It’s easy to celebrate extraordinary personage. But what is more important is to flatter them by imitating them appropriately. I am tempted therefore to ask of the politicians pouring encomiums on the late Governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef K. Jaakande, who among them can make the effort to be like him. That is where the rubber meets the road.
I knew Alhaji Jakande. He knew also that I genuinely regarded him highly. When I looked at Nigeria’s broken National Honor system with the many crooks on the Honor roll I thought we should create something young people could model themselves on. The result was the Leader Without Title (LWT) Honor Colloquium Series.
We at CVL, the home of the LWT Tribute Series, were careful to avoid honoring politicians because the flavor of the moment is to celebrate politicians with access to public resources and power to dole out favours. We have been careful to avoid honoring politicians, especially from the brood with little sense of service. But we could not do a good job of setting up role models for tomorrow’s leaders if we did not erect before them someone like Jakande. So we honored him in the LWT Tribute Colloquium Series. He and Dr. Alex Ekwueme have been held up as the only examples from the political class, for young people, in the 10 years of the LWT Tribute Series.
I thought that useful because as a young person looking for role models from the ranks of statesmen, I found worthy of such from the immediate post-independence era Dr. Michael (MI) Okpara and Chief Obafemi Awolowo. In many ways, Alhaji Lateef Jakande was the Elisha that followed Elijah Obafemi Awolowo. I was therefore quite comfortable with the appellation of Babakekere to his name as the Awo heir apparent.But the time I had for the former Lagos State Governor traversed political life. His simplicity, integrity, and focus may have come through with his use of his personal car, a Toyota Crown for official duties as Governor when his colleagues went for the super-luxury Mercedes Benz models; his continuing to live in his home in Ilupeju instead of moving into Lagos house on Marina; and in clearly recognizing Education, Housing, and Transportation as the primary needs of Lagosians and pursuing the provision of such with great assiduousness even if with unconventional approaches in some cases.
I was in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia the day the metro rail was launched there in 1997 and I actually wept because Lagos would have been way ahead, had the disruptive military intervention of December 1983 not set us so far back. Worse still I was pained by the fact that it was built by a company that had to leave Nigeria, Taylor Woodrow. But it was classic visionary Jakande that the government of 1984 set out to rubbish at great cost to the country.
I knew Jakande beyond the Lagos stewardship. Before he became Governor in 1979 he had served as Government appointed Chairman of IMB, the International Merchant Bank that entered Nigeria as First National Bank of Chicago after the nationalization of banks in 1976.
The Bank Directors of the time who were trying to get their share of the national cake and national enjoyment ensured most board meetings took place abroad. But LKJ kept IMB board meetings in Lagos and sort no pecuniary benefits, nor harass the management for rent opportunities. That gave room for the Managing Director, Ebitimi Banigo, to build one of the biggest Merchant Banks in Nigeria. My 1995 case study; The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of IMB chronicles the track of this journey of integrity and commitment to the Common Good.
As he had impact in Politics and Corporate Governance so did he in Journalism and the printing and publishing business. Our world is certainly diminished by his loss but the effect of his work assures his name has become a non-perishable item.
The real question is how does a people immortalize such legend and preserve his values for generations not yet born to learn from, especially when they do not teach history.
To make up for this lacuna the CVL last year began the fortnightly Nigeria History Series on Zoom and Instagram. It is a big pity we had yet to have Babakekere as guest on the series before we lost him to the ages
Patrick Okedinachi Utomi, Political Economist and Professor of Entrepreneurship is founder of the Centre for Values in Leaderships