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Legendary Lateef Jakande, modest life in retirement

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“You mean Jakande is living here in Ilupeju? I can’t believe it. I thought he lives in Lekki or Ikoyi,” said a commercial motorcyclist who took this reporter from Anthony Bus Stop to the Ilupeju residence of Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande, the first civilian governor of Lagos State.

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Jakande, now 88, was born on July 29, 1929 and served as the first governor of Lagos between October 1979 and December 1983 when he religiously implemented the four cardinal programmes of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN.

Alhaji Lateef Jakande, popularly known as LKJ, is one of the last men standing among the group of eminent Nigerians who served their respective states as first civilian governors. He was Lagos governor for four years and three months, having been re-elected for a second term in 1983, only for the tenure to be truncated by a military coup.

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Thirty-four years after, his legacies pervade the entire length and breadth of Lagos State. Many market men and women, artisans, traders, Danfo drivers, Okada riders and many business men in Lagos might not have met him before but his name resonates often among them.

But has the state accorded Jakande the honour and respect he deserves today? This is the poser analysts and commentators have ceaselessly pondered on.

Jakande’s record has not been surpassed by any governor, be it military or civilian, that served afterwards.

Despite bestriding the state’s political sphere like a colossus, Baba Kekere, as he is fondly called (a reference to Awolowo Junior), is living a decent and modest life, enjoying the later part of his life in his one-storey building at Ilupeju.

Unlike many politicians who amassed stupendous wealth and resources after serving in any capacity and acquiring mansions and flashy cars, LKJ continues to live a modest life in retirement as a politician and one of the most successful media managers the country has ever produced, having started as a journalist, rising through the ranks to become the Editor- in- Chief of Tribune newspapers, and then a newspaper publisher.

His Number 2 Bishop Street, Ilupeju residence is devoid of the paraphernalia expected in a former governor’s residence, especially one of such status.

Except a few people who visit him to solicit for assistance in securing jobs, the former governor’s residence cannot be described as a beehive of activities to where people, especially politicians, throng. Politicians do not flock there because he no longer influences political decisions in the state.

Deji, one of his sons who was in the House of Representatives, was defeated in the APC primaries in December 2014. During a visit by this reporter, efforts to have a conversation with the octogenarian could not yield much result, as he could hardly speak for a long time.

He, however, said he was delighted that Lagos had developed tremendously and that he had no regret serving as governor of the state.

According to him, he is fulfilled that he was able to provide mass houses for Lagosians and implemented free education.

While former governors who served from 1999 to 2011 had access to substantial resources from the pension and retirement benefits allocated themselves, those who served prior to 1999 when Nigeria returned to civil rule were exempted from pension.

This is where many analysts faulted the present crop of politicians for not adequately taking care of those who laid the foundation for them.

Rights activist, Mr Yinka Odumakin, argues that Jakande would not even accept the kind of pension and retirement benefits which the governors allocated to themselves.

“What they are allocating to themselves is immoral, criminal and I don’t think people like Jakande can take that. What they are doing is criminal. They (former governors) should be given their due, they should be supported in their old age in decent ways but not with these criminal retirement benefits and packages that governors have allocated to themselves,” he said.

Many people believe that Lagos State has not done well to appreciate a man who gave his all in the service of the state, who professed a philosophy of service above self and accomplished projects and programmes that directly touch the lives of the people till today.

Governor Akinwumi Ambode acknowledged this during Jakande’s 87th birthday celebration where he was represented by his deputy, Dr (Mrs) Idiat Adebule.

“Alhaji Jakande is truly a progressive politician and administrator par excellence. We cannot forget his memorable years of selfless service to the people of Lagos State. He is a selfless leader who has set the precedent for us to follow and we shall not relent until we have surpassed his achievements in providing good governance in the state,” Ambode said in 2015.

Odumakin further said, “He (Jakande) remains a reference point of governance in Lagos State. He recorded unparalleled achievements. Nobody has met his standard. He faithfully implemented the four cardinal programmes of the UPN in his four years in terms of education, health, housing and the rest of them,” he said.

Barr. Monday Ubani, the second Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), said, “The man did almost everything, almost every aspect of infrastructural development was touched. He touched the housing sector, you know the Jakande Estates all over the place. He touched roads. There is no aspect of governance that that man did not touch. In fact, he is one of the best. The only person that is trying now is Ambode and if Ambode continues the way he is going now, he may likely meet the record but he may not surpass it,” he said.

“The man has a name. He and Samuel Mbakwe of the old Imo State and Abubakar Rimi of Kano State, these were the old governors of the 80s and I think we should be able to recognize them and give them a prominent place in our national life but that has not been done,” he added.

One area where Jakande endeared himself to the hearts of every Lagosian was in the implementation of mass housing projects across the state, the same way he built schools and put in place many iconic projects that have become permanent features of Lagos today.

His low-cost houses are in Ijaiye, Dolphin, Oke-Afa, Ije, Abesan, Iponri, Ipaja, Abule Nla, Epe, Amuwo-Odofin, Anikantamo, Surulere, Iba, Ikorodu, Badagry, Isheri/Olowu, Orisigun.

The houses were allocated to workers in a way that was quite easy and convenient for them to pay.

Lateef Jakande’s government built the current Lagos State Secretariat which houses all the state ministries as well as the popular Round House which was occupied by subsequent governors. Other monuments he embarked upon were the House of Assembly complex, State Television, Lagos Radio and Lagos State University.

He also established the General Hospital in all zones in the state, a Teacher Training College and a College of Education, the Water Management Board and Waste Disposal Board.

Also notable among his achievements were construction of numerous water works which ensures availability of potable water.

Jakande was said to have modernized and expanded the Iju Water Works which was first commissioned in 1915. This increased its daily capacity from 159 million to 204 million litres of water per day.

His government constructed, rehabilitated and resurfaced the Epe/Ijebu-Ode Road, Oba Akran Avenue, Toyin Street, Town Planning Way, Alimosho-Idimu-Egbe Road, Idimu-Iba-LASU Road and the new secretariat road, among others.

In the area of education, Jakande’s government raised primary schools in Lagos State to 812 with 533,001 pupils (against 605 primary schools with 434,545 pupils he met in 1979) and secondary schools to 223 with 167,629 students (against 105 schools with 107,835 students in 1979). His government constructed 11, 729 classrooms with a maximum of 40 children per class between March and August 1980, by 1983, he had constructed over 22,000 classrooms.

In July 1983, two commercial passenger boats named “Baba Kekere” and “Itafaji” to run the Mile 2 – Marina (CMS) route via the lagoon were inaugurated by his government to mark the official launch of the Lagos State Ferry Services. He established the Small Scale Industries Credit Scheme which preceded the EKO Bank as well as LASACO Assurance Company.

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