LKJ at 90: A life of unparalleled service to humanity
‘‘I am a living laboratory of my age… ….I am at once the cocoa farmer, the mercantile clerk, the civil servant, the petty trader, the transporter, the capitalist and the intellectual ( and now the politician)-all materials for the study of the social scientist
LKJ could not be said to be radically different from this role cast as he shares many of these attributes which characterise a typical Nigerian politician – Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ayo Rosiji, Adegoke Adelabu and even Obafemi Awolowo. Though, from the start, LKJ’s objectives in life was clear – to devote his life to his profession of political journalism and book publishing. He had also hoped to read law in order to prepare himself for the future, but this failed to materialise for reasons of finance. By the 24th of November, 1966, LKJ’s company, the John West Publications Limited had proposed to Awolowo that John West be allowed to publish Awo’s speeches under the title of Politics with Planning.
The substance of his life can be gleaned from four dimensions which are, of course not distinct but interconnected – These are; his early life of discipline perseverance, his professionalism in political journalism, his utilitarian approach to politics and rare ethical characteristics. My submission on LKJ at 90 will be weaved around these four pivotal and organizing themes. Of course, LKJ’s closeness to Chief Obafemi Awolowo must have influenced these core characteristics of Babakekere at 90. While in Port Harcourt, LKJ took an examination into the King’s College, Lagos, in 1943. His stay at the King’s College was brief. So, was his stay at the New Age Evening School in Lagos. But his stay at the Ilesha Grammar School was longer. Among his contemporaries at the Ilesha Grammar School were I. Irinoye (who later became the Chief Judge of Taraba State), Prof. Richard Ekundare, Prof. M.I. Jegede and Prof. C.O. Orangun. There were several other eminent Nigerians who passed through Ilesha Grammar School – Prince (Amb.) Adedokun Haastrup, Justice Kayode Eso, Chief Philip Uweadi, Justice Alfa Belgore among many others.
Definitely, it was evident that LKJ did not achieve his targeted ambition in education. There were many reasons for this but of utmost importance was his failure to secure a loan from his employed Chief Obafemi Awolowo to further his study in England to read Economics and later Law. Jekande as a young man, took on catered for members of his extended far more than expected for a young man. But he preserved and survived harsh times.
While at Ilesha Grammar School, LKJ founded the Boy and Literary Society which was the publisher of the Quarterly Mirror as Editor-in-Chief. Alhaji Lateef Jakande left school in 1949. It was on the strength of LKJ’s contributions in the Quarterly Mirror that he secured employment at The Daily Service. He was fully ready for a life of professionalism in political journalism. Upon his arrival at the office of the Daily Service, he met with the editor, Mr Olumuyiwa who was impressed by copies of The Quarterly Mirror which LKJ had taken along with him as testimonial. Mr Olumuyiwa requested LKJ to cover a court case then on going at Glover Memorial Hall in Lagos. On the strength of his coverage of the court’s case, LKJ was employed on the spot on a salary of £4 per month. This was how he commenced a career in which he made unparalleled contributions.
LKJ rose to the top in the newspapers industry. He was for years, the Managing Director of Allied Newspaper which he joined in 1959. He nurtured the Nigerian Tribune from a provincial newspaper to a national one with reputation for critiquing state and society. No newspaper then advocated for good governance than the Nigerian tribune. He brought the International Press Institute to Nigeria. As an austere, he expected his workers to be good managers of men and resources and also not to be deterred by harsh working conditions. He built the tribune complex in Ibadan using direct labour. He did the same with the popular Jakande schools and low cost houses. He was not generally regarded as a good employer of labour.
A thorough professional that he was, Jakande believe that every journalist should take responsibility for his stories. Thus sometimes in the early months of 1970, both Awofeso (Awolowo’s nephew) and Ebenezer Babatope (Later the Director of Organization of the UPN in the second republic) were taken to Dodan Barracks by LKJ where they were wanted for a story on Busia. Busia had then sneaked into Nigeria to plead with the Nigerian government on the expulsion of Nigerians from Ghana in 1969. Awofeso heard of Busia’s mission and made a story out of it. Babatope was then the Lagos City editor of the paper. The story angered the military authorities which demanded that the two reporters be produced. The story was captioned by LKJ himself thus ‘‘WHY BUSIA THIS TIME”?
Without doubt, LKJ’s prominence and relevance in contemporary Nigeria was because of his unbeatable record in Lagos state. No Governor before or after him had done so much to put smiles on the faces of the masses of Lagos state. Surprisingly, he did so much and without seeking personal gain and he did so with ease.
He was a dedicated friend of the poor.
In office (1979 – 1983) and out of it, LKJ wine and dine with the people. He demystify public office to the annoyance of those who treat people as slaves. He never sought public offices for members of his immediate family. Unlike the practice of today, Jakande listens to all and treat all equally. His house was once a Mecca of a sort. Nobody visit him without having his or her challenge addressed. Of course, he had neither naira nor dollars to give to the teaming masses that troop to his home, he nevertheless addresses their needs. For the past 20 years or so, LKJ had been busy introducing unemployed youths to potential employers and admission seekers to head of tertiary institutions.
Indeed, if there is any training that is so urgently moved by Nigeria’s political elites, it is one in leadership and the teacher should be no other than LKJ. At 90, I salute LKJ for his effective and efficient governance of Lagos State and for his services to Nigeria as a Minister of the Federal Republic.
• Lai Olurode, Professor of Sociology, University of Lagos.