One notable tragedy of the progressive front in Nigeria’s political practice is the palpable dearth of young entrants into its fold. It will appear that its dialectical offerings are not digestible or are unattractive to our young people or that enough education as to the relative practical advantage of its philosophy over competing rival claims is not marketed as wares in the market place. New entrants are not seen queuing for enlistment as a matter of course or as a matter of the recognition of or commitment to the provenance of an alternative ideal.
Instead, swathes of young people get drawn inexorably to the dazzles of meretricious beauty in a worn or obviously un-beneficial mode of social mobilisationor integration. So, the class of progressive political practice in Nigeria is a shrinking one and endangered too. No thanks to the sickening antics of charlatans who confuse admirers of progressive politics with reductionism, turncoat-ism, taradiddle, poor vision and un-principled rationalisation of cant.
It is against this background of the dire paucity of solid ideologues and of the practitioners of progressive politics (which some have, with some justification, dubbed “deceitful bourgeois posturing”) that the loss, to the inevitable, of Alhaji Lateef Jakande – that meritorious civilian governor of Lagos State – is viewed mournfully. It has left a huge hollow on the attenuated tapestry of Nigeria’s political practice. Alternately profound and playful, spiritual and mundane, Jakande was an agreeable, demonstrative man. His method and approach lifted the soul of Lagos State. His period in office may well be described as the golden age of Lagos State. One thinks of him with reverent affection.
As governor of Nigeria’s most thrilling or vigorous state, Jakande earned many accolades: Baba Kekere (a fitting reference to his up and coming stature in the shadows of the titanic figure of Chief Obafemi Awolowo), Action Governor (as sobriquet for the public’s appreciation of the frenetic speed at which the Lagos environment was being transformed and the dizzying heights it was attaining under his watch). People’s Governor (a synonym for his groundling with the ordinary people as he ministered to their basic needs – housing, transportation, education, employment, etc.) and Oga (to underscore his masterful grasp of affairs and events around him; and of his managerial skill in the efficient management of the affairs of the party and of his government.
Jakande, in the true tradition of the social and political persuasion of his group, provided the people a good example of a fine imaginative politician with an increased emphasis on precision and refinement and a conviction of maturity and superiority to previous eras which bred bands of non-performing or poor state actors and brigades of uncouth cheerleaders. Jakande set out to provide a canon of correct performance in the public arena as he ignored some of the previous extravagancies which would have been unworthy of him. Jakande, against the long practice of the gaucheness of Government House residency and as part of an enduring search for natural simplicity, settled for his sparsely-furnished Bishop Street, Ilupeju residence as home. His mature views and self-discipline on duty were stoical especially in a pervasive situation of ostentatious display of rude power, of un-earned influence and of crude accumulation of wealth by public office holders. There may be a tendency to want to make light of this monumental contribution to public service or to proceed to explain it away or to ignore it completely. Even as the whole political system is viewed as decadent, our understanding of the simple virtues for which Jakande stood is today reinforced by the discovery of a worrisome preference for sensuous imitation in governance to the total abandonment of moderation, subtlety and the virtues of undiluted service.
Jakande, as a pupil of the Awolowo school, has been ominously referred to as the last of the persons who had informed interest in the Awo pedagogy. Regarding contemporary Nigerian politicians, Jakande alone draws deeply from the idealist and practical world of the Awolowo creed in his pre-occupation with the “Life More Abundant” philosophy of the Awo group. Jakande has recreated for the future what was denied the Nigerian people by an awkwardly configured contraption, a disdainful attitude to merit, and by a sensuous, self-loving or buccaneering band of politicians. Right up to his death, a few weeks ago, he adhered firmly to his belief in precise observation, discipline and clarity of purpose. Jakande stands out like a statue in an attitude that is both challenging and heavy with foreboding. There is what we may fittingly refer to as Jakande’s re-creation of service in politics which thankfully has had its firm hold on the consciousness or imagination of the people.
It is today the benchmark for assessing his successors who, in spite of what they think of themselves, are viewed as Lilliputians beside his towering persona. Jakande’s picture can be truly examined when viewed as the watershed between the strict approach to governance and its awful equivalent of an un-moralising sense to public duty. Jakande’s dedication to the ideal of the common good is anchored on his belief that governance can only flourish in conditions of liberty and of even-handedness in public resource allocation. This largely accounts for the un-paralleled success in the housing, education and healthcare delivery revolution of his tenure as governor of Lagos State. His administration was people-focused; people-oriented.
Jakande did not go about his governance business in the Lagos area with a retinue of security men and a sycophantic market women guild in an unending convoy of cars and SUVs. His vintage Toyota Crown deluxe car and three other cars in tow were all the Governor’s entourage. Jakande’s government did not procure the services of foreign contractors to build local or street corner roads. He, in fact, insisted that the roads could do with mere grading just to make them motorable in the interim. He projected that the “graduates” of his free education programme would, in the course of time, build the roads as they become engineers and road builders.
But he still opened up the state in an unprecedented manner. The Epe-Lekki Expressway, Isheri-Iyana-Iba dual carriageway, etc. are undying testament to his creative master-plan for the enlargement of the fortunes of Lagos. The mass transit Lagos Metro line project which was cruelly aborted by considerations that are asinine occasioned by bad belle stands today as the biggest drawback to efficient mass transportation in the Lagos metropolis. Jakande as governor, employed the forensic skill of Jelili Omotola, subsequently a professor of Law, for interpreting in practical terms the provisions of the Land Use Act to the eternal benefit of the principle of over-riding public interest. His approach stands in contradistinction to the present abuse exemplified in the crude expropriation of our common patrimony for private or personal purpose. The Land Use Act, whith creative deployment Jakande has become an exemplar of, is today ashamedly decried by some as the major “impediment” to their performance in office.
The magic of Jakande all within a mere four-year period continues to dwarf the respective 8-year parade of his successors. Whether we travel in Lagos State by boat to seek enjoyment of heraquatic splendour, or traverse her landscape by road or attempt a bird’s eye view of her geography from the skies, we are up against the solid achievements of a man of ideas, of unrestrained allusions to his merit, and of an enduring reference to the cult of the cultivation of sensibility, of moral earnestness and, above all, of dedication to the ideal of good governance.
Rotimi-John, a lawyer and Dr. Dominic are ranking members of Jakande Progressive Movement.