By Prof. Lai Olurode
With the demise of Babakekere, Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande (LKJ), the Nigerian poor has lost a spokesman, who thinks nothing but how to mitigate the devastating consequences of poverty, including its sorrows, tears and blood. Jakande was a man of many parts just like his mentor and leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. A poet while at Ilesa Grammar School, journalist, business man, politician, entrepreneur, farmer, publisher author, and many more. I met LKJ after his action years in Lagos state. It wasn’t a chance meeting and nobody introduced me to him. I was attracted to him by his selfless service to humanity as governor of Lagos state. I was then a very young academic. I deliberately cultivated his friendship and he reciprocated with warmth and lavish affection. With time, he recruited me into the board of his company as a part time director. At meetings, Jakande would readily defer to logic and superior arguments even when he had strong sentiments for a particular position. Jakande enjoyed meeting people and would ask questions about their places of work and connect their responses to state of affairs in Nigeria.
Over the years, we became close and share the same table on many occasions during iftar. Baba was always interested in anything that had to do with education. If there was one issue that Babakekere was full of lamentations about, it was that of stark and evident poverty of leadership in all facets of life in Nigeria. Apart from being begged by M. K. O. Abiola to accept the offer to serve in Abacha’s administration his passion to serve made him remain in spite of criticism. He never remained in that regime to engage in unscrupulous and primitive acquisition and appropriation of wealth. He was always satisfied with the little.
Pa Jakande, in one of our several conversations asked me, why do people make so much a mess of good governance? According to him, delivering social goods of democratization should be as easy as ABC. Why? Jakande said as a governor of a state for example, you can mobilise people at any level to achieve governance objectives. You needn’t worry about anything. The state will provide you with needed resources’. In many respects, Jakande was an exceptional public administrator, who throughout life shunned ostentatious living. In and out of office, he avoided crass materialism and greed, which remain pastime of leaders at all levels of public life. In the course of writing his biography, I asked him why he didn’t travel out for over four years while in office. His reply was that foreign business entrepreneurs should make Nigeria their destination because Nigeria was then where the job was. Other than greed for esta code he said there was little to gain from foreign tours. He relied on science and data to respond to monumental challenges that confronted his government. Even when the then military administrator of Lagos State told him to recant his position on free education and abolition of shifts in schools, LKJ brushed aside the caution. Upon being sworn into office, he embarked on massive construction of ‘cowsheds’, most of which stand erect today. Jakande was an incurable optimist to the end. He wanted Lagos to have Metrolink as far back as 1983 and the contract was duly awarded and paid for. He was far ahead of his peers.
One other area where LKJ was an exceptional leader in the sphere of documentation. He was a man of record. There no memo that you forwarded to LKJ that would be unresponded to with his red pen and within 24 hours. Let me mention three instances of this. When I was writing his biography in about 2003/2004, there wasn’t any record that I needed from him that he didn’t make available over time, including a 1956 letter in which he requested Chief Obafemi Awolowo to grant him a loan to pursue further studies. Secondly, a perusal through The Trial of Obafemi Awolowo which was written by LKJ and which was published in 1966 was a very painstakingly and well researched book on the popular treasonable felony trial. When it is recalled that in that trial, Jakande himself was the 13th accused, then we would realise his professionalism as a journalist of depth. Thirdly, one day Oga (as he was popularly referred to by his admirers) called me to see him. When I got to him, he handed over to me a parcel containing newspapers clips on the death of Obafemi Awolowo. He tasked me to kindly author a manuscript on The Transition of Obafemi Awolowo from the materials.
If Babakekere had any weaknesses, I can only remember: he had no time for crass materialism and opulence. No rest, a workaholic from cradle to grave; Oga loved listening to small and big elite and indeed non elite. He was most compassionate toward the weak and wretched of the earth. I could recall an incident which best illustrated his being pro-poor. I used to have a secretarial assistant, who I used to send on errands to Babakere. This young girl invited LKJ to her wedding. She had asked me before doing so and I gave my nod. Though, I couldn’t attend but Jakande made the event to the bewilderment of the parents of the young girl. Relatives and friends of the young couldn’t understand how Jakande could have attended the wedding of an unknown girl in the slums of Mushin. That was quintessential Babakekere for you.
LKJ’s most invisible asset is his wife who was tolerant of Oga’s ‘excesses’ and who stood by him throughout action years and years of travail. To Alhaja Sikirat Abimbola Jakande, I say ‘You’re a rare woman of great virtue. You managed the home and the backend of LKJ ‘s era effectively, seamlessly and made success his with the help of Allah.
In the governance of Lagos state, I make bold to say that before him, no leader traversed that space as he did and looking at his credentials, it is doubtful if anyone would be able to match LKJ’s Action Years. Jakande was governance personified. Babakekere, rest in peace as you return to your Creator.