The four years of the Second Republic [October 1979 to December 1983] was a graveyard of political reputations in Nigeria. Few of its major political actors came out of the Second Republic with their reputations unscathed. Even its top actor, President Shehu Shagari, only had his reputation salvaged many years later, when people saw that he lived a very simple life and had no stupendous wealth.
Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande, LKJ as he was called in those days, was the star performer of the Second Republic. It was not because he was President of the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria [NPAN] in 1978-79 that the media lionized him. That year LKJ walked a tight rope. NPAN invited all five presidential candidates in turn for a chat. Since he was also UPN’s governorship candidate for Lagos State, there were murmurs that LKJ was not a neutral arbiter, but he hosted the dinner chats expertly, to the admiration of all.
He was elected Governor of Lagos State with more than 90% of the votes cast, beating NPN candidate Prince Adeniji-Adele to third place. October 1, 1979 made for a tense arrangement. Lagos was the Federal Capital then, so Shagari took the oath of office there at 10am whereas Jakande arrived at noon and took his oath of office as governor. They then went their separate but constantly intertwining ways.
Jakande’s tenure took off to such a high-flying start that the media soon nicknamed him “Action Governor.” He was serious, matured, efficient, dynamic and intellectual. Not for him the flamboyance that characterized most Second Republic governors. Jakande was not known for glib political talk, excessive partisanship that characterized some of his UPN colleagues, or the scandals that were the hallmarks of many governorship tenures.
His political profile rose so high that in UPN’s Western Nigeria stronghold, he was soon nicknamed “Baba Kekere,” heir apparent to the overwhelming UPN leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Other UPN governors probably hated this, and when Awo died in 1987, LKJ could not take charge of the movement. A sign of his dwindling political fortune was in 1992 when, an SDP presidential aspirant, Major General Shehu Yar’adua defeated him in Lagos State. LKJ publicly challenged Yar’adua to take a walk together with him on Lagos streets to see who was more popular. When as a reporter I put the question to Yar’adua in August 1992, he said LKJ should go and do his road show alongside Yomi Edu and Dapo Sarumi because they were the ones that defeated him in Lagos.
Then came the costly mistake from which LKJ never recovered. When General Sani Abacha overthrew Chief Ernest Shonekan’s Interim National Government [ING] in November 1993, he invited many leading politicians to join his cabinet. Jakande agreed to do so and was made Minister of Works and Housing. The June 12 movement, which completely took over Yorubaland, ostracized LKJ. He never recovered from it, politically speaking. By the time he was dropped from Abacha’s first cabinet in 1995, LKJ had almost no political clout left in Lagos. He was barely seen and rarely heard from in the past 21 years of the Fourth Republic.
With his death Thursday at the ripe age of 91, few tears will be shed in mainstream South West politics. But that will not take away Lateef Kayode Jakande’s record as probably the best performing Nigerian civilian governor of all time, right until Babatunde Raji Fashola came along 24 years later.