By Shola Oshunkeye
The celebration, on Wednesday, March 17, 2021, by Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, caught me napping. I stumbled on it when Channels Television abruptly broke KICC’s daily telecast and took viewers to Onikan Sports Stadium, Lagos, where Lagosians, led by Sanwo-Olu, their servant-leader, had gathered to celebrate the legend: Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande, the state’s first civilian governor.
Since Jakande’s demise, on February 11, 2021, at 91, and burial day after, I had been ruminating on how Nigeria under-celebrates its authentic heroes. I never stopped chewing the cud over the way February 13, 1976, and August 12, 1989 etc. gradually faded from our collective consciousness. Gen. Murtala Ramat Mohammed was only 37 when Lt. Col. Buka Suka Dimka and his gang ambushed and brutally murdered him near the Federal Secretariat in Ikoyi, Lagos, on February 13, 1976. He ruled Nigeria for just six months but he wrote his name in gold as a sterling game changer.
Samuel Sochukuma Okwaraji was just 25 when, on August 12, 1989, he slumped and died inside the National Stadium, Surulere, while playing for Nigeria in a crucial World Cup qualifying match. Although we commemorate January 15, 1966, the day Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and colleagues violently terminated the First Republic as our Armed Forces Remembrance Day, that date and July 29, 1966, the day of the ‘revenge coup’, still produced some national heroes, tragic as they were. One of the heroes, to me, was Lt. Colonel Francis Adekunle Fajuyi, then military governor of the old Western Region. He was only 40 when he was assassinated while hosting then Head of State, General J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi in Ibadan. By electing to die defending his visiting boss, Fajuyi wrote his name with his blood in the heart of Nigerians. Loyalty.
Sadly, anniversaries of these dates, and more, pass these days without any memoriam. Even the Yoruba who should be celebrating Fajuyi are too busy with limitless existential matters to remember the date of his sacrifice. Thank God for President Muhammadu Buhari who, in 2018, reignited the fire around June 12, 1993. He annulled May 29 as our Democracy and proclaimed June 12 in its stead. Perhaps, if he had not done that, Nigerians would have forgotten that Basorun M.KO. Abiola watered the seed of our democracy with his blood. He won the freest presidential election in this country, denied his trophy, and got murdered for it. Yet, people would kill the fatted calf for rogues who pushed fellow humans into the swamp of poverty and trapped their potentials in the morass.
However, the Day of Tributes held in commemoration of the life and times of Alhaji Lateef Jakande doused my skepticism. One after the other, leading lights of the state took turns to eulogise the man Lagosians call Baba Kekere; the man they perceive as a perfect clone of the great leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, for his courage, honesty, humility, frugality, fear of God, selfless service and steely resolve to give his best to the generality of the people at all times.
“Baba Kekere was a transformational leader who led by example,” attested Hon. Adekunle Ali, a Second Republic member of the Lagos State House of Assembly. “He was a leader who never saw political position as a means for personal enrichment.” LKJ, others testified, was true to his God till he breathed his last. Beautiful testimony.
Sanwo-Olu capped the matter when he told the crowd that he drew so much inspiration from the virtues of Alhaji Lateef Jakande that he made the late leader’s former allies the core of the Governor’s Consultative Committee. He established the group to help him steer the ship of state on the path of progress and greatness regardless of the challenges that may come his way. Legion are the challenges.
Sanwo-Olu must have cracked some ribs when he alluded to a revelation by Hon. Ali that Jakande always kept a packet of Tom-Tom in his pocket and would slip one into his mouth any time he felt like refreshing during those marathon meetings politicians often hold. “He never forgot his packet of Tom-Tom,” Ali said. “Once he is tired and wants to refresh, he will just slip one into his mouth.”
Like Jakande, Sanwo-Olu also cannot do without his pack of Tom-Tom. “I like and lick Tom-Tom too,” Sanwo-Olu told the cheering crowd.
Ali summed his moving eulogy with another revelation: LKJ’s father, Aina Jakande, was a committed Ifa (Yoruba God of Divinity) worshipper, as denoted by his panegyric: KayodeOmo Jakande Agbefa Kari… (Kayode, the son of Jakande, the unwavering devotee of Ifa). And as the true son of Jakande Agbefa Kari, Ali continued, “Alhaji Jakande was an essential Omoluwabi; he was compassionate, humble…” And as a true son of his father, he never called a spade by any other name.
All these virtues and more were the hallmark of Jakande’s highly engaging column which he wrote under the pseudonym, John West. He maintained the column for many years during which he rubbed shoulders with other all-time greats like Chief Olabisi Onabanjo, the first civilian governor of Ogun State who used the pen name, Ayekooto; Alhaji Alade Odunewu, Allah De, Alhaji Babatunde Jose, among others.
The profuse reference to Jakande as Omoluabi during the occasion reminded me of my encounters with the legend, and our connection to Ilesa Grammar School, our glorious alma mater. He attended Ilesa Grammar School between 1945 and 1949. I did between 1970 and 1974.
Ilesa Grammar School is the great institution that produced legends like Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye, General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God; Hon. Justice Salihu Modibbo Alfa Belgore, a retired Chief Justice of Nigeria; Justice Emmanuel Araka, a former Judge of the High Court of old East Central State and later, Chief Judge of Anambra State; Dr. Festus Ajayi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, and the first Nigerian to make first class in Law at the University of London; Justice Egbert Udo Udoma, former Chief Justice of Uganda, Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, and Chairman, Constituent Assembly (1977-1978); and Dr. Jaja Anucha Wachukwu, first Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, first Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, first Nigerian Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
Other luminaries produced by the school include: Hon. Justice Kayode Eso, former Justice of theCourt of Appeal of the old Western Nigeria, former Chief Judge of the old Oyo State, and former Justice of the Supreme Court; and Hon. Justice Emmanuel Ayoola, retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, former Chief Justice of the Gambia, former Justice of the Court of Appeal of Seychelles, and former Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC.
Other eminent Made-in-Ilesa Grammar School Nigerians are: billionaire businessman, Alhaji Wahab Iyanda Folawiyo; former Health Minister and ex-Vice Chancellor, University of Ibadan, Prof. Isaac Adewole; his successor as VC, also my classmate, Prof. Abel Idowu Olayinka; another classmate of mine who started as a first-class scientist but ended up as the first female Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, ever produced by the University of Ibadan, Chief Mrs. Funmilayo Victoria Awomolo. The list also includes Prof. Femi Odekunle, Nigeria’s first Professor of Criminology and former political Adviser to the former Chief of General Staff, Lt. General Oladipo Diya; Prof. Sola Adeyeye, former Senator representing Osun Central; and Senator Francis Adenigba Fadahunsi, a retired Assistant Comptroller General of Customs and Senator representing Ilesa East in the 9th National Assembly. The list is endless.
To understand the reason Ilesa Grammar School products shine so brightly in whatever space they occupy, nationally or globally, is to understand the cord that binds them. That cord is the Omoluabi or Omoluwabi
The motto of our great alma mater is: E huwa Omoluwabi. Transliterated, it means: Behave like a person of integrity and paragon of excellence in character. As Professor Wande Abimbola, former Vice Chancellor of then University of Ife, Dr. Fola Kareem Olajoku of the Department of Philosophy, Lagos State University, and Dr. Dolapo Adeniji-Neill of the Ruth S. Ammon School of Education, Adelphi University, New York, espoused in their works, an Omoluwabi or Omoluab
Now, the virtues of Omoluwabi or Omoluabi are: the spoken word (oro siso), for the Yoruba greatly appreciate and respect intelligent use of language); respect (iteriba); goodwill, or having good mind towards others (inu rere); truth (otito); character (iwa); and bravery (akinkanju) (Wikipedia).
These are the great virtues that Ilesa Grammar School taught us, taught generations before us, and still teaches till date, despite the political pollution it suffered in its recent history. The principles are the cornerstone of the exemplary moral rectitude that LKJ exhibited both in private and public life.
He demonstrated all these attributes, and more, in the 51 months he spent as the first civilian governor of Lagos State (October 1, 1979 to December 31, 1983).
Though Jakande’s reign was short, he convinced even his most virulent traducer that he was a true Omoluwabi, a true ambassador of Ilesa Grammar School. He exhibited excellent strength of character, remained true to his God and oath of office, spending every minute of his four years and three months tenure to write his name in gold in the minds of Lagosians; especially the poor and the lowly. He served Lagosians with every fibre of his being. He made every kobo count for them. He never stole from them.
Rather, he used his personal resources to serve them. For instance, he lived in house personal house throughout his tenure, never had an official car, never drove in long convoy that would send citizens scampering for cover on the road. He used his car, a Toyota Crown, all through. Though he built over 30, 000 units of houses for Lagosians under his populist housing scheme, though he built the largest estate in Africa, Gwarimpa Estate in Abuja, during his tenure as Housing Minister under General Sani Abacha, he never allocated a single unit to himself or any member of his family. Integrity. Omoluwabi.
This was why it was extremely difficult for the Buhari/Idiagbon Regime that dismantled the Second Republic on December 31, 1983, to indict him for any malfeasance. Though the regime threw most political actors of that era either into long detention or jail, Jakande, though detained, was never prosecuted for any misdemeanour.
A staunch believer of education as a veritable tool to break and destroy the vicious cycle of poverty, LKJ, at his inauguration as governor on Monday, October 1, 1979, declared free and compulsory education throughout the state. Prior to his ascendancy to power, Lagos used to run a three-shift school system: morning, afternoon and evening, due to chronic shortage of classrooms. But Jakande collapsed the three shifts to one, 8a.m. to 2 p.m. He built schools in every nook and cranny of the state, ensuring that no kid had to travel one kilometer to attend school. Result? School enrolment galloped exponentially.
When Jakande started building schools everywhere, the party at the centre, the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, scoffed; mocked. They called the classrooms ‘poultry sheds’. They likened them to structures where domesticated birds, especially chickens, are bred for eggs, meat or feathers.
Jakande was undaunted. He increased primary schools to 812 as against 605 he inherited; secondary schools to 223 against 105 he met. Primary school enrolment galloped from 434,545 pupils to 533,001; secondary school enrolment from 107,835 students in 105 schools to 167,629 students in 223 schools.
Unlike what others in his shoes normally do, sending their kids to expensive schools abroad, Jakande showed leadership by ensuring that his children attended the ‘poultry sheds’. At last Wednesday’s commemoration, one of his sons, Hon. Deji Jakande, a member of the House of Representatives, bore witness to that, and thumbed his chest as a proud product of the ‘poultry sheds’. Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu is another product flying the banner of the ‘poultry sheds’ so high. My late younger brother, Rev. Michael Mabayoje Oshunkeye, a first-class sociologist made in the University of Ibadan, who, sadly, passed in London last April 24 at 60, was another great product of the ‘poultry sheds’. God rest his loving soul.
Many, indeed, are the products of those ‘poultry sheds’ who are now superstars in their respective areas of calling. Jakande laid a solid foundation for their glorious future within the short time he governed. Or, how can we forget the many great Nigerians who passed through the several Teacher Training Colleges and Colleges of Education, and the Lagos State University, that LKJ established?
LKJ not only built tertiary institutions, his administration also ensured that Lagos students in various institutions of higher learning, in the state and across Nigeria, never starved. Like in all the states controlled by his party, the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Jakande Administration paid bursary allowances to them.
It will amount to an unnecessary minimization of Baba Kekere’s iconic stature to say he was a true and loyal party man. He was more. He implemented the UPN’s four cardinal programmes to the letter. They are: free education for all, free medical treatment, full and gainful employment, as well as integrated rural development. With his fidelity to the party’s programmes, he scripted and assured his own immortality. He used ingenious methods to solve critical social problems. By the way, Jakande earned himself the sobriquet Baba Kekere for his realism and unflinching commitment to Awoism.
Like I said, LKJ was never swayed by the bad mouth of the NPN. He implemented a massive masses-oriented housing programme aimed at providing accommodation for low-income earners. His administration constructed over 30,000 housing units. Throughthat aggressive policy, many Nigerians became home owners. ‘Jakande Estates’, as they are popularly called, dot virtually all the zones in Lagos State:Ijaiye, Dolphin, Oke-Afa, Ije, Abesan, Iponri, Ipaja, Abule Nla, Epe, Amuwo-Odofin, Anikantamo, Surulere, Iba, Ikorodu, Badagry, Isheri/Olowu, and Orisigun. He also created a haven for the superrich: Banana Island. He laid the foundation.
Without waiting for any legislation or government gazette, Lagosians immortalized the legend, naming the housing estates Jakande Estate. It couldn’t have been otherwise. Or, has the Holy Book not said: when the righteous rule, the people rejoice?
The man also foretold the immortality of his own legend through the over $700 million (huge sum at the time) Lagos Metroline project designed to ease the choking traffic crippling the city. At the ground-breaking ceremony, attended by President Shehu Shagari, Vice President Dr. Alex Ekwueme, and Senate President Dr. Joseph Wayas, at Yaba, on Saturday, July 16, 1983, Jakande declared:
“We are making history today. One hundred years from now, generations yet unborn will thank us for the wisdom in establishing this project. At that time, the metroline would have expanded from the north-south route of Lagos to other states. I dream of a comfortable future and I thank God for making me and this administration instruments for this future.” Vision.
The first phase of the project, awarded to a Japanese firm and a consortium of 19 French companies, Interinfra, was to be concluded in July 1986; just like the Cairo and Algiers metrolines awarded the same period. Had the project not been amputated, it would have substantially solved the Lagos traffic chaos. But when General Muhammadu Buhari struck on December 31,1983, the project was one of the first casualties. The regime scrapped the project and plunged Lagos State into avoidable debt. However, light appeared at the end of the tunnel when then Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu revived it in 2003. Now, more than ever before, the city is yearning for the metroline. Given the commitment of Tinubu’s successors, from Babatunde Fashola to Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Lagos may yet laugh.
Like politics, LKJ also used journalism to define his legend, scoring many firsts, leaving enduring legacies. Again, the foundation of his journalism was laid in Ilesa Grammar School where he produced and edited the students’ newspaper, The Quarterly Mirror. The newspaper prepared him for an outstanding career in journalism; first with Daily Service as a reporter (later Editor in 1953) and the Nigerian Tribune (Editor-in-Chief, 1968 to 1975).
Jakande was a leader writer of a different hue. His editorials were factual, forthright, and fearless. They were an ever-present thorn in the flesh of Nigeria’s colonial masters and whoever attempted to oppress the masses. After leaving Nigerian Tribune in 1975, Jakande established John West Publications and began to publish The Lagos News.
LKJ scored some powerful firsts in global journalism too.A foundation member of both the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, and the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, he founded both the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria, NPAN, and the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, NIJ (with the support of the International Press Institute, IPI). He would later emerge as the first black African Chairman of the IPI, a body of Publishers and Editors across the world.
Though, I had been admiring Jakande from afar since 1978 when the military government of General Olusegun Obasanjo lifted the ban on politics, my path never crossed his directly until January 1989. This was at the beginning of my one-year postgraduate programme at NIJ, Ogba, Lagos.
He taught us Ethics of Journalism. Another great Nigerian, Alhaji Kola Animasaun, then Chief Sub-Editor of Vanguard newspapers, later Chairman of the Editorial Board, taught us sub-editing and page planning. Jakande taught us that truth and strict adherence to the ethics of the profession are the unshakable pivot for successful and effective journalistic practice.
A pragmatist, LKJ opened our eyes to the various booby traps dotting the field of journalism, and the twin devices that effectively detonate them-truth and personal integrity. Baba Kekere taught us essential journalism and the value of effective time management. Just like everything he did, he taught by example. For instance, if his lecture was to start at 9a.m., he would have driven in about 20 minutes before. At 8.55a.m., he would be at the veranda, counting the seconds. On the dot of 9, he would be right at the door of the class. Then, straight to business. If Jakande had any reason to skip class, and it was rare, he would serve a long notice. He was that committed. He was always dead serious. Unsmiling. Many even thought he was ‘too serious’.
But he smiled widely and heartily at our graduation in December 1989 when I was announced as the best graduating postgraduate student. He and Basorun M.K.O. Abiola, the billionaire Chairman and Publisher of the trailblazing Concord
That was why last Wednesday’s celebration of his life and times was a carnival of sort. It couldn’t have been otherwise. This is because while many live and die in shame, LKJ lived in honour and left in a blaze of glory. Even if people still gather at his grave, and their tears form a flood or puddle, it can only be for joy. It can only be an expression of adulation for a visionary who came, saw and secured the future for his people. It can only be for the celebration of an iroko which a million axes and thousand saws couldn’t fall; a diamond that glows powerfully in the swirling dust of a groping nation and nothing couldn’t bury; a superstar with a million sparkles in our cloudy firmament.
Good night, Baba Kekere.
Shola Oshunkeye, a former Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of The Sun Publishing Ghana Limited, is the President/CEO of The Crest online newspaper (www.thecrestng.com).