Senator Jim Nwobodo was one of.the 19 governors in 1979 alongside the likes of late Lateef Jakande, first executive governor of Lagos State. Nwobodo who was the governor of old Anambra State speaks glowingly of late Jakande in this interview he describes the late journalist turned politician as one of the best to come out of Nigeria.
- How did you receive the news of the demise of the former Governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Jakande
I was shocked that he died. The last time we saw was at a party hosted by the Lagos State Governor. It was a Christmas party and it was in commemoration of Tinubu’s birthday, I saw him and we embraced and so on.
But even before then I visited him with the Secretary of the Former Governors Forum and we chatted a lot about things, he showed me all his old pictures and so on and so forth, we remembered that good old days, we laughed and he felt that things are not as good as it used to be, because he was so friendly and the governors were also friendly too.
If you saw the governors, it didn’t matter what party you came from. We saw Jakande as a brother, the thing that shocked mostly is that I have now lost another brother and friend and its unfortunate but he is gone, so what I did was to call his house, I got his son, Tunji and I got his wife, I spoke to the wife also I know the wife very well.
She was quite close to the husband, anytime, anywhere they went, they went together, I knew that he was sick sometimes but I didn’t know that he would be gone so soon and since death is something that one should expect anytime, I was consoled that the thing will go round, it’s unfortunate.
If you look at 1979 to the present, that is about 43 years ago, you and late Jakande belonged to different political parties, he was in UPN and there was still a very good relationship.
Not only was there a very good relationship, Jakande was in UPN under the progressives, I was in NPP under the progressives, Abubakar Rimi PRP under the progressives, Balarabe Musa, under the progressives, Goni, Solomon Lar under the progressives. There were 19 governors, out of these 19, I think 12 were in progressives, we were the real progressives, we formed the first progressive party, its unfortunate I don’t have my pictures here, you would have seen where the progressive went round from each state to the other for rallies, we went to Kebbi, Lagos, Kano, Jos, everywhere.
All those great men you mentioned are gone, just remaining you and the Emir of Suleja Auwal Ibrahim who was of NPN from 79-83, can you compare those days with the present political dispensation?
There is a lot of differences, in fact there is no comparison, I told you I lost a brother, we were so close that we saw each other as brothers, it doesn’t matter what party you belonged to, they were in UPN, we were in NPP some were in PRP, can you imagine four parties with 12 governors coming under one forum called progressives, we went from one state to the other for our rallies, if any other governor was doing something, we would all travel to that place, so I think it’s unfair what is happening now. The thing even affected our leaders, Zik was the leader of NPP which I was a member, and Obafemi Awolowo was the leader of UPN, they had five governors, we had three, GNPP had two, PRP two also, so you can imagine and we all met as brothers and we talked about Nigeria being one country and it really came to anything like that.
When Rimi visited Enugu, he slept in my house, when I visited Kano I slept in his house, when I went to Jos I slept in Lar’s house, you can see the closeness, it’s totally different from what we have now.
It is a pity, so that is why such a death, you can see the feeling we have when somebody you are close to dies.
Though the late governor lived to the ripe age of 91, do you still feel we need someone like him?
Sure, sure, Jakande was called Baba Kekere, he was seen as somebody who was being groomed by Awolowo, that is why they called him Baba Kekere because of his intelligence, wisdom, his attitude to things and all of us were in Lagos then.
I tell you a story, Bisi Onabanjo was in Ogun State and we were having our normal Progressives meetings together and we all said to each other, we have two leaders, since 1952 they were in two different political parties, they were friends but they never met together in one room or in a platform, so I was asked to organise and I organised it, Zik and Awolowo met in my private room in Enugu, they ate lunch together, after lunch they said fine now that we are trying to cement the two of you, let us go into a rally, it was done there in my home, this shows you the closeness, in addition to being close we were able to bring our leaders who were not close together.
Know those years our leaders were actually motivated by national interest but with the current trend would you say they have derailed.
O yes, I don’t want to criticize any government, I don’t also criticize former Presidents or Heads of State but the truth is that there is a vast difference between what we have then and now, I mean if I was coming to Kano there is no Kano person who doesn’t regard me as a Kano person, Rimi was my best man when I got married, a Muslim was my best man when I got married, we sat together, wore the same suit, went to church together, when it came to Holy Communion, Rimi said ok you brought me here as you best man, whatever you eat I will eat, I said no, not Holy Communion that shows you how close we are, governance was good and political parties was good also, there was no enemity, its a pity that things instead of getting better is getting worse.
What would Jakande be remembered for?
Infrastructure, he changed Lagos. Even as a Minister under Abacha he was Minister of Works and Housing, he cared for the ordinary people. Something that would normally cost about N5 million he would execute for about N1 Million, he wanted the ordinary people to gain from the government that was his greatest gift to the nation, free education too he was following his baba Awo footsteps.
Then I would drive from Enugu to Lagos and tell him I am coming please reserve accommodation and he would gladly do, things were really much better then.
You said you met him shortly before he passed away, were there some regrets he nursed about the way he expected Nigeria to have become?
The truth is that, I don’t know today if governors from different parties meet as we met, because apart from being in different parties, we had something that brought us together, that is the word Progressives. There was no quarrel or disagreement, it was all peace, joy and so on and how to bring Nigeria together to make it a great country, today I doubt.
I traveled last year and I asked my steward, he said one Fulani man came, I said what happened, he said he ran away, I asked him why that the Fulani man is my friend, he said he ran away because he thought the man was going to kill him, then I told him no, that cannot happen. But in today’s Nigeria that is gone now and it requires a lot of work to bring back that same spirit of oneness, we belong to one country we have to give up back that everyone will be proud of. The drumbeat of war is so much, people are not safe anymore, it is something that man cannot do right now, it is just God that can save the situation now. God is the only one that can intervene in this situation.
You leaders of the past and those of the present travel out and witness how foreigners bring about development, why is it difficult to replicate it here?
That is the point, it is baffling because during our own period when we went to campaign, we saw the people we talked to them, they talk freely to us, we asked them what their problems were and they told us, but these days I don’t know whether campaigns are done that way now, these days we the politicians, myself inclusive just go to the police and INEC and there is a slang that they used to say that they will write this results and it will be written.
And I ask this question, don’t we see what happens in other places, take example of what happened in America, where the President felt he could take over the country, they said no, his own party people said he cannot we have our own ideas of doing things and we have our own rights, so republicans were opposing their President, saying America is more important to us than you, of course you saw how it ended, the people won.
And when the President was telling a governor of a state to write results, he told him that he will write results as he saw it period.
How can we as a people reignite this closeness and unity that the likes of you, Awolowo, Jakande and others believed in?
Jonathan tried to do that, he had a constitutional conference but he never got to sign the proclamation or decisions taken at that forum and when the new government came it just threw it away, that is unfortunate, the government is continuous.
You the press, you are the fourth estate of the realm, you have a veritable role to play, see if the press sees something wrong and say this is wrong, it doesn’t matter…you may suffer for it but you have made a point that is the right thing to do, you don’t just receive some stipends then patted at the back and go on with the wrong thing.
Yesterday I was watching the American trial of Trump, it was no longer led by a Democrat but the Republicans were taking part, we just need to put God in the situation, its not something man can handle alone, so that we would have peace and security.
Talking about the late Jakande and the wife, I always saw her and the husband anywhere we went to, so when I called this morning to talk to the son, the son said he left us, I said let me talk to your mum and she picked my call and called me Jim, Jim and said my brother is gone, I said we won’t forget you, anytime we are in Lagos we will see you because we have been there before, Jakande was staying in that house all through his life, as governor he stayed there, he refused to stay in government house, he stayed there as governor and came out as governor and remained in the same house, when he left as governor he went back there.
It is joyous when you are lucky to have a woman like that. I also wish to thank the Governor of Lagos State now for the role he is playing, the kind of announcement he makes, he is always with the family and the governor has impressed me I must confess, he also did the same for Ndubisi Kanu, a military governor from another tribe, you know Ndubisi was my good friend, he was a military governor of Lagos State and remained in Lagos.