Remembering A Journalism Legend

By Abdu Rafiu

Talk about the struggle for the freedom of the Press, the mind cannot but race to Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande, fondly called LKJ by his peers. As I was saying…with the formation of the Nigeria Union of Journalists solidly in place, an effort that entailed hard work between 1952 and 1955, and in which he had become a driving spirit, Lateef Jakande thought the next level was the coming together of editors and senior journalists to form an association to be known as Guild of Editors. As I did mention last week, he sold the idea to his fellow senior journalists: Abiodun Aloba (Ebenezer Williams); Theophilus Awobokun, the first editor of the Sunday Times; Peter Enahoro (Peter Pan) and Peter Osugo (Pecos). They flowed with him. In line with his accustomed unremitted application to whatever he set his mind to accomplish, the Guild came into existence in 1961 and he became its first president. The objective was to have a body of senior editors who would worry about the industry and professional ethics being the officers in management and be a bridge between publishers and the NUJ. Jakande’s reasoning was that while the NUJ was needed to do the work of a trade union, to seek the welfare of its members and fight against any attack on the Press, the Guild would serve as a buffer between the publishers and the staff union and be responsible for implementing and enforcing the code of conduct of the Press.

Before the advent of the Guild on the scene, there had been this bouncing of ideas by senior executives on the need for an association of the publishers themselves to protect and vouchsafe the interests of their newspapers among which was the registration of advertisers. The mulling was spearheaded by Jakande and concretized in 1960. He and Mr. Barmasik of the then Daily Express summoned a meeting of publishers. The outcome of it was the inauguration of the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria in 1960 and the emergence of Jakande of Allied Newspapers as President.

According to Jola Ogunlusi in his book, “NUJ, A History of Nigeria Press”, NPAN in collaborative working with the Guild of Editors was to take care of the conditions of service in their respective organizations, but the NPAN was to exclusively source for funds to finance matters of joint interests and concerns. Even when his tenure ran into storming waters with his imprisonment in 1962 following the crisis in the Western Region on charges of treasonable felony along with some other Action Group party leaders, notably Chief Obafemi Awolowo, such was the effulgent quality of his leadership that the NPAN only had an acting president throughout the four years he was in jail. Upon his release by General Gowon in August 1966, he was re-elected as the association’s president. From then on, he was re-elected again and again until 1979 when he relinquished the office to become the first elected governor of Lagos State.

Under his leadership, the NPAN successfully fought many battles. First, he saw that in unity lies strength. He was at the forefront of bringing together the three main organs for the advancement and protection of the media. The three main organs, the NPAN, the Guild of Editors, and the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) came together under the umbrella of the Nigeria Press Organization (NPO) in 1978. The formation of the NPO was accelerated to fight the Nigeria Press Council Decree 31 of that year. Jakande was made the first chairman of the NPO as well. In 1988, long after he had vacated the office, another edition of the Press Council decree was issued cited as Press Council Decree 59. Brandishing the flag with the unyielding doggedness of Jakande’s spirit, the NPO fought the authorities until the composition of the members of the council was adjusted. The government had ignored the amendment made by the NPAN to the draft forwarded to it as far back as 1976 on the council. The NPAN in response ensured that none of the NPO members served on the board of the Press Council.

The account of the battles cannot be complete without a special mention of the battle to get justice for the Nigerian Observer correspondent in Port Harcourt who was humiliated by the government of Rivers State. Minere Amakiri had filed a report on teachers’ strike in the state. The publication coincided with the governor’s birthday on 30 July 1973. The authorities in Rivers State considered the publication a hostile action designed to embarrass the governor and spoil the joy of his great day. Mr. Amakiri was arrested and given 33 strokes of the cane on the orders of the military governor. He was detained, stripped naked and had his head forcibly shaven with a dull-edged razor blade by the agents of the state government. There were lacerations all over his body. Jakande wasted no time in contacting human rights lawyer Gani Fawehinmi as the NPAN attorney. NPAN was joined by the Guild of Editors. Fawehinmi, supported by Dr. Olu Onagoruwa, was in his element arguing that journalists had a right to their dignity and to do their work without molestation. Chief Judge Ambrose Allagoa personally handled the matter. The battle was successfully fought with Amakiri being awarded a hefty sum of money for his humiliation. For every cane he received, the state government was fined N200. There were other fines imposed on the government. Jakande got all newspapers to take more than a passing interest in the matter. Dr. Onagoruwa later published a book on the incident titled “Press Freedom in Crisis — A Study In Amakiri Case.” The Observer was owned by the government of Bendel State which was later split into Edo and Delta States. Seeing through the move by the government, the NPAN also fought the Productivity, Price and Income Board which was to fix the prices of commodities. Jakande’s NPAN argued that producers should be free to fix their own prices to recover their costs, record surplus and have reserves so that they could continue in business and provide employment.

A multi-tasked and highly organized fellow, Jakande had time for everything he wanted to do and needed to do. As he was attending to IPI matters, wading through documents as its president, he was attending to Tribune issues worrying about newsprint, chemicals and spare parts, he was getting ready for political meetings, sitting at Chief Awolowo’s feet to learn wisdom to add to his own. Such was it that it could be said of him that he was a permanent face in Awolowo’s residence. His work schedule would begin very early in the morning. By 5 a.m. he had already left home for his office on Broad Street. It was in the office he said his morning prayers. By 7 a.m. the editorial of the Tribune was ready to be dictated to the editors in Ibadan. The type-written copy would later be forwarded to them through the newspaper’s circulation van returning to the Ibadan head office after delivering Tribune copy parcels to distributors in Lagos. Jakande himself was in Ibadan as Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief twice every week — on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

In Lagos, upon closing at Broad Street, he would head for Chief Awolowo’s house. Jakande was a workaholic. His work came before his home and predictably an absentee husband he was throughout his journalism career. His editorials were robustly argued, informed and engrossing; they were fierce and unsparing. He was fearless despite experiences in jail houses. Indeed, following harassment of Tribune editors and correspondents by security agents, Jakande wrote to the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Kam Salem, to leave his editors alone. Should they have complaints about the Tribune editorials, it was he they should come for. During the treasonable felony trial, he said to Chief Awolowo how he wished his leader was left out of it and if it was possible the charges against the Chief could be added to his own. He said for every day Chief Awolowo was in incarceration, Nigeria was the loser. His own imprisonment was from May 1962 to 06 August 1966 when he was released by General Gowon. Jakande was ready for the consequences of his convictions.

Jakande started his journey into politics under the shadows of his leader and mentor, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He began his foray on his own steam with his appointment as one of the Lagos Leaders of Thought by Major Mobolaji Johnson who became the Military Administrator of Lagos in May 1966. A couple of months after he settled down, Johnson raised a committee of prominent Lagosians with whom he held regular meetings on the affairs of Lagos. Some of the others were H.O.Davies; Fagbenro Beyioku; Femi Okunnu; Ganiyu Dawodu; I.A.S. Adewale fondly hailed ‘The boy is good’; Adeniran Ogunsanya; Ademola Thomas; Abiola Oshodi; Senu Oke and TOS Benson. Johnson’s appointment signaling the end of office of Minister of Lagos Affairs Lagos raised expectation that Lagos had begun the journey to becoming an independent entity. This eventually materialized on 27 May 1967. With the official carving out of the state, Johnson himself transformed from being a military administrator to a Military Governor. With the development, he appointed his commissioners.

In September 1966, General Gowon announced the setting up of a National Conference of Representatives of the then four Regions and the capital territory of Lagos. Jakande was among them representing Lagos. Others from Lagos were the legendary Teslim Elias; Femi Okunnu; Ishola Bajulaiye, Eletu Odibo of Lagos and Chief Jas Ogundimu, the Oloto of Oto. That was when the Lagos Representatives for the first time pressed for the creation of Lagos State. This was the class to which Jakande belonged, yet Jakande was known not by throwing his weight all over the place but by his action. He was incognito; one could pass him by without recognizing him. He was neither loud nor did he indulge in opulence. As governor, he used his own car and lived in his own house. When stories went round that he was going to fly the UPN flag as governorship candidate, like the Americans wrinkled their faces when a similar story leaked about Jimmy Carter and they asked: Jimmy who? The same was asked contemptuously of LK Jakande: What! Which Jakande? Jakande ke!

On October 1, 1079, Lateef Kayode Jakande became the first elected governor of Lagos State and he received his glittering testimonial from no less a personality than Bola Tinubu when in his glowing tribute on his departure from earthly life in 2021, he said that no one can beat the record set by Jakande as Governor of Lagos State.

On becoming governor of Lagos, Jakande set the tone and opened the floodgate for the establishment of radio and television stations. The first battle he fought had to do with the setting up of radio and television stations which was stiffly opposed by the Shagari NPN Administration. That Administration sought to vest the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria with the power to establish and operate radio stations in the states. The Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) was to set up at least one television station in each state of the Federation. The Federal Authority said states setting up radios and TV would amount to a proliferation of broadcast stations. They did not know the person they were dealing with; they attempted to ignore his credentials, someone who for years was president of IPI, the first African to occupy the position; the founder of the Nigerian Guild of Editors; the founder of the Newspapers Proprietors Association; the founder of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ), managing director/editor-in-chief of Nigerian Tribune and one who had led the media, nationally and internationally in battles with the military as well as irresponsible civilian administrations. They wanted to take him on his turf. He accepted the gauntlet thrown at him.

Waving the 1979 Constitution, he fought it and was victorious. His administration thus became the first state government in the land to own a TV station. Thus by 1982, although NTA had had stations in all the states; 15 states leaning on the victory of Jakande had set up their own television stations independent of the Federal. Altogether the total number of television stations both state and Federal came to 38 and radio stations to 40. After it took over in December 1983, the Buhari Administration closed down those owned by the Federal Government leaving Lagos and Abuja, and zonal stations–Kaduna, Enugu and Ibadan.

Working like lightning, Jakande’s miracle of achievements spread across the state. Not surprisingly, before the election of 1979, Jakande visited all local government areas in the state taking note of the peculiar needs of each place. Education was the priority. On the occasion of his being sworn in on October 1, he declared education free. To take care of the attendant pupil/student surge in population, he built simple, functional schools. A great many products of the schools have become professors and high-flying professionals. The functional primary schools built to abolish the three-session system he inherited were recommended by UNESCO for developing countries. When Gbolahan Mudasiru came, he started to upgrade them. And he did a lot. The Jakande schools were not meant to be permanent. They were intended to take care of the exigencies of the time and they fulfilled the purpose for which they were built such that pupil enrollment leaped from 90,172 in 1979 to 136, 987 in 1983.

Secondary schools rose from 79 when he took over in 1979 to 319 by July 1983. The student population which was 59,584 by October 1979, had by a year later jumped to 107, 835. Zonal education offices were set up to oversee the schools to see to their needs, provide learning materials such as books and ensure standards. The teachers were the highest paid in the nation with a right to car and housing loans like the state civil servants.

In housing, he established 18 housing estates in the state but mainly in Lagos. He embarked on a crash programme to build 50,000 housing units in four years. For 17 years before his ascension, LEDB, the state housing corporation succeeded in building only 4,502 housing units. Jakande’s focus was on the low and medium classes in the society. He succeeded in delivering 21,000. An allottee was required to pay only N4,000 as deposit. Whoever was unable to afford that could pay just N1, 000 and he would be eligible for a loan to balance up from LBIC. A two-bedroom flat was sold for N6, 000 and a three-bedroom unit went for N8,000.

The government bought the building materials for the contractors after ascertaining what needed to be done. The total length of roads he built in the four years he was in the saddle was 195,426 metres. In his words: “We took inventory of all roads in all the local government areas…our estimates of how much for instance 500 metres of drainage should cost. We now gave jobs to contractors in addition to direct labour efforts of the Ministry of Works. I personally knew the true position of the roads because I went round everywhere.” His further strategy was to establish a Works Management Board and one unique activity of it was that it had an asphalt plant that could produce 200 tons of asphalt an hour. So it was possible to build paved neighbourhood roads without stress. The board constructed 94 public buildings, including the Lagos House of Assembly, the rebuilding of Onikan Stadium, coconut industries and the Conference Hall in Badagry.

Jakande transformed the finances of the state to an unbelievable and enviable level. When he met his predecessor before being sworn in, the latter wondered where he was going to find money to fund all the beautiful campaign promises because the state had no money. Jakande assured him that the state would generate its own funds. And it so happened. Jakande did say: “We generated enough to meet our obligations without dependence on the Federal Account.” And so, Lagos State was the first State Government in the land to announce a billion Naira budget and it gave loans to some states, notably Borno. Jakande established the Lagos State Ministry of Environment under the headship of Alabi Masha. He then set up the Lagos State Waste Disposal Board with Alhaji Mumini as chairman. Equipped with a fleet of 157 vehicles, 21 mechanical shovels and 2,000 movable dust bins in every part of the metropolis, the board collected 400, 000 tonnes of refuse. As I had cause to state earlier in the year, the population of Lagos has increased by leaps, it should necessarily be expected of his successors to roll up their sleeves and Fashola fitted the bill. It was part of building a cleaner Lagos that Fashola embarked on environmental transformation everywhere turning Lagos into exemplary leafy surroundings— plants, flowers, and green lawns even in the most unexpected terrain.

Jakande established a Flood Relief Committee de-flooding Ebute Ero, Oroyinyin; Obalende; Aguda; Opebi; Apapa; Eric Moore; Simpson; Oba Akran; and many more up to Somolu! Drains collectors were built at Gbagada; Oshodi; Mafoluku; Ojota; etc. Jakande introduced the following in the attempt to improve the physical appearance of Lagos: Annual Sanitation Day for Women; Annual Sanitation Day for Workers; Annual Sanitation Day for School Children; Annual Sanitation Day for Community Development Committees and annual competition on environment among the 20/23 local government councils.

The Jakande Administration invested in the following companies to have permanent and unfailing revenue inflow into the state’s treasury: Guinness Nigeria Limited; Nigerian Breweries; Dunlop Industries; Capps & Da’Albrto; Julius Berger; G. Cappa; UAC; BEWAC Ltd: UTC Ltd; CFAO; Volkswagen Nigeria Ltd; Nichemtex; Clay Industries; British American Insurance; Westminster Dredging and Crusader Insurance. These were just only one stream of financial turn-around for the state. He established Lagos State University, 10 mini-waterworks located in different neighbourhoods as well as a ferry service from Festac to Marina.

Dear readers, I had thought I was to speak extensively on LKJ that I knew so closely. My bosses, Osoba and Uncle Sam that the world knows as Sad Sam were in attendance for the memorable outing in honour of Jakande; they knew him much more closely, so I could not afford to fail. I was to discover I was a discussant. Also amongst us gathered for the memorial lecture organized by the Guild of Editors were colleagues; senior editors; Fellows of the Guild of Editors who are as informed on the legacies of our leader, LK Jakande as I can claim to be.

I have a boxload of glittering testimonials for Jakande. He was a role model for some of us — in application to work and in his simplicity. Professor Idowu Sobowale said in one of his public lecture series in 1913: “Genuine communication must entail exchange of ideas, if it is interpersonal and must have a feedback loop, if it involves large, scattered and heterogeneous audiences. It usually leads to consensus either of agreement or disagreement.” That was Jakande’s guiding principle. It was said of Bernard Levin, the celebrated columnist of The Times of London in the review of his book titled “Speaking Up”: ‘A welcome selection of the works of Scoop Levin, the ace reporter, with the hottest news about bumblebees; Cato Levin, the passionate moralist, pouring his invective over oppression…’ Another reviewer said of him: “There must surely be very few of his readers who would deny that he is the most remarkable journalist of our time.” I make bold to say, Lateef Kayode Jakande was all and more — an oracle in journalism and a legend in governance that just didn’t sit in judgment but proved that all his preachments in the editorial suite and as conscience of the nation are achievable.

References: LEGACIES OF LEADERSHIP by Olu John Folayan; NUJ: A History of Nigerian Press by Jola Ogunlusi; A Lagosian of the 20th Century by Musliu Anibaba and periodic publications issued by Jide Akinbiyi in charge of Communications, Governor’s Office.

Source: The Guardian

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