Cheta Nwanze, Lead Partner, SBM Intelligence

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Jakande and the class of Second Republic governors 15 Mar 2021

Lateef Kayode Jakande, the first civilian governor of Lagos State, passed away a few weeks ago. To serve various purposes, public servants in Nigeria are subjects of hagiography. But in Jakande’s case, the moving eulogies that have been given to him were well deserved. Those old enough to remember, paid tributes to him as the best governor Lagos has ever had. Many insist that no other governor of the state has come close to the performance profile of Jakande.
Recounting Jakande’s achievements in office serves a dual purpose. It is a necessary reminder of his legacy. It also serves to motivate on what is possible in Nigeria’s public governance. Such motivation is desperately needed at this time.
What stood out about Jakande’s administration in Lagos was his focus on human capital development and general improvement in the human living condition. It is the way to view the many projects he delivered. The number of such projects also indicates the value he placed on time. Whereas time is transient, Jakande seemed to know that time in public office is even more so.
Before 1979 when he came into office as governor, a passable link road between Victoria Island and Epe barely existed. Jakande quickly constructed the Lagos – Epe Road, a stretch of about 75 kilometres. It was a greenfield, public-funded infrastructure project. The road opened the sprawling Lagos – Epe axis for development, creating billions of dollars in economic activity.
Jakande’s administration built low-cost housing estates in Abesan, Abule Nla, Amuwo-Odofin, Anikantamo, Badagry, Dolphin, Epe, Iba, Ijaiye, Ije, Ikorodu, Ipaja, Iponri, Oke-Afa, Epe, and Surulere. Numbering 30,000 units, and done in only four years, the housing scheme showed an ambition in governance that continues to dwarf his successors.
The projects were funded through schemes that redistributed wealth in the state, another sharp rebuke of the unconscionable accumulation of wealth by his successors and their political cronies. Jakande increased tenement rates and the prices of plots of land in affluent areas of Victoria Island and Lekki Peninsula. He also raised the processing fees for lottery, pools, and gaming licences.
The houses built by Jakande still stand today, four decades after, even with little maintenance as part of an urban renewal programme. My parents-in-law purchased one the units; and as my wife says, her civil servant parents might never have attained home ownership without the housing scheme.
Jakande also made great strides in healthcare. The general hospitals in Gbagada and Ikorodu were built during his tenure, along with about 20 primary healthcare centres.
Perhaps, his most ambitious project of all was the Lagos Metro Line project. Lagos could well have had a functioning metro line as early as 1987, but the project was cancelled by the General Muhammadu Buhari’s military regime that forcefully seized power in the country four years earlier and ended the Second Republic. The reason Buhari gave for cancelling the infrastructure project that would have modernised transportation in the state was that it was expensive. The current Lagos light rail project has been under construction for 14 years, and has missed several launch dates.
However, education was arguably where “Baba Kekere” – as Jakande was affectionately called for his petite stature – towered highest. The “Jakande schools” empowered a generation of young Lagosians with education, a necessity for breaking a chain of mass poverty. The Jakande administration alone was responsible for building 22,000 classrooms across Lagos State in four years. It provided mass implementation for the signature “Free Education” programme of the Obafemi Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) that held sway in the South-West between 1979 and 1983.
The subsequent neglect – or undermining – of education by the military juntas after the Second Republic should be seen as responsible for the massive crisis of unemployment and insecurity that has now gripped the entire country. Without quality education and employment, the youth – especially in the northern region of the country – have become easy preys for demagogues and terrorists for unleashing the ongoing mayhem.
The great legacy of Jakande highlights the high quality of governance at the state level between 1979 and 1983. In the South-West, apart from Jakande in Lagos, the class of state governors that delivered the stellar performances included James Ajibola Ige (Oyo), Olabisi Onabanjo (Ogun), and Michael Adekunle Ajasin (Ondo). But the canvass for this was wider. In what is now called the South-South region, that class of governors included Ambrose Alli (Bendel), and Clement Isong (Cross River). In the South East, the tenures of both Jim Nwobodo (Anambra) and Sam Mbakwe (Imo) are still looked upon as a golden age of infrastructural and social development. Similarly, if you go to Benue or parts of Kogi States today and mention Aper Aku, you evoke nostalgia.
The foregoing is definitely not intended to whitewash the federal administration of Shehu Shagari who was President at the same time as these governors. The Shagari administration was corrupt and ultimately inept. For this reason, there were widespread celebrations when the government was overthrown. On the contrary, the governors of the Second Republic provided good governance and have remained the pacesetters till date, despite being in office for only a little over four years. Remarkably, their achievements were in spite of the economic recession in the country due to the collapse of oil prices in the early 1980s.
For further reflection, on a road trip from Sokoto to Kano in January 2019, I counted at least six artificial lakes built to take advantage of groundwater around Gwarzo in Kano State. The lakes were built by Abubakar Rimi, another Second Republic governor.
Much of the agriculture in Kano and Jigawa States is being supported by water bodies like these. But none of the Fourth Republic crop of governors has shown the capacity to even conceptualise anything of that scale, even with significantly higher resources available to them in a much longer period of 22 years.
Like the free education, housing and road infrastructure provided by the Lagos administration of Jakande, people in Benue and parts of Kogi still benefit from Aper Aku's investments in agriculture. Divine Oduduru and Blessing Okagbare, both born well after the Second Republic was aborted, and doing Nigeria proud in athletics today, are beneficiaries of Ambrose Alli's investments in sports. Anambra, Ebonyi and Enugu are still enjoying the road networks built during the tenure of Governor Jim Nwobodo, and whatever running water is in Enugu today is owed to his administration. Imo and Abia still enjoy Sam Mbakwe's airport, while the fact that you could watch television in Borno and Yobe before the advent of satellite television was down to Mohammed Goni.
Nigeria desperately needs a class of governors with similar levels of ambition and foresight to improve the lives of the people. In the absence of this, billboards touting ‘resurfaced’ roads and advertorials listing payment of salaries as ‘achievements’, are the spectacles the people are told to behold. Lagos, and Nigeria as a whole, face multiple development challenges that can be overcome with good leadership at the subnational level.
The governance we have today across the country does comparatively little to touch the lives of Nigerians. This is why participation in the political process has continued to decline. In 2019, only 35 per cent of registered voters cast their ballots in the presidential election, indicating apathy in the political process. When governance has no positive impact on the lives of the people in a democracy, they will see no reason to go to the polls.
This growing lack of democratic legitimacy in the governance of the country needs to be addressed. We need to have governors like the class of the Second Republic, who can drive development to every part of their states, rather than be beholden to Abuja that is similarly corrupt and inept as the Shagari administration. It has been done before, and it can be done again.

Cheta Nwanze is Lead Partner at SBM Intelligence.