By Bola A. Akinterinwa
Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande (LKJ) died on Thursday, February 11, 2021 in his Ilupeju residence, Lagos, but to live on forever for a simple reason: his entire life and belief is commitment to reduction, if not outright removal, of the burden of the poor without having to offend the rich. Burden reduction or elimination is particularly challenging at the educational, economic, transportation and socio-cultural levels. In trying to address the various challenges, he faced the wickedness and short-sightedness of the Federal Government of Nigeria but his development foresight and focus remain indelible.
In paying him tributes, many observers put emphasis on his many achievements. And true enough, he is a man of several parts. He is seen as peerless and a major pillar of ‘contribution of the Nigerian Press to Nigeria’s development. In the words of Lanre Arogundade, former Chairman, Lagos State Council of NUJ, LKJ was ‘from journalism to politics… such a wonderful pioneer of enduring media legacies – from being the Managing Editor of the Nigerian Tribune, to establishing the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ), to the setting up of the first weekend 24/7 broadcast station in Nigeria, Lagos Weekend Television/Lagos Television (and being the) first Executive Governor of Lagos State…’ (The Nation, Friday, February 12, 2021, p. 3).
More important, he envisioned the Lagos State University and also put an end to the shift system in both primary and secondary school education in Lagos. Asiwaju Tinubu sees him as the inspirational father of modern Lagos State, who was ‘largely self-educated, yet he rose to become a man of great knowledge and a pre-eminent figure in Nigerian journalism.” He is an accomplished journalist who ‘stood as one of the most incisive and brilliant editorialists of his generation.”
And perhaps most importantly, Bola Tinubu has it further that the Jakande administration not only ‘conceptualised and actualised the Lagos-Badagry Expressway that opened that whole sector of the State for development,’ but also that LKJ ‘was a mature statesman never given to historionics or fanning the embers of disunity. At difficult moments in the nation’s history, such as the struggle against military dictatorship, he took personal painful decisions that cost him a lot but his integrity was never impugned.’
Without any whiff of doubt, there can be no disputing the exemplary leadership of LKJ. Two incontrovertible empirical cases can serve as illustration of our observation. The first is the housing project he came up with in 1994 when he was Minister of Works and Housing under General Sani Abacha
Federal Housing Scheme
The lifestyle of LKJ is very simple and inexpensive. He brought his lifestyle, with its dint of hard work, modicum of honesty, and dignity of purpose, to political governance when he was Minister of Works and Housing and Executive Governor of Lagos State. He was Minister of Works and Housing from December 1, 1993 to February 8, 1995. He came up with a low, medium and high level housing projects in various parts of the country in 1994. I applied for a medium-level detached three-bedroom house at a cost of N200,000 (two hundred thousand naira) only. Payment of twenty percent of the total cost, that is, N40,000 (forty thousand naira) was required. Many Nigerians, especially the low-income cadre, were very happy about the housing projects that were designed to be built with local materials and also by direct labour.
I took much interest in a detached 3-bedroom bungalow and therefore not only paid the required deposit of N40,000 but my wife took a salary advance from her bank, Skye Bank, to offset the deposit of N160,000 (One hundred and sixty thousand naira) only. Most interested applicants had much hope in the project, not necessarily because of the project per se, but essentially because of the person and integrity of LKJ who accepted to serve under General Sani Abacha. However, there are two main issues that should be noted about the housing projects and the person of LKJ.
First, LKJ argued that the sum of N200,000 only would be enough to build a three bedroom detached bungalow. I chose FESTAC for the location of my own bungalow. However, Major General Abdulkareem Adisa, who succeeded LKJ as Minister of Works and Housing, came up with a new argument that, under no normal circumstance could any three-bedroom detached bungalow be built with only N200,000. He therefore sharply increased the cost of purchase by 400% to N800,000 (eight hundred thousand naira). The new required amount of deposit was N160,000 at the rate of 20% of the total cost price. In the strong belief that better days would still come, I paid the new deposit for a bungalow that apparently would not be built.
Many questions can be raised regarding the housing projects at this juncture: what really is the situation with the project as at today? Were houses ever built? If yes, where? Indeed, there is no information to enable good answers. What we know is that there were no known houses built in FESTAC or in Lagos. Reports had it that deposits collected in Lagos were diverted to the projects in the North. Why is this so? Why must monies collected be taken elsewhere?
Most unfortunately, LKJ who advertised the housing projects in April 1994 and promised to allocate the completed houses not later than December 1994 could not do so for various reasons of force majeure. His successor, Major-General Adisa, who jerked up the cost prices, had no better idea or solution to the housing deficit in the land. The truth of the matter is that the Federal Government acted purely as a pen- or business- robber, collecting public monies without building houses for which deposits were paid.
Without any jot of gainsaying, the Federal Government is the most fraudulent entity in Nigeria, the most corrupt, and the most anti-Nigeria. LKJ who wanted to do and build, was prevented. Abdulkareem Adisa who would not do but increased the prices, bastardised the whole scheme. Up till this moment of writing, there has never been any issuance of letter of allocation. There has not been any house and there has been no refund of deposits made. When the Federal Government is fraudulent why will its appointees not also be fraudulent? Why should anyone therefore expect any meaningful outcome from the war against corruption?
LKJ was in office from 1993 to August 1998 as Minister of Works and Housing. During his tenure, he attempted to address the housing deficits on a nation-wide basis, but to no avail. It was not because of lack of focus or know-how but political chicanery on which governance of Nigeria was based by that time. He was not only seen as an action governor, but also as an action minister whose ‘incorruptible nature came to the fore,’ and who disliked unprofitable foreign tours at the expense of the State.’
Now that LKJ has passed on and there is no official information on the housing projects, and more importantly, in the absence of non-allocation of houses and no refund of deposits, what should the law-abiding depositors do? Go to a law court? Organise public protests? If corruption is galloping and has become an institutionalised noisome problem in Nigeria, the reasons are partly explained by the fraudulent actions of the Federal Government of Nigeria. This fraudulent attitude was also manifest at the level of the Lagos Metroline (LML) project.
Lagos Metroline (LML)
LKJ was governor of Lagos State from 1979 to December 1983. Within the first year of his administration, he placed an international advert calling on international manufacturers to submit proposals to build a modern Metroline in Lagos, with a view to solving the problems of bottlenecks in Lagos State, as well as providing jobs for the people of Lagos. Six manufacturers from six countries responded: Canada, Spain, France, Great Britain, Japan and West Germany. Only the Japanese consortium, MITSUI and the French consortium, INTERINFRA, were shortlisted on the basis that they were leaders in the state-of-the-art train technology.
In this regard, the LKJ administration eventually signed a contract on a feasibility study with the MITSUI in June 1980 at a cost of one million naira. The choice of the Japanese consortium was largely influenced by cost considerations. The MITSUI offered to build the LML for N370 million (three hundred and seventy million while the French INTERINFRA tendered to build the LML for N590 million. The understanding of everyone was that the LML would be totally made in Japan, but which was designed not to be so, a situation that prompted Governor Jakande to place another advert on the basis of the MITSUI’s feasibility report in June 1981 in order to determine the definitive contract price.
Again, the French consortium tendered to build the LML at its initial quotation of N590 million, while the Japanese increased its own from N370 million to N500.24 million. In light of the cheaper price of the MITSUI, and particularly because the MITSUI was already registered as a company in Nigeria, the Japanese quotation was given a preferential treatment. The contract was given to the Japanese and the project was colourfully launched in August 1981.
However, the MITSUI could not live up to expectation. As explained by the LKJ government then, the Japanese ‘could not honour the terms of the contract signed in June 1981. By late September, the Japanese consortium, which had signed a contract for the construction of a 28.5 kilometre length of mass transit between Marina and Agege for about N600 million was asking for a contract price of over N400 million for a 10.5 kilometre length spanning Marina and Yaba. The contract was consequently terminated.’
Two points are noteworthy here. First is the character of inconsistency shown in the quotations of the MITSUI. It initially quoted N600 million for the construction of the LML for the whole project length of 28.5 kilometres, but was later asking for N400 million for the construction of only 10.5 kilometres, an amount that represented only 36% of the 28.5 kilometre length. In terms of total contract price, the Japanese were simply asking for a contract sum of N1,085.7million for the realisation of the total length.
It was against this background that the LKJ government was compelled to renegotiate with the French INTERINFRA another agreement. The French this time tendered in September 1982, that is after twelve months of what was considered as very ‘serious negotiation efforts,’ to construct the LML at a new cost of N689.45 million for the whole length of 28.5 kilometres. In other words, the French consortium increased its price by N99.5 million. Without any shadow of doubt, this new contract price was still cheaper than the N1,085.7 million quoted by the Japanese.
In order to appreciate the efforts of LKJ and the elements of bad governance in Nigeria, some quick points are noteworthy. First, the LKJ administration ensured that the project would be well funded. LKJ made it clear that ‘the cost of establishing, operating and maintaining a Metroline is not beyond the means of the Lagos State Government. The Federal Government does not need to be more involved than it was when Alhaji Shehu Shagari was the President. We can do without the World Bank…’ Put differently, the Federal Government of Nigeria was to serve only as guarantor while the Lagos State Government was to be responsible for the payment of the contract sum.
Secondly, the French was made to accept the funding of the project to the tune of 85%, but subject to the acceptance by the Government of Nigeria to serve as guarantor. The COFACE, which is the French Export Credit Agency that insures financial risks abroad, insisted on this requirement. Third, and perhaps more importantly, the LML was designed to be self-financing after its first four years of operation. The LML was projected to operate with N12.5 million but to generate N62.5 million at the end of the fourth year.
But where are we today in terms of the political and transport governance of Lagos? The environmental forces that militated against the achievement of the federal housing projects similarly militated in favour of the failure of the LML project. This is where a good foresight was allowed to be overwhelmed by unnecessary acts of wickedness
Wickedness versus Foresight
As LKJ explained it himself, ‘in Lagos State, the Metroline was designed to carry one million passengers per day, using 30 trains travelling at a commercial speed of 40 kph. The journey from Yaba to Lagos would take 15 minutes… Thus, the 30 trains could carry 57,000 commuters at a time in one direction within 15 minutes or 40 minutes as the case may be.’ And most interestingly, LKJ, who saw the launching of the LML projects as one of his happiest moments added: ‘we are making history today. One hundred years from now, generations yet unborn will thank us for the wisdom… At that time, the Metroline would have expanded from the North-South route to other states. I dream of a comfortable future and I thank God for making me and this administration instruments for the future.’
But most unfortunate, however, it was a dream not come true for reasons that are not far-fetched: political wickedness and poverty of ideas driven by lack of foresight. Group Captain Gbolahan Mudasiru, who succeeded LKJ as Governor of Lagos State, came up in the usual military style, to suggest that the LML contract sum was too expensive. His decision was based on the report of the Professor Ojetunji Aboyade panel which he set up to have a review of the LML project.
The panel observed that the LML project was good in everything except in price. It recommended the need for Nigerian engineers to be involved in the project which the French accepted but the French were not prepared for any downward review of the contract sum. In fact, Chief MKO Abiola said the N75 million incurred on the feasibility studies could easily fund the Third Mainland Bridge, and by so doing, solve to a great extent, the traffic problems in the State. In essence, for reasons of cost, the LML contract was denounced and Nigeria was made to face the consequences.
The INTERINFRA referred the dispute to the Arbitration Court of the Chamber for International Trade in Europe for breach of contract. Nigeria was fined FF1.4 billion and had to put up serious arguments for leniency before the fine was reduced to FF650 million, an amount almost equal to the initial contract sum. As we have noted elsewhere (Bola A. Akinterinwa, Nigeria and France,1960-1995: The Dilemma of Thirty-five Years of Relationship, Vantage Publishers, 1999, p.159 et s), Nigeria incurred not less than N75 million for the preparatory works and more than N600 million for payment of damages, that is, not less than N675 million. Whereas the total contract sum for the entire LML project was N689 million. There was only a difference of N14 million that should have been paid to have the full construction of the 28.5 kilometre LML in place.
At the end of the short-sightedness, it was not the LML project that was expensive, it was the policy decision, the lack of foresight and inability to take decision on the basis of urgent needs, that should be considered as expensive, and in fact, more expensive. Even if such needs were to be considered costly, the excess funding should have been accommodated in the interest of the people. Nothing should be said to be too expensive if the positive impact will be on the people. The problems of transportation are still there today. Corruption has not been eliminated. The politics of one administration or regime coming in, and another succeeding to unmake what the immediate predecessor had done is nothing more than an act of wickedness.
Imagine if the French Consortium, Interinfra, had been allowed to construct the LML at a cost of N590 million when it was considered to be exorbitant, imagine if, at the end of another call for international tender, the new contract price of N689 million had been settled for, imagine if Government’s negotiators had objectively considered the implications of breaching validly contracted agreement before denouncing it, imagine the fact that Nigeria eventually paid N675 million as damages for contractual breach, when the total contractual sum of the LML project was N689 million, and imagine if Government and its officials had thought deeply before acting, rather than thinking after action, LKJ’s dream of a comfortable future, of one hundred years from now, the Metroline would have expanded from the North-South route to other states, could have been inspiring. However, it is only in Nigeria that patriotism does not pay, that honesty of purpose is sanctioned and that people put in public positions to defend the national interest are the very people actually killing Nigeria softly. How do we explain Gbolahan Mudasiru’s inability to pay N689 million but his ability to pay N675 million damages? This is the Nigeria we all live in. LKJ, Farewell!!!