencies in Lagos State. He commissioned papers aside from the knowledge of the state he garnered during his working visits to different areas. The study included funding. His was the first budget to hit and surpass the N1billion appropriation mark in the history of the state.


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