New Telegraph

jakande’s son: My dad didn’t see his detention by military as unusual

…says ‘he withdrew us from private to public schools when he became governor’

Considered as the father of modern Lagos, late Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande evokes positive vibes in the political firmament of the state. His numerous and indelible marks still dot the landscape almost 40 years after leaving office as the first executive governor of the state. In this interview with OLAOLU OLADIPO, one of his sons, Mr. Seyi Jakande, took us into the private life of one of the nation’s enigmatic political personalities. Excerpts:

Late Alhaji Lateef Jakande was a man of many parts; he was a journalist, administrator and politician of note. As a son, who was Lateef Jakande as a father and husband?

I see my father as a rare and unique person. It is very hard to distinguish his public life from his private life. He was the same in and out. He was a man who practised what he preached. While we were growing up, I didn’t see anything at that time that was unique or different about him.

Why do you say so?

While we were growing up, we had to forward our requests to him through his secretary. It wasn’t a case of a private secretary for that particular purpose but it is the same secretary that took general requests from the public. He treated us the way he treated everyone else. He treated such files overnight. Once the file got to the secretary, the first thing in the morning was to wait whether the response was positive or not. If he asked questions, then you would have to reply and send it back to him through the same secretary.

That means that he was very meticulous?

He was very hard working too. Was he doing this when he left office as governor? It was his practice before assuming office, during and after he left. So, it was very hard to tell the difference with regards to his public and private lives. He had an office in the house that he maintained for several years before his death.

He was a very busy man; could you tell us what his typical day was like?

Like I said, he worked all through the night. His favourite place or where he spent most of his time was his office. I think his morning started in his office because most times when he was done for the day, he collapsed into his chair to watch the television. He might not have the privilege to go back to his bedroom. We had two wings in the house, one for administrative purposes while the other was for residential purposes. We came together about 5 or 6 am in the morning. The only thing he did was to go to the bathroom to get set and in another two hours, he would be back to his office. I believe that his day started about 2am when he would be attending to all the files that had been brought to him. He would go back about 5 am to say his Muslim prayers before starting his daily activities.

What about his relationship with you and your mum?

Like I said, whenever he was treating files and drafting letters for people to take to places where they were seeking employment, he wouldn’t even acknowledge my presence or that of my mum until he finished what he was doing. My mum used to tease him about his work ethic. It got to a stage where we closed our doors to visitors after he had spent considerable time with them. They came to our house for one assistance or the other. My father used to attend to such requests on Sundays. To him, those that came were his family. For instance, when he was sworn in as governor, he withdrew us from private schools and enrolled all of us in public schools.

Why did he do that?

I want to believe that there were two reasons for this. One, he went to the then Military Administrator, when he won the governorship election and during their first interaction, I think Ebitu Ukiwe was then in office, he told Ukiwe that he wanted to do free education and the military governor said, ‘Alhaji, election campaigns are over o!’ He told my father that he could say whatever he liked during campaigns but I can tell you that his desire to build many schools was very ambitious. He told my father that since he was the one in charge, he knew the state of finances of the state. That was a time when it was decided to shift time when pupils went to class. As governor-elect, he told managers of public schools not to collect fees for the next term, saying education was now free. But on October 1st when he was sworn in, he declared free education at all levels. In his speech, he thanked the principals that believed in him who didn’t collect the fees and instructed those that had collected fees to pay back to the parents.

How did he realise his free education plan?

He set up a committee to scout for available land across the state. That’s why you can see that there is not a ward or local government that doesn’t have schools that were established by him. He felt that the Land Use Act gave him the leeway to use land for the common good of all. Initially, there were issues in some places but what he did was to reallocate land elsewhere to those individuals and families whose land were taken from them. The second obstacle they faced was the issue of funding. What they had in mind was if those schools would be built, it would cost so much money and time. They went to Japan to look for a cheap prototype that was eventually adopted and used.

You mean the prototype of the buildings came from Japan?

Yes! It was from there or possibly from China. It was not just a simple design. When you look at the buildings, they were very functional though there were no doors and windows. They never got flooded when it rained and the students were not subjected to the pang of the scorching sun. The buildings were all partitioned into classes. The only areas that were not partitioned were the offices of the head teachers and staff rooms. They looked at how the cost of building a school could build for them more than 40 using that template. The whole essence was to get people to start schooling immediately. That action was criticised by the opposition who called it all sorts of names but the people can see the benefits now.

How did your father handle this criticism from the opposition?

He tried to make it work because he believed in what he was doing. He did this by ensuring that his own children attended those schools. He also ensured that all members of his cabinet and party leaders did the same. To him, that was the best way to monitor progress and development in public schools. At that time, public schools became better than private schools. It was a situation where the son of a sitting governor was in the same class with the son of a bus conductor.

You talked about funding, how did he surmount the problem?

One thing that helped him was that he hit the ground running from the day he was sworn in. Funding for him wasn’t going to be a hindrance in any way. He was practical in his approach. Like I said, that was why they brought the concept or prototype from Japan or China. It wasn’t as if the state was poor but what they did was to utilise resources judiciously. It was a burden on him because he had promised to address the situation and he wasn’t going to go back on his word. He was particular about functionality. To him, if building a bungalow would produce the same result as that of a two-storey building, then the effort has been successful. Successive governments subsequently built on his accomplishments in education.

The metroline project was a watershed initiative that he was very passionate about. As a son did you ever have the opportunity of discussing the issue of its abandonment with him?

We would have had a whole network around the country had the project commenced. Lagos is the prototype of Nigeria. Whatever happens to Lagos has a ripple effect on other parts of the country. The project was fully paid for and contracted out before it was eventually terminated. The company sued the country for a breach of contract. Nigeria had to pay damages which were almost 65 per cent of the contract sum. My father was in prison when the contract was about to be terminated. He wrote a letter to the then military governor, Gbolahan Mudashiru, begging him not to terminate it. He waxed emotional when he told the governor in the letter that he didn’t mind being detained perpetually but that the project must not be terminated. If he had any regret that was one major regret he had in his lifetime.

Where were you when the coup that removed him from office took place?

We were at the State House in Marina. He never used the Government House. He only went there to work whenever he wanted to stay away from the crowd that came to our house. So, when the coup took place we were at the State House with him. We didn’t really notice anything because we were very young. What I remember was that they (the soldiers) took us back to our house in Ilupeju. The people didn’t know what had happened and the only thing they realised was that soldiers came to the house about 2 am to look for my father who was not there at that time. When they got to Marina, they were surprised to see him treating many files in the dead of night. He said one of the soldiers told him that if everyone in the government was like you, maybe this coup wouldn’t have taken place. They told him what had happened and they accorded him all the respect before taking him away.

Where was he taken to?

They took him to Dodan Barracks. From there, we didn’t hear anything from him for another two days. About a week after he was taken to the cantonment in Ikeja. He was placed under house arrest there. He was there for about a couple of weeks until we got there one day to be told that he had been moved.

Where was he moved to?

It took us a couple of times to be able to locate him. We later found out that he was taken to Sokoto Prisons.

Was the family informed?

No! But I think he spent most of his time there before he was eventually released by the government of General Ibrahim Babangida.

Did you visit him in Sokoto?

No! But my mum went to see him a couple of times. My mum exploited the relationship between my father and late General Sani Abacha who at a time worked under my father.

How did he feel when he came back?

Before such an encounter, he has had multiple arrests from the authorities and he was used to such. For us, it was a shock and a very difficult period. For him, it was nothing unusual.

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