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Jakande: Life and Times of an Iconic Journalist and Public Administrator

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The story of Nigeria is replete with the inspiring tales of men and women of valour who dominated the political scene both in the pre-colonial times and post-colonial period.

Some of them were known as activists and nationalists during the colonial era and they transited into the first generation of leaders from the first to the second republic.

 Some others achieved the above but started their crusade from the newsroom. This latter category has a small clique of outstanding patriots like Ernest Ikoli, Obafemi Awolowo, Tony Momoh, Segun Osoba, S.L Akintola, Olabisi Onabanjo etc.

Jakande was also a prominent member of this special breed of national heroes First, they were reporters (and later editors and MDs) or media owners who used their well-read platforms to draw the attention of the whole world to the evils of colonialism and prick the conscience of the British Overlords that Nigerians had come of age and deserve to have self-governance.

In one of his brilliant literatures decades after independence, Jakande famously wrote: “The war of independence was fought on the pages of Nigerian newspapers. No guns or bullets were fired but thunderous editorials were written.”

Jakande was a rare statesman, a selfless public servant. A man who even in personal discomfort inside prison got busy thinking of,  and advocating the creation of Lagos state. And when he had the opportunity between 1979 and 1983 to to seek a little comfort for himself, he didn’t but kept a determined focus and worked day and night for the comfort of present and future Lagosians. He gave his best to Lagos and took nothing in return.

He built roads, bridges, schools, gave free education and free healthcare services, in line with the cardinal policies of the Awolowo-led Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). And his service records have remained unparalleled in the history of the state.

Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande was born on July 23, 1929, to Rahman Adeniyi Jakande and his wife, Sinotu Aduke, nee Akodu, in the Epetedo area of Lagos Island. His parents had moved to Lagos from Omu-Aran in the present day Kwara State.

The young Jakande attended a public school at Enu-Owa in Lagos Island. He later attended Bunham Memorial Methodist School, Port Harcourt, between 1934 and 1943. He also studied briefly at King’s College, Lagos, in 1943 before enrolling in Ilesha Grammar School in 1945 in the present day east senatorial district of Osun State.

16-year-old Jakande first showed his innate writing skills and glimpses of a potentially great journalist at Ilesha Grammar School when he edited a literary paper in the school, The Quarterly Mirror.

Journalism Career

An eventful journalism career began for Jakande shortly in 1949,  first at the Daily Service where he stayed for about four years before joining the Nigerian Tribune where his life-changing relationship with the great Sage, Awolowo, began…. an extraordinary, long-lasting bond that would go a long way to define his future in politics and public service.

In 1956, Awolowo named him the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, a position he occupied until 1975 when he left to establish John West Publications, publishers of The Lagos News.

Under the editorship of  Jakande, the Nigerian Tribune was a thorn in the side of the colonial administration as the clamour for self-rule and independence intensified in the British African colonies.

Jakande was a pioneer member of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) and was a foundation member and the first president of the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN). He also co-founded the Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE) as a forum for editors of various titles to compare notes and do peer review on major editorial decisions and socio-economic and political developments in the country.

Jakande had also founded the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ) where thousands of Nigerian journalists have over the decades received professional training and mentorship.

He took his excellent journalism career to another level by publishing a lot of books including ‘The Trial of Obafemi Awolowo’ (1966) which chronicled  the tribulations and incarceration of Awolowo which he  was part of. He also published  ‘The Action Years: Experiments in democracy’ in 1985, a book which touched on his service to Lagosians as governor from 1979 to 1983.

Lagos Governor

Jakande was in the same elite class of the best set of governors in the history of the southwest and the then Midwest – Bisi Onabanjo of Ogun, Bola Ige of old Oyo, Adekunle Ajasin of Old Ondo and Ambrose Ali of old Bendel. They were all of the UPN and their record of achievements has remained unparalleled.

Jakande won over 80 percent of the votes, defeating, Adeniran Ogunsanya of the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) and Sultan Ladega Adeniji Adele of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and was subsequently sworn in as governor to succeed the then military administrator, Ebitu Ukiwe.

His administration was people-oriented and effective. He implemented the cardinal policies of his party. He introduced housing and educational programs targeting the poor and provided free primary and secondary education. He established the Lagos State University. He withdrew his own kids from private schools and took them to public schools, abolished afternoon classes and built enough primary and secondary schools to accommodate all pupils and students at once.

He established the then Lagos Weekend Television now renamed Lagos Television, Lagos Radio, and general hospitals in all the zones of the state.

In the four years of his administration, the number of primary schools increased to 812 from the 605 he met in 1979, and primary school enrollment rose from 434,545 pupils to 533,001 pupils. Public secondary schools increased from 105 in 1979 to 223 in 1983, and the number of students from 107,835 to 167,629.

Jakande’s government also built 11,729 classrooms between March and August 1980 and fixed the number of pupils per class at 40. By 1983, the government had built more than 22,000 classrooms. He also established a teacher training college and a college of education.

Jakande was a born leader and very pro-masses. His free education was total with free books in all subjects. When he was announced winner of the election and was awaiting swearing-in, he announced to all parents in Lagos not to rush to pay tuition fees for their wards because he would abolish it as soon as he gets in.

The Jakande administration is credited with the construction, rehabilitation and resurfacing of Epe/Ijebu-Ode Road, Oba Akran Avenue, Town Planning Way, Alimosho-Idimu-Egbe Road, Idimu-Iba-LASU Road, Victoria Island/Epe Road and the new Lagos State secretariat road, among several others.

The administration also established an asphalt plant for the department of public works, which carried out most of the road constructions by direct labour.

Jakande also inaugurated the Onikan Stadium in 1982 as part of his investments in sports.

He constructed the Adiyan water works and expanded the existing Iju water works to increase the state’s water supply capacity from 159 million to 204 million litres per day.

He inaugurated a giant car crushing equipment which had the capacity to crush 45 vehicles per day. The effort was aimed at freeing Lagos streets from the menace of abandoned vehicles that littered and defaced the city.

His government constructed over 30,000 housing units. The schools and housing units were built cheaply, but were of great value. To fund some of the projects, Jakande increased the tenement rates and price of plots of land in affluent areas of Victoria Island and Lekki  and the processing fees for lottery, pools and gaming licenses. He established 23 local government councils which were later disbanded by the military.

He also started a metroline project to facilitate mass transit. The project was halted and his tenure as Governor ended when the military seized power on 31 December 1983. His government had paid about 100 million dollars to the French partners before the Buhari junta cancelled the whole deal. After several litigation, the state had to pay several millions of dollars in fine for breach of contract.

Abacha’s Minister

One thing that draws criticism to Jakande was his decision to serve as Minister of Works and Housing during the brutal regime of the the much-hated General Sani Abacha. For a man who had earlier been accused, rightly or wrongly, of betraying the late Awolowo, betraying the June 12 cause and its ymbol, MKO Abiola, was always a bad idea. But Jakande had only one thing in mind: Service to his beloved country.

He also said his decision to serve the Abacha government had the imprimatur of Abiola himself.

He described the request to serve in Abacha’s government as a “divine call to serve”, adding that Abacha “did not strike me as a thief.”

Asked how he would describe the late dictator who Transparency International estimates might have looted about 5billion dollars during his regime from 1993 to 1998, he told a journalist: “Quite frankly, whatever happened in that respect happened after I left and I believe that Abacha was well-meant. The first meeting I held with the government, they had not appointed ministers then, Abacha announced that I was the chairman of the economic committee of the government in addition to being a minister of works and housing.

“When I took over as chairman of the economic committee, I ordered serious restrictions. I called down the deficit budget that we had and restricted even the president to awarding contract without due consent and even the consent must be within the limit of the budget. There was a firm budget control.

“He did not strike me as a thief because all the things I brought in were accepted. It must be that  after I left, they took him over because these billions of naira they are now talking about, there was no way  anybody could have taken even one million out of the public fund at the time I was there, no way.”

Within the few years he served as Minister, Jakande sought to replicate his brilliant performance in Lagos. He was credited with envisioning and building the largest housing estate in Africa, in Gwarinpa and also the massive one in Lugbe. He also built the phase II of the expansive  Federal Secretariat Complex in the heart of the capital city.

Despite all the heights he achieved in leadership, Jakande, unlike present-day leaders, did not acquire wealth for himself. He retired into his old house in Ilupeju. He had used the same house as his official residence and his old car as official vehicle when he served as governor. He built Lekki and other areas without acquiring any choice  plot or property for himself.

It, however, remains a sad reality that Jakande was never awarded a national honour in a country where a lot of charlatans and discredited characters have been so honoured.

To shame bad people, God gave him long life and good health and he died at 91. His honour is eternal and he would forever be among the angels in heaven.

The great statesman is survived by his septuagenarian widow, Alhaja Sikirat Abimbola Jakande – whom he met while she worked with the late HID Awolowo – two sons, Deji and Seyi, who are into active politics, and many others.

Rest in peace Baba Kekere.

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