As long as ‘Emi lokan’ is your attitude to leadership, corruption is your bed mate – Dr Kolade


Interviewing Dr Christopher Kolade, former Director General of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), former Chief Executive and Chairman of Cadbury Nigeria, and onetime Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, is like talking to an evangelist. In a sense, the man who will be 90 years next month is a preacher, whose belief in the Supreme Being is total. He believes that lack of leadership is the reason why Nigeria is plumbing the depths of despair. Witty and urbane, Dr Kolade is persuasive and makes his point without being offensive. In this interview with TheNiche trio of IKECHUKWU AMAECHI, EUGENE ONYEJI and KEHINDE OKEOWO, he bared his mind on issues of leadership, corruption and the 2023 elections.


On September 8, 2022, TheNiche had the third edition of its annual lecture. Three years ago, in 2019, you were the chairman of the second lecture delivered by Prof Anya O. Anya. Many Nigerians were wondering why you were not at the 2022 lecture.


I was not able to attend this year’s lecture because this has been my learning year. I have been learning how to walk again. I think all people who know me know that I have been the victim of the surgeon’s attention early in the year. And the amount of surgery that was done on me, I have been told not to be ambitious to run around for the rest of this year because they have repaired something that I had to allow to heal.


It is very simple and I am not the first person to have an accident and I am not going to be the last. But God has been very faithful to me this year. He has allowed me to know how to manage what I am experiencing. That is one of the reasons when you wanted to see me, I did not reject. I said to you, if you want to see me, you have to come. That is management. So, I can manage what is wrong with me.


Sorry about that Sir. Thank God you are recuperating well. But even before the domestic accident in January, you seemed to have been out of circulation. Was that deliberate?


Let me tell you very clearly that I am not out of circulation. I do not go and make speeches, I do not go and do public activities anymore and there is a reason for that. But to tell you the reason, I will go back in history, if you trace my career, from my first appointment as Education Officer, teaching in a school, then broadcasting, then business, then High Commissioner, you will discover that I have never done something for myself. I have never gone to a job that people will say he has arrived, he can do this now.


No! Because what they taught me at home and what God has also taught me through His word is that if God meant me to be powerful and alone in this world, He won’t create the rest of humanity. But he has made different grades of people and He wants the world to be an enjoyable place. But we can only enjoy the world if those who are doing well also realise that there are those who are not doing well and ask themselves, how can we help you to do well because everybody needs to do well.


Let me give you a joke: There was a time when we were doing Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) and things were difficult. In the urban areas, for instance, the urban areas of Lagos, people could no longer afford three square means. In fact, some families came down to 0-1-0. But all that time, do you know that people in my village were eating three meals a day?


Why? Because they lived off the land and therefore, there was nobody to say don’t eat that yam because it will cost you too much. So, that is the way that God wants us to live – off what he has provided for us.


Today, if you go out in Lagos, and you want to buy fruits – pineapple, pawpaw or orange, for instance, you know how much it will cost you. But let me tell you something, people who live in my village, they don’t even plant these trees, they grow on their own. And all they do is that they see that the pawpaw is ripening, they pluck it. That is God’s provision. But we have taken God’s provision, tried to organise it and what we have done with it is that we have made certain people very rich, very well to do and majority of the people not well to do.


So, now, an ordinary person, a factory worker, for instance, wants to go home today and eat pawpaw or pineapple or something, but he cannot afford to buy it. That is not God’s plan because if it were His plan, He wouldn’t have put these things in the bushes for us to see. So, my point is that those of us who have had education, training, experience, those things are not for us to sit on and say, I am doing well.


It is for us to say, if I am going to be well, if I am going to be sustainably well, my country must be good. Because, take a simple example, if I am doing well now, if I am rich and for those who are rich, there are certain roads in Nigeria that they cannot travel because they are dominated on those roads by kidnappers. As rich as they are, as well to do as they are, they cannot go to certain places. So, whether they like it or not they are unable to do certain things in spite of their wealth. So, I think God’s plan is to say, if you are wealthy, make sure the people around you will also do better, then the whole situation will be good for all of you. Because if we compare today with where we were 50 years ago, you will be overwhelmed with despair.


When I was much younger than this, I joined a drama group in Ibadan because I was working in Ibadan then. This drama group was in two places – Ibadan and Lagos. Whenever we wanted to perform, we did four nights in Lagos and four nights in Ibadan, which meant this: I will come from Ibadan to Lagos in the afternoon, get ready, perform but because I had to be at work in Ibadan the following morning at 8 o’clock, after performing, closing at about 11pm, my colleagues and I will get into our vehicles and drive back to Ibadan and arrive there at about 1.30 am, sleep for a few hours and go to work. And we will repeat same thing tomorrow night because we will do four nights. Can we do that now? And we are supposed to be more civilised and better today than we were then. But really, we are worse off because our country is worse off. Those things that we were able to do freely at that time, we cannot do today.


And if you don’t take care, people who are just looking for money, people who are just looking for rubbish will dominate you, make a slave out of you because they won’t allow you to go where you want to go. But should this be so?


Who do you blame for this state of anomie?


Now, whatever you say, in any organisation, either small or large, all of us can participate but there are people who are leading the organisation. There are people who are seating down to say, next week, this and this is what we are going to do to improve what we are doing, to make things better. So, if you go into leadership, there is a responsibility there. A leader is responsible not just for himself, not just to say, I want to acquire more power, I want to acquire more influence, no. There are some people that you are leading.


Let me give you an example, if you are a shepherd, you are leading sheep, the sheep cannot do much for themselves, they don’t even know enough to do much for themselves but you are the leader, it is your responsibility to lead them to where there is food, to where there is rest, where they can be comfortable. But if you are only looking out for yourself, you don’t care what happens to the sheep. That is an example you can easily relate to. If you are leading people, the difference is that people are productive, they are able and if you say you want to lead people, you are not only to lead them and say I want you to go here, stay there. No, it is to say, this is the situation we have, I want it to be better, what can you contribute? What can you suggest? Because those who are tilling the land, growing the food, we may not think very highly of them but the contribution they are making in this country is tremendous. Because of them, we have food to eat.


As clever as some of our leaders are, they don’t grow anything. They depend on what our farmers grow. So they have to lead the country in such a manner that the farmer will also be comfortable and productive. So, leadership is a responsibility. And if it is a responsibility, unless you are carrying out that responsibility, you are failing as a leader. Unless you know your responsibility and achieve the result expected from your leadership, you are a failure. So, that is who is responsible.


Would you say from the performance of President Muhammadu Buhari, he is a failure or a success as a leader?


You see, if you appoint me a leader, let me take myself as an example, if you appoint me as a leader, or if you want to appoint me as a leader, what are the things you are going to consider? You consider my experience, you consider my education, you consider all the things I have done, particularly you want to know at lower levels, what did I do that gave good result because I have opportunity. Even within my family, I am the first son, so I have siblings, when I led them, did they do well? Because that is the first opportunity as the senior sibling. So, when you see what this person has done in the past, that was good, you now have the confidence that if you ask them to do something in future, they will do well because they will apply the same philosophy.


Is that the way we bring people to leadership in Nigeria? The answer is no. I was amused when a political party said if you want to apply to be a presidential candidate, go and bring a N100 million. That is just to apply to be a candidate, not to get there because there is no guarantee. And I say, if you spend that amount of money just to compete as a candidate, where is the sense in that. When you want to become a leader, we are not even asking the right questions. We are saying does he have more money than I have? No, Leadership is a responsibility. And until we know that and behave accordingly, the entire organisation, which is the Nigerian nation is not going anywhere.


We are in another political silly season, how hopeful are you that those jostling for power, particularly at the level of the presidency will tick the leadership boxes as you have enunciated?


To answer your question, let me go back a little in my own career. When I was helping to run a company, we decided that we wanted to start appointing people as managers – people who are capable, have experience and education. So, we decided deliberately that if you want to be a manger in this company, first you have to be a trainee manager. So, after your university and some experience, come and apply to be a trainee manager because the manager here has a responsibility and therefore, we want to train you for that responsibility.


So, they will spend a year training, then after that we make them junior managers and they gain experience before they will become senior managers some years later. They must learn something. This world was created so that we can learn. When a child is born, he or she knows nothing and then they start learning. And the better they learn, the more able they become. And unless you are willing to learn, you become nothing. And that is the fault we have now. From what is happening now, you will almost conclude that many of our people have learnt nothing.


In learning, we have to be ready to learn and to apply the results of our learning. Then, we become better and we perform better. And when you perform better, the results will be good. Our results are not good and that is because our performances are not good. For me it is very clear. If our performance is better, our results will be better.


How hopeful are you for Nigeria?


I am hopeful for Nigeria and I will tell you two reasons. The first reason is that according to statisticians, those who have studied these things, they say in our population, those who are 35 years and below are in the majority and people like me who have grown old are in the minority. Which means that the people with energy, people with intellect, people with ambition, are the younger ones because now at my age, you cannot attract me with anything. You cannot say to me now come and do this so that I can give you this because I will say, what do I need it for? That is age. But when I was younger, I was looking for opportunities, I had ambition.


So, my first hope is that the majority of our people are young – they should have ambition, they should have hope, they should have energy because we need those things in order to grow and become better. That is the first reason why I have hope.


The second reason is that whether our current leaders like it or not, we are all going to die. All of us are going to disappear but God is always God and every day, those of us who are Christians, we say the Lord’s prayer – Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth… If we mean that seriously, we are saying to God, let your will be done. This country is going to improve but we have to pray sincerely because if God is to hear our prayer, He will do His will and He will make sure that those who are contributing nothing are neutralised.


So, I am hopeful for two reasons. One, we have people of an age where they can perform well and can do things that I cannot now do. Two, God is in authority. And we pray every day that His will be done. Let God do His will. That is my hope.


Would you say that even the youths themselves have learnt anything considering the way they are carrying on?


Let me tell you something, when I talk to young people, and even in my present state, I still make out time to talk to them. When I talk to them, they have the right ideas, they have ambition and they have things that they want to see. So, it is not knowledge that they are lacking, what they are lacking is the ability to make effort, the ability to stand up and say I am going to do this. Let us go back to when we were in school, when I was in school, I had knowledge, my teachers taught me many things and I learnt a lot of things but until I reproduced what I was taught in an exam, I didn’t pass. I am not saying that the fact that they have the knowledge is not important. It is. But even more important is what you are doing with the knowledge.


So, the question that our young people have to ask themselves now is, am I doing what I am able to do? Many of us are doing what we are expected to do. But there is a difference between doing what you are expected to do and what you are able to do. If you are able to do something, go and do it. Sometimes, young people perform and we are surprised. How did that young man accomplish that task? Because he did it. He didn’t keep the knowledge to himself. So, if our young people will do what they do, we will get better. That is my hope.


But many young people blame those of your generation for the rot in the country and for keeping them down. How can they do what they can when the older generation is not giving them opportunities? We just saw the other day a 42-year –old man emerging the Prime Minister of Britain, but here in Nigeria, the two leading presidential candidates are all in their 70s.


I am glad you brought that example. If you take many foreign leaders that you know – Tony Blair, David Cameroon, John Kennedy, Barack Obama, name them – they all became leaders in their 40s. Did they go somewhere or to someone and say please give us this opportunity. Is that what they did? Did they wait to be given opportunity? No! So, for as long as we are waiting for the older generation to hand over something to us, we will wait forever because when somebody is sitting on a chair and you are waiting for that person to vacate the chair so that you can sit on it, you are simply saying, until you vacate, I will not sit. So, if I don’t vacate you will not sit.


Again, let me go back to my own experience. I left university in the mid-50s. At that time, we were not an independent country, we were a colony but our independence was in the offing. And so, most of us who became senior civil servants in the mid-50s knew that if the country became independent, we would have to do certain things, because when you are a colony, you will have to wait for your bosses – the colonial masters – to say go and do certain things and you do it. But when you are independent, you say to anyone who cares to listen, this is what I think I am going to do. I may make mistakes, it is not that I will always be right but it is better for me to make a mistake and correct it than to fail to do anything because I don’t want to make a mistake. So, that is the difference.


The difference is that all those foreign leaders that you are talking about, there were times that they were understudying the older politicians, carrying briefcases for them but they were doing something. We want to become something without learning it. It doesn’t work because when you become something, it is the experience that you gained that you will now use to do what you are going to do.


But I still have hope. Look, I ran a company in this country and on my board when I was managing director, the nearest executive director in age to me was 20 years younger so I made a personal point of duty to bring people on board in their young age. Come and take this responsibility, I am here to advise you if you need advice, I am here to help you if you need help, but come and do it.


And you see, you talk about people of my generation having caused all this wahala for Nigeria, maybe that was the best we knew then because we grew up in colonial days. When I was appointed education officer, on the interview panel of three people, two were Europeans. So, that was how it was then. If they had said they couldn’t appoint me, I wouldn’t have become an education officer. When I was managing a company, I saw some senior managers in their 30s who were doing well. Some were in their early 40s, so I said to my people, let us develop these people, let us make them directors and one European director said in our meeting that they were too young.


So, I turned to him and said, how old are you? At that time he was 37 years, and he was calling a 40-year-old Nigerian too young to be a director. I said to him, you are wrong, they are not too young. They may not have the same experience as you have, but age-wise they are okay, so let us teach them what they need to know. Let us give them what they need to have, let them use it. Look, many of the young people today are multiple graduates, they have degrees in three or four places, what are they doing with those degrees? What can they point at and say, see what I did, see what I achieved. Unless you achieve something with what you have, you might as well not have it.


So, my hope for young people is that we know that they are already having what they should have, let them develop the dynamism to do what they want to do.


But there is still the issue of opportunities or better put lack of opportunities these days. So, generally, what is your idea about opportunities?


As an individual, when you see an opportunity, and you say, maybe, I can do this, when you do it, if you are using that opportunity right, it is not for yourself. Any opportunity you are given, look around you, and you will find that there are people who are also looking for an opportunity but they don’t have it.


Look, I went to primary, secondary and all kinds of things, there are people who went to school with me but who after school, didn’t have the opportunities that I have. So, you cannot hear about them. You cannot see anything they have done. So, now, I who got opportunity, what is the reason why I was given the opportunity because I didn’t make the opportunity. Why was I given opportunity?


Because, God believes that He has equipped me, if I give you this opportunity, look at the people around you that don’t have opportunity, you can bless them, you can help them, you can tell them something which will improve their own knowledge.


So, from when I was young, I decided that what I wanted to be in this world was to be a teacher. And when I went to the university, I came from there and my first appointment I went to teach in a school. So, it is only after teaching in a school that I went to radio and television and to some other things. Not because I wanted to but because I was led to go.


So, my point is that unless every individual decides that whatever opportunity that I have, I will not look at it as something for myself, I will not look at it as something for me to gain power, to make new friends, to become famous because God didn’t make a mistake when he created so many people . He created so many of us and Jesus Christ said, you will always have the poor with you. There will always be somebody around you who is poorer than you are. So, your opportunity is not for you to come and say, see, I am better than you, I am superior. It is for you to say, for all of us to do well together, how can I help you with this opportunity that I have? And that has been my philosophy of life.


When you talk about being hopeful for the country, with Nigeria back in the debt peonage, the economy in tatters, how do you see the next president navigating out of this mess?


Why is Nigeria in debt? As we are in debt, we are helping to build some other nations. So, that debt is a curious kind of debt. Don’t forget also that there was a time that we were heavily in debt and Olusegun Obasanjo came and said we are going to get Nigeria out of debt. So, it is possible to be in debt and it is possible to be out of debt.


So, ask yourself, why am I in debt? If I want to run this my house, if I want to achieve something with this establishment, I can decide how to do it. I can call my family and say come and see what you can do, how you sell this? Can you plant this? What can you do? They may say what they can do is not much, let me talk to this other person who has better knowledge or greater energy to come and help us. So, we are all sitting down here waiting for help. That is why we are in debt.


As we are in debt to this level, do you not know Nigerians who are rolling in money? Do you not know of people who are so rich that they do not know what to do with their money? As we are rolling in debt like this, do you not know our history, that we have had leaders who have taken money out of this country in billions?


So, we know the truth we may say oh, it is the fault of the leader, it is the fault of this, it is the fault of that. Look, nowadays, I don’t go out to talk, until you came to trouble me here, so I can talk to you and these are the things that I think and anybody who wants to talk to me and argue with me, I am ready to argue with the person.


When my parents were bringing me up, when I was a child, my mother would say at the end of the week, you know your uniform is now dirty, go and wash it. And I will wash it. I take responsibility for the cleanliness of my uniform. She could have done it another way. She could have said, bring your uniform, let me wash it. Right? But her choice was, your uniform is dirty, go and wash it. That is how I was taught. And that is why, today, I am more likely to do what I can even at this age than to wait for other people to come and do it for me.


In the interview we had with you in 2019, you said the only thing that doesn’t know we are fighting corruption is corruption itself. Do you still think so?


Look, this thing called corruption, have you ever seen it? Can you point at it and say that is corruption going on the street? You cannot see corruption going anywhere, it is people who practice corruption. Corruption is a way of life, it is not something that is moving along the street. But you know who we are fighting? We are fighting that thing that is moving on the street. That is what we think when we say we are fighting corruption. That is not corruption.


Corruption is what people do, how people behave, how I value you, how I value other people. That is where corruption comes from. And you know why? Because even English says that when you are in trouble, you look after yourself first, but unfortunately, we have promoted that saying to say whether you are in trouble or not, look after yourself all the time.


So, that is the beginning of corruption. Because, corruption means there are things I ought to do so that you can benefit, so that the other person can benefit, but let me not look at their benefits, let me only look at mine. Let me do this thing so that I get what I want first and if there is any left, then you can take it. If government awards a contract and they say build this road and you discover that they have paid what the contractor charged for building the road but the road is not built, that is corruption, right? Is it something that just happened? No, it is the contractor that promised something and failed to deliver, that took the benefit and that is people.


So, the reason why fighting corruption is not successful is because people are looking out for themselves first. People are self-centred. All these people who are wanting to become this or that, are they thinking about Nigeria? Are they saying I want to come and improve Nigeria, is that their purpose? No! They are saying it is their turn to come and eat of the fruits of the land.




Yes! And as long as that is your attitude, corruption is your bed mate because you are looking only at yourself whereas to be a leader, even of this street, I must look at all the people on the street and see what they need before I will look at what I will need. Is that what our leaders do?


The reason why we cannot fight corruption is that corruption feeds on self-centredness. And that is what we are. We are too self-centred.


Is there any of the 18 presidential candidates jostling to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari that inspires confidence in you?


I am not going to comment on the presidential candidates. And the reason is this, there is nothing I say about any presidential candidate that will not be misinterpreted. We are full of misinterpretation. Now, when I was a school teacher, I set a test for my class on something I have taught them. When I came to mark the test, I was marking what they produced, what they wrote down, I was not marking them for speed. Do you understand? So, unfortunately for us, now a lot of people who are supporting Candidate A or B or C are not even asking, what can this candidate do for Nigeria, or even better, what has this candidate ever done for Nigeria?


If you have achieved many things in the past, were they for yourself or were they for the community? So, if you want to choose somebody to lead this country, the first thing you must ask yourself is what has this person ever done to even give an indication that he thinks it is worthwhile to lead this country. What has this person ever done that you can say it was for Nigeria that the person did it?


So, that is where we are. I don’t want to comment on any candidate but candidates have to understand that to be ambitious to be a leader, it is nor for yourself. Never for yourself! So, any leader today who is looking first at himself has got it wrong. You must go for this leadership because you have noticed that there are certain things that Nigeria needs and you are in a position to supply them or you are in a position to get people to supply them, not for yourself. So, that is the only comment I am going to make on that.


So, what advice do you give Nigerians as they go to the polls next year?


Answer: You know when you take Nigerians as a group of people, within that group, there are individuals, and so until the individual does what the individual should do, the community cannot do what a community should do. There is no way a community can become good if the people are bad. You cannot have a good society of bad people. So the first thing is, you know, I look at all the friends that I have had since I was young, some of them have left the world, they have died, but I can point to some and say before he died he did this and that and that was good.


These young people today, when they grow as old as I am, what can they point to and say, I was part of the building of that thing. I put something there and that was what made the place look so good.


So, my advice to everybody is, there is nobody that God has created without talent or some resource. Have you identified what God has given you? Do you know that He didn’t give it to you because you are beautiful or handsome, He gave it to you so that you can use it to make the society better? There is not a single one of us that was sent into this world to serve himself. We are all sent to this world to make it better.


If every Nigerian will say to himself or herself that I don’t like what is happening, I don’t like the way things are going, let me do something, let me do something to make this little corner better, we will have a better country.


So that is my advice. Do what you can in the belief that that that is the way to please God and we will have a better country.




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