Last Friday, Nigerians said goodbye to Lateef Kayode Jakande, a quiet leader and erstwhile governor of Lagos State whose voice was always heard when it truly mattered.
LKJ as he was fondly called by his initials, was a quiet leader who didn’t have to raise his voice to win a point. He was a leader who always remembered those who elected him to represent them. A leader who could forgive the sins of the past and look to the future. A leader who defended his ideas and his ideals with deep passion.
I don’t need to recite all the landmark achievements of LKJ as governor of Lagos. In four years, he achieved more than the combined 20 years of Tinubu, Fashola, and Ambode as governors of Lagos. I knew LKJ up close. He was my former boss. After my Higher School Certificate (HSC) program, the equivalent of GCE Advanced Level, from The Polytechnic, Ibadan, I joined the Nigerian Tribune as a sub-editor. LKJ was the editor-in-chief and managing director, Mr. Sina Bamgbose was the editor, late Mr. S.L. Labanji Bolaji, general manager, Mr. Folu Olamiti, news editor.
In my encounters with LKJ, two incidents remained burned into my memory. LKJ lived in Lagos but at least once a week he would visit us at The Tribune. Tribune had just moved to state of the art building in Imalefalafia, Ibadan, Oyo State capital. On one of his visits, we had just finished the editorial task of next day’s newspaper. The printing department was in full swing production mode. While awaiting copies from the printers, we indulged in a “happy hour” mood with beer to turbo charge us for the rest of the day. Beer bottles littered the newsroom.
It was in the midst of the drinking frenzy that LKJ walked in unannounced. We had not cleared the beer bottles on the tables. After we exchanged greetings, he went quietly into his office. Meanwhile, we had gotten busy proofreading copies of the paper and forgot to to clean up. Through the glass door of his office, LKJ could see what went on in the newsroom. Having noticed the bottles were still scattered all over, he came out and walked around the newsroom. He didn’t alter a word. No one blinked an eye either. At about 10 minutes later, he strolled into the newsroom. This was unusual of him. We knew why. But we didn’t give a hoot!
After a while, and for the third time, he came back to the newsroom. As if he was looking for a needle in hays stack, he diligently combed the newsroom, walking up and down. As if prompted, we all burst into uncontrollable laughter at once. He didn’t speak a word. With his hand behind his back, he went back to his office. We got his message. The bottles must be removed. And we hastily threw them into the trash.
The second incident. After his visit he was on his way back to Lagos. His car was parked on the street in front of Tribune building. He and his driver left the newsroom some minutes to 12 noon. In those days, one of the most important news casts on Radio Nigeria was the 12 noon world news. It was so important that every newspaper monitored the mid-day news. The news met LKJ in his car ready to roll out. But then, the news headlines contained a breaking news. I can’t remember the story now. As we were monitoring the news in the news room, his driver ran in. He told the editor that LKJ needed a reporter. A reporter was assigned to him. From the newsroom, we could see LKJ sitting in the back of the car on the street in front of the building. Right there and then with no notes, nothing, LKJ dictated to the reporter the next day’s editorial on the breaking news. Usually, LKJ would send editorials from Lagos for Monday through Friday. But on that day, we had to replace one of the editorials with the one on the breaking news.
The two incidents illustrate the type of a leader LKJ was. A quiet leader. An action leader. LKJ was gifted with the mental, physical, and spiritual equipment he needed to make a succcess as a governor. LKJ was the opposite of today’s governors in Nigeria who are spiritually anemic, intellectually impoverished, and morally depleted. Rather, LKJ was first among equals, a visionary, and a builder. His mind was not a sponge absorbing the ideas of others. But rather, a fertile soil into which every fact and truth dropped, germinated, and bore fruit. He was original, creative, unassuming, brilliant, disciplined, and purposeful.
Jakande whose pseudonym was John West, was a thesaurus of journalism and a gold mine of editorial writing. He was founder of Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ). He was the astute businessman behind the Tribune newspapers. For two consecutive terms, he was elected unopposed as President of the prestigious Geneva based International Press Institute (IPI). He made governance a delight, the very festival of his soul. Though governance is tough, but LKJ was tougher. He never promoted himself. No wonder, he was nicknamed Action Governor!
Goodbye LKJ. Thanks for the legacy of service and sacrifice, of kindness and generosity, of simplicity and spartan discipline you left behind. Thanks for millions of lives you touched, and the wonderful lessons you taught all of us who knew you.
Rest In Peace!