Jakande: Foremost politician, accomplished journalist

The passage of Chief Lateef Kayode Jakande, governor of Lagos State (1979-1983), media administrator, serial founder and nurturer of professional journalism associations, draws a curtain on an era, not only in Nigerian politics, but, indeed, her journalism. Chief Jakande was the last of the five governors elected on the platform of the Unity Party of Nigeria during Nigeria’s second republic; the other four—Ambrose Alli,  Victor Onabanjo, Adekunle Ajasin, and Bola Ige—worthy compatriots of many decades having predeceased him.

As governor, Jakande exhibited the single-minded pursuit of goals like his leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He deservedly received much plaudits for his execution of the UPN’s four-cardinal programmes of free education, free health, full employment, and integrated rural development. He was also not spared critics’ censure for his educational programme, which, whilst pandering to populist acclaim, also damaged some established schools. Our focus on his politics will be limited to his secondary school education programme.

That damage arose from his moral umbrage at the two-shift system of education, he inherited, which saw some pupils attending school during the day, whilst others came in the afternoon. Studies had established that afternoon schooling short-changed many pupils in terms of time spent in class, and the quality of attention devoted to them. To make all students day students, Jakande found the subsisting military takeover of schools in 1976, which was sanctioned by the federal government’s Schools Takeover Validation Decree 48 of 1977, handy in planting as many as three or four schools on commodious grounds where there had just been one pre 1979.

The schools were makeshift structures of poorly plastered walls with exaggerated iron roofing sheets held together by poles. Opposition politicians derided the structures as ugly cattle sheds; products of a mind fixated with quantity rather than quality. Some critics saw the move as vengeful with unsavoury whispers about the hangover of Jakande’s short stay at a privileged Lagos Island school in his teenage years. Jakande’s action led to such mission schools on Lagos mainland as Baptist Academy, Ikorodu Road, CMS Grammar School, Bariga, Igbobi College, Yaba, and Jibril Martin Memorial Grammar School, Iponri having their facilities overstretched. The heavy human traffic unleashed on the grounds trampled not just the environment and facilities, but the psyche of the students and hallowed school traditions. In an instance, tennis and basketball courts were peremptorily converted for other uses as if schooling consisted of just classrooms alone.

Jakande certainly meant well but his programme was rushed with disturbing consequences. For instance, the promise of free textbooks remained unfulfilled until well into the second term at Jibirl Martin Memorial Grammar School, Iponri where I was a graduate teacher, 1980-81. To teach English language to fourth formers without textbooks, I had to improvise by getting the students to buy one of two newspapers, Daily Times or Daily Sketch and study the feature pages. Rather than appreciating a creative response to an emergency, the move was resisted initially by the school authorities and some parents who ranked party loyalty higher than children’s education, for they accused me of wanting to sabotage the state’s free education programme. Notwithstanding these reservations, many of the products of the Jakande School, today have him to thank for providing them opportunity to go to school. Yes, the temporary classrooms were lacking in beauty, but they were functional and airy, and withstood storms and rains as we found out at Iponri. It seems that the depth of his opposition to the discrimination inherent in the old two-shift arrangement trumped other considerations including aesthetics.

Jakande’s antecedents in journalism showed the same single-minded approach to issues. More than any other journalist of his era, he saw the need to establish professional and training organisations to look after the interests of journalists and journalism. As one of the founding fathers of the Nigeria Union of Journalists in 1955, he served as its treasurer, 1957-1959.

To him belonged the vision of establishing what was originally called the Guild of Newspaper Editors (1961). As its first president, his cabinet of editors included the likes of Babatunde Jose, Bisi Onabanjo, Abiodun Aloba, and Nelson Ottah—all of who predeceased him. The idea was to have an elite platform for editorial managers that occupied the strategic middle ground between publishers and the generality of journalists to meet periodically to deliberate on issues of professional concern, provide a common forum for relating with governments and the general public, develop a code of ethics in cooperation with other journalism organisations, and look for training opportunities for members.

He was also the pioneer president of the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (1962-1979), established to defend the business interests of publishers.  It was from that seat that he was elected the governor of Lagos State in 1979. Jakande was also active in the activities of the global body, International Press Institute, and rose to be its first African president. Through him, the IPI introduced diploma-awarding programmes at the University of Lagos (where later a department for Mass communication training emerged) and also established the Nigerian Institute of Journalism to train journalists. The continued relevance of these bodies testifies to his vision and dogged pursuit of objectives.

Chief Jakande was helpful when I was researching the book, UNEVEN STEPS: The Story of the Nigerian Guild of Editors. I last met him on October 22, 2019 at the relaunch of Chief Dayo Duyile’s book, Makers of Nigerian Press, in Victoria Island, Lagos. He was there in the company of Chief Segun Osoba, Chief Ade Ojo, Richard Ikiebe, Lanre Arogundade and a host of other media professionals and academics to lend his support to the work of a protégé and the continued effort to enhance media education and prestige. It was obvious that he was already tired, but it was reassuring that his interest in his dear constituency was unwavering. Regrettably, in a land that has showered national honours on many undeserving Nigerians, it is befuddling that a giant like Jakande did not receive any for his monumental contributions to nation building through journalism and politics. Small comfort that he received many honours from the media, including the fellowship of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (1998) and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Diamond Awards for Media Excellence (2009).

May his soul rest well!

 

  • Idowu is a Trustee of the Diamond Awards for Media Excellence.

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