In the words of Chinua Achebe, he who pays homage to the great paves the way for their own greatness. But what manner of greatness will such a gesture attract if it always comes when the great is no more?
Why is it common in African societies to pay respect to the great only after their death? Why do we have to wait to name cities, parks, streets, institutions after the death of an icon? Why not when they are alive to relish the glory?
It is commendable that the Lagos State Government has renamed Lagos State University (LASU) in honour of the late former governor, Lateef Kayode Jakande, who governed Lagos State between October 1st 1979 and 31st December 1983. The new name of the university is Lagos State Jakande University (LAJU).
The gesture followed calls from the Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria (MSSN), Lagos State Unit, and a university Don, Dr.Tayo Popoola, that a reputable state institution should be named after the former governor.
Jakande died at 91. In the last few years, his birthdays were marked with some level of fanfare with the state government showing remarkable presence. Why did the Lagos State Government not show him this gesture when he was 90 or even when he marked his 80th birthday?
While one can never really understand why we offer medicine after death in African societies, foremost Senegalese writer, Mariama Ba, attributes it to “a disturbing display of inner feelings that cannot be evaluated”. In her book, So Long A Letter, she asks the question: how many of the dead would have survived if, before organizing these festive funeral ceremonies, the relative or friend had bought the life-saving prescription or paid for hospitalization?
The renaming of LASU to LAJU is worthy immortalisation, but isn’t this is a case of offering medicine after death, especially for someone like Alhaji Lateef Jakande whose contributions to improving Lagos and the lives of Lagosians are innumerable.
Sad as it looks, it seems ex-Governor Lateef Jakande might have yearned strongly for this move. Unconfirmed reports have it that the late elder statesman left a message for the present Lagos State Governor about something that will make him glad if it was done for him. Sanwo-Olu led a delegation of top government functionaries in the state to the Fidau (Islamic funeral prayer) ceremony held for the late Jakande at his Ilupeju residence.
Before the prayers commenced, Sanwo-Olu held a meeting behind closed doors with the deceased’s family members, during which a close confidant of the late Jakande, Engr. Kamal Giwa delivered two messages left for the Governor by the deceased. One of the messages was a personal ambition, which the late Jakande wanted to be fulfilled before his death.
While it has not been stated what the content of the message was, there are strong speculations that the change from LASU to LAJU was one of them. It is not too tidy that naming an institution after Alhaji Jakande came after his death because this is someone everybody acknowledges as one of the best governors Lagos has ever seen and, probably, even in the whole of Nigeria. His immense contributions in education, housing, transportation, and infrastructure are there for everyone to see. What he has done for Lagos State is quite numerous.
In this regard, some states in the country showed good examples in their actions. For instance, when the oldest surviving former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah marked his 80th birthday, the state government under Governor Udom Emmanuel named the only airport in the state after him. This was even more remarkable as the former governor was a member of the opposition APC.
When ex-Governor Jakande was celebrating his 90th birthday, recall that the longest road at the Lagos State University was rechristened as Dr. Lateef Kayode Jakande Road. The road stretches from the school’s main gate, through the Eyo masquerade junction, up to the Faculty of Management and then the students’ hostel at the extreme. This was done to honour the patriarch.
Many commentators, however, believe the entire institution should have been named after him at that time. It is not enough to simply rechristen a road in the university after him. It is on record that he mooted the LASU initiative in 1981. Apart from this, his contributions in education are massive, and he changed the overall narrative for education in Lagos State from the days of the shift-system, launching as many as ten schools in a day.
It is equally worthy of note that the names of institutions are always hard to change, especially when they have become very popular. For instance, when former President Goodluck Jonathan wanted to change the University of Lagos to Moshood Abiola University in honor of the late M.K.O Abiola, it met with stern opposition from different quarters. Students, Alumni groups, and even lecturers were against it. Everybody knew that M.K.O Abiola was an icon in Nigeria’s democracy but many stakeholders felt that was not enough to alter the name of an institution that had become so popular to honour it.
Probably, the Lagos Government might have analyzed that situation and developed cold feet towards the course, knowing that perhaps if immediately after the man’s death, LASU is named after him, collective sympathy wouldn’t allow grounds for a lot of opposition. This fear probably was that it would be very shameful if, in the attempt to change the name of the university while Jakande was alive, we witness a strong opposition from students or persons who may not know much of the school’s history or how relevant Jakande was to the emergence of the school.
Nevertheless, it makes great sense for our legends to be immortalized while they are alive. This makes them partake in the excitement. In the real sense of it, the dead do not partake in the immortalisation process. Yes, houses and streets are indeed named in their memory, but it is a different thing when they are alive to witness it. It creates feelings of fulfillment as they are alive, that indeed and in truth they have made a lasting impact on the world space. They too can go to their graves more relieved with a consciousness that their contributions to humanity have been acknowledged.
It’s a different feeling to witness something when you are alive. In African societies, we like to believe that the dead are still very much alive and so go on to compensate them for what should naturally have been done before their death. This could be part of the problem. With a better cultural orientation, change can begin from the mind.