By Leo Sobechi
Baba kekere. That was how they called him. Although Alhaji Lateef Jakande was his real name, the Baba Kekere nom de guerre was the direct fall out from his close affinity and faithfulness to Pa Obafemi Awolowo.
To those who know or follow the life and times this former journalist, politician and statesman, his life story underscores the fact that success is nothing without successor: He was a living proof that Pa Awolowo succeeded as a visionary and empathic leader.
As governor of Lagos State, LKJ, as he was fondly called, replicated some of the sterling development blueprints that marked out the Awoist social welfare ideology, particularly in such sectors like education and infrastructure.
It could be said that from 1979 through 1983 when he held sway as Governor of Lagos State, Baba Kekere left the spirit of excellence that propelled the state’s socio-economic development. As a man of many parts, LKJ brought his skills as a consummate journalist and grassroots presence as an Awoist to make Lagos stand out in its own class and as the commercial capital of Nigeria. That in summary could define why Lagos State is known as the Centre of Excellence.
From his four years as governor, through a political excursion to Abuja in the Abacha years, as well as his efforts at midwifing Awoism in the short-lived Ibrahim Babangida transitional democracy, Jakande lived through the turbulence and remained faithful to his integrity, even as he bore true allegiance to the welfarist ideology.
THE class of 1979 governors could be described as the first fruits of Nigeria’s experiment with presidential democracy. The presidential system was also the product of the 1979 constitution birthed by the 1978 Constituent Assembly. Given the long-standing relationship between LKJ and Pa Awo, during the buildup to the 1979 General Election, the former journalist and columnist with Tribune newspapers, was supported in the ambition to be governor.
Awo had registered the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), which was seen as an offshoot of the former Action Group (AG) political platform of the first republic. It was, therefore, the thinking Awo and other like minds that UPN should be driven on the AG framework to galvanise support, not only within the Southwest but also around the progressive elements in the country.
Fielding LKJ as UPN’s standard-bearer for the governorship contest made it easy for the party to carry the day because both the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) fragmented opposition votes between Sultan Ladega Adeniji and Adeniran Ogunsanya.
NPN’s Adeniji Adele made it hard for Zik’s acolyte, Ogunsanya, to rally the votes of non-indigenous voters, thereby neutralising the traditional electoral rivalry between the first republic leaders, Awo and Zik, who were on the ballot on UPN and NPP for the Presidential poll.
Buoyed by his electoral triumph in which he returned a majority of the lawful votes cast in the governorship poll, LKJ hit the ground running. He deployed the UPN manifesto, adopted an open-door policy while embarking on aggressive education and infrastructure programmes. The pro-poor slant of his policies and programmes earned him the praiseworthy moniker, Action Governor.
With time, his administration became synonymous with the construction of new neighbourhood primary and secondary schools, just as it provided free tuition fees for those levels of education. Although Jakande upscaled his ambitious educational programme by establishing the Lagos State University, his administration grappled with spirited opposition from owners of private schools and religious groups.
Perhaps, for the fact that his administration was able to construct more than 30, 000 housing units and myriad of primary schools, opposition politicians alleged that the schools and houses were a little above chickens pens, but of invaluable purpose.
LKJ’s administration initiated and completed Gbagada and Ikorodu General Hospitals and the Metroline project that was abandoned after the military struck. Also the 23 local government councils he established could not survive the military onslaught.
Writing on the life and times of Jakande, Prof. Lai Olurode, noted, “LKJ’s achievements during his tenure as governor were so outstanding that they were openly acknowledged early in the military era that overthrew the civilian administration in December 1983.”
While he grappled with the business of governance, LKJ was a prominent member of the Progressives, comprising state governors opposed to the NPN federal government. The work of the progressives climaxed during the deportation of Abdurahman Shugaba and impeachment of Kaduna State governor Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa by the NPN dominated Kaduna State House of Assembly.
Politics after office
DESPITE his prodigious achievements in office, LKJ was confronted with allegations of misuse of security votes, corrupt enrichment by proxy through John West publications, abuse of office and unjust enrichment of UPN, his political party, to the tune of N14.6million.
In 1991 when the Ibrahim Babangida regime decreed two political parties- National Republican Congress (NRC) and Social Democratic Party (SDP)- into existence for a promised return to civil rule, Babakere was confronted with a subtle political insurrection by some upcoming politicians, who believed that the era of Baba sope was gone.
The new group called PRIMROSE, supported Chief Dapo Sarumi against LKJ group’s preferred candidate, Prof. Agbalajobi, on the SDP platform. Throwing new money into the bargain, the PRIMROSE group waged internal supremacy battle within SDP, ostensible to challenge LKJ’s leadership and acclaim as Awo’s successor.
The internecine political battle led to SDP’s eventual loss of Lagos State and the gradual displacement of LKJ and his insistence on integrity as the basis of leadership selection in Lagos politics.
After the collapse of the IBB regime and the fall of the 1993 annulment of
The Presidential poll believed to have been won by SDP’s M.K. O. Abiola, LKJ, who was earlier convicted and later pardoned, and upon his reprieve from incarceration, he accepted to serve the Sani Abacha junta as Minister of Works. His explanations that he merely acceded to pressures from progressive leaders did little to assuage the criticisms.
As to whether his association with the Abacha hamstrung his political progression, LKJ said he harboured no regrets about the decision to serve the junta.
However, at the return of democracy in 1999, Baba Kekere shunned the Alliance for Democracy (AD), to which most members of defunct SDP gravitated and joined the All Peoples Party (APP). And, at the merger of APP and United Nigeria Peoples Party (UNPP) to become ANPP, the Chief Lanre Razaq faction of ANPP suspended him.
Jakande joined hands with other progressives to form the Action Party of Nigeria (APN) and served as its pioneer chairman, only to later engage in a leadership tussle with Dr. Dominic Adegbola.
Perhaps noticing that age was playing on his active participation in partisan bickering, LKJ began his gradual retreat. But, there was no doubt that he had left bold footprints on the sands of time for young politicians, who wished, to walk in his steps.
That may explain why 16 years ago at his 75th anniversary, some members of the class of 1999 governors, including Bola Tinubu and Achike Udenwa eulogized him. Tinubu, a distant successor, declared that Baba Kekere “was worth celebrating for his life of consistent commitment to public service.”
On his part, former Imo State governor, Udenwa concluded that LKJ’s life and times epitomised “resilience, positive audacity, bravery and bravado, and a knack for excellence.”
Twenty years after he left office as Lagos State governor and a time, when some commentators draw contrasts between the class of 1979 governors and their 1999 colleagues, LKJ’s achievements continue to be a benchmark for responsible performance.
For instance, it is recorded that within a space of four years and three months, Jakande was able to achieve the following landmarks in Lagos: Lagos State Secretariat which houses all the state ministries as well as the popular roundhouse hitherto occupied by all subsequent governors of the state, Lagos State House of Assembly complex, Lagos State Television and the Lagos Radio, as well as the Lagos State University, among many others.
But, about the most remarkable feature of Alhaji Jakande’s stint in public service is the consensus opinion that he was neither corrupt nor used public office for personal aggrandisements.
In death, LKJ’s record would stand out, both as reminders that more can be done for the people in good faith and a reproach to those who insist that money is all that matters in politics.
As Nigerians mourn LKJ’s passing and bemoan the incursion of vote-buying into the electoral process, some emergent politicians might look back at the Jakande era to yearn for a return to the old-time politics of integrity and service.
Source: The Guardian