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Power and the temptations of Jakande

By Dare Babarinsa
18 February 2021   |   3:44 am
There was something almost disturbing about Jakande’s simplicity. It was as if he was openly mocking the decadent Nigerian power elites, both military and civilian, for their obsession with luxury and comfort.

[FILES] Alhaji Lateef Jakande

There was something almost disturbing about Jakande’s simplicity. It was as if he was openly mocking the decadent Nigerian power elites, both military and civilian, for their obsession with luxury and comfort. When he became governor in 1979, he insisted he would run Lagos from home. His neighbours did not need any special appointment or protocol to see the powerful man. Once you are sure he was at home, just walk across and it would soon be your turn to talk to the governor.

Jakande was a believer in the power for the government to change the life of the citizens. He was an apostle in the Awolowo School of Leadership whose ethos is that the leader makes the difference. When he got to power in 1979, he was confronted with major obstacles. One major obstacle was the failure of Obafemi Awolowo to win the presidency. He knew with that singular failure, it would be difficult, but not impossible, to implement the four cardinal programmes of the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN. The programmes were Free Education, Free Health Service, Integrated Rural Development and Full Employment. There was no doubt that Jakande discharged his assignment with evident credit.

We should not forget that Jakande spent only one term in office. He won his second term and was three months into it when the military struck and consigned the Second Republic into the dustbin of history. December 31, 1983, Jakande was arrested at 2:00 a.m., while working at the Lagos State House on the Marina. The new military regime, headed by Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, cancelled the Lagos city metroline project for which the state government had already paid more than $100 million. That money was lost and the government had to pay more when it lost the case instituted against it by the aggrieved French contractor.

The new military regime could not cancel the new Lagos State University, for it was already at an advanced stage, but it scuttled the masterplan to make it a collegiate university with faculties in places like Ikorodu, Epe and Badagry. Jakande’s four years’ performance and the performances of his colleagues in the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, during the Second Republic, remain the measuring-rod for governors, especially in the South-West, till today.

At the beginning of the current dispensation in 1999, there was a debate whether our governors should voluntarily agree not to run for a second term. This was proposed by some leaders of Alajobi so that the governors can participate in the onerous task of leadership recruitment which had been the bane of Nigerian politics. In 2001, I was invited to give the 79th birthday lecture of Senator Abraham Aderibigbe Adesanya, the leader of Afenifere at the National Arts Theatre, Lagos. I put the case forward before the august audience that our governors should not run for a second term. Many members of our group, Alajobi, considered the second-term option a distraction to good performance in the first term. The suggestion was well received by the audience. However, the governors were hostile to the idea. One of the governors believed that we were canvassing for one term because one of our colleagues in the Alajobi was intent on toppling him.

Jakande’s public life was predicated on his belief in the Awoist principles. If Awolowo was Baba, Jakande was lauded by his supporters as Baba Kekere, (Small father). There was a subtle rivalry between him and Chief Bola Ige, the Governor of old Oyo State who was nicknamed by his supporters as Arole Awolowo (Awolowo’s heir apparent). It was clear Awolowo trusted these two men explicitly. They were eager to outdo each other.

Jakande and Ige were involved with their colleagues in the formation of the Progressive Governors’ Meeting, which comprised ultimately all the governors of the other parties apart from the ruling National Party of Nigeria, NPN. The attempt to form the Progressive Parties Alliance floundered because the alliance was like a monster with two heads. Neither Awolowo of the UPN nor Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe of the Nigerian Peoples Party, NPP, was ready to allow the other run for the presidency as the sole candidate of the alliance.

Jakande later led the UPN team into an alliance talk with the so-called Committee of Concerned Citizens, the public face of the shadowy Kaduna mafia, which endorsed Awolowo for the 1983 presidential elections. The group also produced Awolowo’s running mate, Alhaji Muhammadu Kura from Bauchi State, in the 1983 presidential election. Shagari defeated the alliance when he brought the NPN bandwagon into town during which time two UPN governors, Ige of Oyo and Ambrose Alli of Bendel State, lost to their NPN challengers. It was also during the 1983 elections that Chief Cornelius Adebayo emerged as the UPN Governor of Kwara State, with the help of the NPN strongman, Dr Olusola Saraki.

Jakande was an enthusiastic Awoist whose record of service was considered sterling. He joined the Daily Service shortly after leaving Ilesha Grammar School in 1948. He became editor of Awolowo’s Nigerian Tribune in 1953 at 24. He became Editor-in-Chief in 1956 at age 27. He was one of those AG leaders who stood trial with Chief Awolowo in 1963 and was only released from prison by General Yakubu Gowon in 1966.

Despite his sterling performance as governor, two events were to affect Jakande’s relationship with Papa Awo in later years. One was the UPN Congress held at the National Arts Theatre in 1982. Chief Awolowo had proposed that in order to ensure a united front for the next election, the party should give each of the governors, automatic re-nomination. Going by the trend of contributions to that debate, it was apparent that most members would endorse Awolowo’s proposal. However, the opposition, especially those from Oyo, Ondo and Bendel (now Edo and Delta) were well prepared. One of the delegates from Oyo State, Oluwadare Awe, from Ilesha, pulled the head of a fire extinguisher and the resulting explosion, sent everyone scattering for safety. They thought it was a bomb! When the meeting reconvened, Jakande was ready with a counter-proposal to Awolowo’s own. There should no longer be automatic re-nomination for governors, he said. The Jakande’s proposal was carried by the Congress. It was believed that Jakande did not clear his counter-proposal with the leader.

That event had serious effect on Jakande’s relationship with his colleagues, the other governors. He was detained along with other top politicians after the 1983 coup by the new Buhari regime. He, along with the others, was released from detention in 1985. On May 9, 1987, Papa Awolowo died. I cannot remember now what role Jakande played in the elaborate obsequies of Awolowo. After the burial, the Awoists started meeting in Owo, under the leadership of Chief Adekunle Ajasin, the former Governor of old Ondo State. Even at that time, Jakande again was at odd with his colleagues who had adopted Chief Olu Falae as their presidential candidate. Jakande decided to run for presidency in defiance of Afenifere but ended up in detention courtesy of the General Ibrahim Babangida dictatorship.

But Lagosians loved and trusted Jakande and they wanted him to be in charge of their state. He endorsed Professor Femi Agbalajobi to be governor, but the opposition to him within the Social Democratic Party, SDP, was strong. The SDP faction, led by Major-General Shehu Yar’Adua, had a strong posse in Lagos under the leadership of Yomi Edu and Dapo Sarumi and they countered Jakande with their nomination of Dapo Sarumi for the same ticket. Stalemate! This paved the way for the emergence of Sir Michael Otedola, a fellow journalist and former Chief Press Secretary to the late Chief Ladoke Akintola, as the governor of Lagos State on the ticket of the National Republican Convention, NRC.

Those were turbulent days, made more turbulent by the sudden annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election result won by Chief Moshood Abiola of Jakande’s SDP. In the ensuing roiling crisis, General Ibrahim Babangida stepped down as the Nigerian ruler and after an interregnum headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan, General Sani Abacha, seized power. It was apparent that Chief Abiola was in the know about the Abacha coup. A meeting was held of the inner caucus of Abiola’s supporters and it was agreed that members can participate in the new Abacha government. The Awoists too, meeting at the Ikeja home of Chief Alfred Rewane, agreed to send candidates to the Abacha regime.

Abacha had reached Jakande directly knowing that he had fallen out with the Awoist vanguard and Afenifere. He wanted Jakande to serve in his cabinet. Jakande said he would prefer to nominate Agbalajobi. Abacha would not agree. Jakande travelled to Ibadan to discuss the matter with Chief Ige, his old colleague. Eventually, Jakande agreed to participate in the Abacha government and was made Minister of Works and Housing.

Jakande took his assignment seriously, planning to build hundreds of thousands of housing units in Lagos, Abuja and other cities. Note that during his tenure as governor, he built 13 massive housing estates, a feat that was unprecedented in Nigeria and that has not been equal since. Housing was not the priority of Abacha whose main ambition was to remain in power in perpetuity. One day, Jakande was fired. He was becoming too successful. Jakande retreated to his home in Ilupeju and refused to defend himself in the court of public opinion which believe his participation in the Abacha government was a mistake in the first instance.

For Jakande, service was a higher calling than the raw passion of Abacha. The last time we met was about three years ago at the country home of Chief Awolowo in Ikenne, Ogun State during the celebration of Awolowo’s posthumous birthday. Unlike in the past when his eyes would have lit up in enthusiasm, willing to throw banters and discuss the latest events, he was rather subdued. At last the great Jakande, a man of uncommon industry whose titanic effort put Lagos State into a different orbit, has now been overtaken by old age. He smiled as I paid obeisance but I was not sure whether there was any recognition. His handler quickly led him away.

Now he has been called to higher service into the realm where everything is bright and beautiful. I have no doubt that the heavenly host would put him in a place of honour. Jakande changed our lives and for generations to come, Nigerians would call him blessed.