28 August 2009

Nigeria: The 'No Regrets' Comments of Alhaji Lateef Jakande


Lagos — One fact that is likely to impress itself on keen observers of the Yoruba nationality is the self-cleansing nature of its politics. One can only attempt some conjectures here. Perhaps the average Yoruba is politically sophisticated as to be able to know which public attitude is driven by selfish or general interest. Perhaps, by nature, he appreciates noble deeds, abhors injustice and (political) perfidy. Perhaps, forgiveness has no place in Yoruba politics.

Whereas the likes of FRA Williams left the leadership of the Action Group in the lurch during the persecution of the party by the NPC-NCNC coalition government, the likes of Lateef Kayode Jakande swam and sank with the party. Those who sowed in tears, the Holy Book declares, are bound to reap in joy. Jakande was to reap the benefit of his integrity, loyalty and steadfastness during the Second Republic as he was overwhelmingly elected the first civilian Governor of Lagos State. And in terms of delivering the dividends of democracy to the people, LKJ, from all accounts, stood out among his contemporary governors.

Jakande should ordinarily have succeeded Chief Obafemi Awolowo as the Yoruba leader but for his politics of indiscretion in the 90s. The political fortunes of LKJ later took a plunge such that the once venerable and most accomplished state governor in Nigeria could not win any election in his polling booth at Ilupeju. What manner of politics defines the Yoruba? Politically, in Lagos State or South West Nigeria, Jakande - and no insult is intended - is superfluous.

In a couple of articles in recent years, I have called for forgiveness on behalf of Jakande and others: "Jakande and the like have suffered enough for their grievous sins. Let them end the internal exile and return to the fold of progressives. While principle remains a virtue, we still have to bend a little to accommodate the failings of one another no matter how horrendous they may be. That appears to be the price mankind has to pay since the Great Fall in the Garden. Those who have committed wrongs should also be humble enough to acknowledge them and ask for forgiveness."

The recent remarks of LKJ at a press conference to commemorate his 80th birthday were, to say the least, most unfortunate. I am one of those taken in by the character of Abacha. When, in the months leading to his coup in November 1993, a newsmagazine reported the subterranean moves of Abacha to become the Head of Sate, I dismissed it on the premise that Abacha (himself knew that he) was too unpolished to crave a political space of such magnitude.

Said LKJ, "I have no regrets whatsoever serving under the Abacha military regime. I believe it was a divine call to service. Immediately Abacha took over as the Head of State, his Chief of General Staff, Lt.-Gen. Oladipo Diya, contacted me and arranged that we should see. I went to see him and he told me that Abacha wanted me to serve in that government. I asked him if they would handover to Abiola and he said Abiola had a lot of enemies, but that they would do that after a while. I told him I would think about it. The next day, Abiola and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu came to my house to ask me to participate in the government and that Abacha and Diya were his (Abiola) friends. I asked MKO how long he thought they would stay, he said three months, but Tinubu expressed reservation on the timing. I also told them I would think about it. My religion society, Ansar-Rudeen, also came the following day for the same purpose. We prayed about it and I accepted it." (Punch 23/07/09)

They piled pressure on LKJ to serve Abacha. Agreed. The same people later made strident calls on religious to resign from Abacha's cabinet but he refused, clinging on till Abacha used him to secure his regime and dumped him... and I think I do remember that screaming caption in TELL or The NEWS with the faces of Jakande, Rimi and co in the background: USED AND DUMPED! What is clearly unconscionable is that Jakande stayed put in government while Abacha bared his fangs ruthlessly against members of his (Jakande's) constituency. It can also be said that LKJ joined the regime of Abacha because of the promise that 'they would handover to Abiola...after a while'. So when it became crystal clear that Abacha had reneged on his promise, what did Jakande do?

Much more reprehensible is that the latest 'no regrets' comment came on the heels of the plea made by the Oba of Lagos and some First Republic politicians for Nigerians to forgive Alhaji Jakande. Perhaps it never occurred to LKJ that their resignations might have brought down the Abacha government, and even if he did not become a president Abiola might have lived till today. What is more, the depredations brought on this nation by Abcaha might have been avoided.

How do you forgive a man who claims he has not sinned? Very well, the place of Jakande is already determined in Yoruba-cum-Nigerian politics; so also his place in journalism. I wish Alhaji Lateef Jakande the very best in life.

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