It is a statement of fact that the eulogies to the memory of Lateef Kayode Jakande (LKJ) are well-deserved.
The flow of tributes since the death at 91 last Thursday of the eminent journalist and former governor of Lagos state should be distinguished from the Nigerian culture of post-humous canonisation of public figures in the spirit of “you don’t speak ill of the death.”
Indubitably, Jakande earned the sobriquet “Action Governor of Lagos.”
The great story of the truly progressive politician offers immense lessons about the primacy of the common good, the central role of the public sector, a wholistic concept of development, competence in governance, selflessness and the verdict of history.
There have been academic studies conducted and books written about the Jakande days in power.
It is instructive for the present purpose that Jakande himself once gave what could be described as a synopsis of his professional and political career.
In a right of reply to a comment made 22 years ago on his politics by the ace columnist and journalism teacher, Professor Olatunji Dare, Jakande put the matter like this:
“I am eternally grateful to my Creator that He used me in these periods to bring joy, relief, even prosperity, to millions of my fellow men through the abolition of the shift system in education, the provision of free education at all levels with free books, the creation of Lagos State University, the establishment of 13 low-cost housing estates, the construction of Lekki Express Road, Osborne Road Estate, the free supply of drugs and medical treatment, the establishment of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, the Nigerian Press Organization, the organization of a World Press Freedom Committee, being the first and only African President of the International Press Institute, the presidency of the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria,, the establishment of Lagos Television, the launching of an unprecedented Housing Programme with 38, 000 houses under construction in 14 months, the Lagos metroline project, the discovery of Banana Island, the building of the NIgerian Tribune, plus efficient, selfless and uncorrupted administration in each sphere of activity, to mention only few.
“All these in a lifetime.
To Almighty Allah belongs all the Glory.”
It is, of course, left to future historians to do justice to the Jakande legacy.
Meanwhile, the following preliminary theses are attempted here on the Jakande typology of governance for the rich lessons it offers the contemporary society.
First, in yearning for inspiration a lot could be learnt about people-oriented governance in Nigeria from the reservoir of experiences provided by the history of the country. You don’t have to look in the exogenous direction always to find examples. Jakande offered a remarkable example of what governance should be in a society in which the majority of the people are poor.
Jakande was a proof of the fact that they have been oases in the desert of governance in Nigeria. The dialectical interplay between politics and policy resulted in undeniably positive results in the Jakande government. He was elected on the platform of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in 1979 as governor of Lagos state. The party had a clear social democratic platform. The organisation of the party was such that Jakande like his fellow UPN governors ( Olabisi Onabanjo (Ogun); Bola Ige (old Oyo); Adekunle Ajasin (old Ondo) and Ambrose Alli (old Bendel) were duty bound to implement the party programmes. Jakande competently implemented the UPN programmes on healthcare, education, job-creation, rural development, infrastructural revamp etc.
So there was an underlying philosophy of governance. His was not a government run as the execution of random projects developed as business ideas by contract-seeking friends and acquaintances. Jakande’s style was, of course, dictated by the peculiarity of Lagos state. In this respect, Jakande was exceptionally creative and immensely resourceful.
Secondly, in substance and style the purpose of Jakande in government was the relentless pursuit of the common good. The most vulnerable members of society benefit more when the common good is the priority. The trade-offs in policy-making would be determined by this socio-political choice.
Jakande did not waste his time lamenting lack of resources and mouthing the shibboleths that “government cannot do everything.” Neither did he waste the state resources to fund foreign trips in the name of pursuing the mirage of foreign investments. Jakande made no foreign trip as governor.
Jakande was convinced that government could do a lot about education, healthcare and infrastructure. In fact, during the transition on October 1, 1979 from military to civil rule, Jakande’s military predecessor wondered how the new governor could fund the programmes enunciated his inaugural speech. As it turned out eventually, it was possible to execute policies directed at the basic needs of the poor because the purpose of governance for Jakande was the common good.
Thirdly, the government of Jakande in Lagos demonstrated that the state should drive the development agenda especially in a poverty-ridden environment. In addition, Jakande also proved that the public sector under a committed political leadership could achieve the delivery of public goods in the most competent manner. The poor would be excluded in the development agenda without a strong public sector with an efficient and a well-equipped bureaucracy as the engine. You cannot tackle the manifestations of poverty in the education and heath sectors without accessible quality primary and secondary schools and primary healthcare funded from the public purse. It is an illusion for a poor country such as Nigeria to imagine that the problem of the social sector could be solved by the application of market forces. Jakande demonstrated that convincingly 40 years ago.
As one economist puts it, “…the measure of a society is the quality of life at the bottom of the pyramid, not the top.” It is the duty of the government to plan for development and drive the process of creating an inclusive society. That’s the path of progress. It is not a job to be outsourced to the private sector. That’s precisely why some persons are elected into the executive and legislative positions.
Fourthly, it is important for a governor or president to be armed with a coherent concept of development. Jakande’s government was a negation of the perverted concept of development currently on display in some states. For instance, in a country that is home to the largest number of out -of- school children on earth, some governors could still afford to indulge in the tokenism of setting aside a date to celebrate repainting the walls and replacing the louvres of a handful of classrooms in an exercise called “commissioning.” Since 1999 the development in the education sector in some states has hardly been measured by an exponential increase in school enrolment as Jakande did in the Second Republic.
Fifthly, a political figure should pay attention to what could be defining moments of history. Fortunately for Jakande, the defining moment of his political career was the period between October 1 1979 and December 31, 1983. The assessment of Jakande’s 14 months as minister of housing under General Sani Abacha would remain controversial. This is especially because of his failure, along with others, to quit the Abacha government in 1995 as demanded by a group of Yoruba leaders who met in Ibadan at the height of the agitation for the validation of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by Bashorun Moshood Abiola. But from the tributes to his memory so far, that might not define his place as a historical figure.
Doubtless, the essential Jakande was the one that governed Lagos for only four years and recorded developmental leaps.
Alhaji Jakande was probably conscious of the disappointment of some of his admirers and supporters when he said, in response to Professor Dare’s comment on that period of his career, that:
“If I lost my popularity because of this principled and courageous stand, I regard it as part of the price a good leader must be prepared to pay for his deep-seated conviction and for public good. In this respect, I am in good and honourable company. World History is replete with several inspiring and noble precedents of this experience in the footsteps of the Great Masters. And their reputations have survived their experiences.”
The verdict of history will be kind on LKJ.
May his memory continue to inspire people – oriented governance in this land.