It was a special birthday ceremony. Eminent Nigerians trooped in significant numbers to celebrate with the nonagenarian. The presence of officials from the presidency, governors and former governors, ministers and ex-ministers, speakers and former speakers, political bigwigs, stakeholders and princes, gave the atmosphere an aura of elitist prominence. Tributes poured in like rainfall. Different people were highlighting his contributions to the nation and humanity. His accolades were so many. Who could count? His footprints were all over the sands of time; in education, housing, transportation and infrastructure. This was Lateef Jakande, first executive governor of Lagos State celebrating his 90th birthday in 2019.
He added one to the round figure on July 23, 2020. Regrettably, the package from Wuhan wouldn’t allow any ceremony to follow the elaborate one of the previous year. But he thrived over the virus. His position and pedigree forced the influx of messages from top dignitaries and personalities in the political and social space. They congratulated him, singing old tributes in new tongues. Other political actors were enjoined to emulate his patriotism, humanity and compassion. He was indeed a highly respected progressive statesman.
When the announcement came, it was just seven months and eleven days from his last birthday. Something terrible had happened. Like William Shakespeare noted, “Woe, destruction, ruin, and decay; the worst is death and death will have his day.”
Clearly, death came knocking. His cold hands is always inclined to touch the old than the young.
The present governor of Lagos State, Sanwo Olu was the harbinger of this passage onto the great beyond. He relayed that the first civilian governor of Lagos State was no more. While giving gratitude to God for a life well spent, the governor noted that the great Alhaji Lateef Jakande has gone home.
Popularly called Baba Kekere (small one) and the Action Governor, his achievements and remarkable strides stood him tall.
He governed Lagos, Nigeria’s center of excellence from October 1979 to December 31, 1983. He created the pathway upon which others followed, to build what is now called Africa’s largest megacity.
Ex Gov. Lateef Jakande started the development of Lagos with a vision that was in tandem with the five cardinal programmes of the Unity Party of Nigeria formed by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. As a close ally of the former Premier of the Western region, he was able to imbibe some of Awolowo’s nationalistic sensibility. Awolowo was able to prevail on him to run for governor in the 1979 gubernatorial elections. He defeated his opponents. Analysts opine that he won because his manifesto stood him out. Part of the vision incorporated in his manifesto was his promise to “abolish the shift educational system” in Lagos.
Jakande’s Chief Press Secretary, Mr Bayo Osiyemi, recalled that many never saw the possibility of his principal achieving that dream. Osiyemi noted that Jakande however worked assiduously to achieve his goals for Lagos. He wanted Lagos to be modeled after what his mentor, Chief Obafemi Awolowo did with the defunct Western Region of Nigeria from (1952 to 1959).
Education was one of his areas of focus. He twisted the shift system and made it a hit. Prior to his assumption of office, primary and secondary school were run based on morning, afternoon and evening shifts. This was because they were few school buildings and facilities.
By building schools, Jakande was able to achieve his set goals of eradicating the shift education system. It was said that he was launching as many as ten schools in a day. For instance, the number of public primary schools in Ikeja Local Government went from 54 to 86. This illustrates that 32 new primary schools were built. The number of public secondary schools in the area equally increased from 13 to 42. All of these within a year! Many top Nigerian technocrats today are benefactors of his projects. This is why he is so widely respected and revered.
Jakande institutionalised housing and educational programmes. These programmes targeted the poor and brought about the establishment of the Lagos State University. His administration equally constructed as many as 30, 000 housing units. Amongst the housing units include low cost estates in Ijaiye, Ije, Iponri, Epe, Iba, Badagry, Amuwo Odofin, Abesan, Ipaja, Surulere, Ikorodu, Oke-Afa, Abule Nla, and Anikantamo.
Jakande also increased tenement rates and prices of plots of land in areas like Lekki and Victoria Island dominated by the rich. This he did to fund some of the programmes he targeted towards the poor. He did the same for gaming licenses and lottery.
The General Hospitals in Gbagada and Ikorodu stand today to his credit. He started a metroline project to facilitate mass transit. The project was halted when his tenure came to an end. Economists noted that if the project had seen the light of day, it would have revolutionized public transportation in the state.
Jakande’s administration begets the movement into the state’s current Secretariat at Alausa, Ikeja. It is said that he attached so much expediency to the construction of the secretariat that stupefied everyone when it came to life.
Jakande who began his career as a journalist first with the Daily Service and then with the Nigerian Tribune where he was appointed editor-in-chief by Awolowo, followed in the footsteps of the latter, his role model. He set up Lagos State Television (LTV) just like Awolowo set up the first TV Station in Africa. The Lagos State Television was the first ever state-owned TV in the country.
He set the precedent for the transformation of Lagos State’s transport sector. With a view to enhancing public transport in the state, he inaugurated 59 new buses belonging to the Lagos State Transport Corporation on November 29, 1979.
Jakande’s administration equally kicked off the first ever parking meters on January 28, 1980 in the whole of Nigeria.
In a bid to cut on water-borne epidemics, Jakande’s administration constructed water works at Badagry, Apapa, Shomolu, Agege, Shasha, amongst others.
It is said that Jakande worked round the clock in his bid to fast-track the development of Lagos State.
On December 31, 1983, when the Shehu Shagari civilian administration was toppled in a military coup d’état, soldiers who came to arrest the former governor met him at his office working deep in the night. It was on a New Year eve. Such was his dedication to duty and passion for hard work.
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There was only one ‘Action Governor’ during the second republic and that is Alhaji Lateef Jakande. It is hoped that more political leaders would emulate his unique leadership and patriotic zeal to serve the people.
Many of his policies and programmes, especially in the housing, public transportation and education sectors, still endear him to people. When asked what he would love to be remembered for, he responded in four words, “Service to the people”!