August 5, 2019

State of the nation: 2023 polls’ll be worse unless… — Kolade

Dr Christopher Kolade

By Clifford Ndujihe

…Warns that June 12 can recur

IT took a six-month chase to get Dr Christopher Kolade, 86, to speak on burning national issues. The veteran broadcaster, former Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and chairman of Cadbury Nigeria Plc, prefers to work silently to get things working again in his beloved country.
However, after persistent pressure, Dr Kolade, who is one of the Burdened Elders seeking ways to silence the drums of war in Nigeria, spoke on the state of the nation and how to save the country. He also spoke on the Nigerian civil war, how soldiers made dialogue unworkable, the falling standard of education in Nigeria, how we can halt brain drain, and deepen our democracy among others.

Christopher Kolade, 2023 POLLS

Dr Christopher Kolade


On the state of the nation

There are two major issues about the state of the country we have to focus our attention. The first is that we have tried a certain system of politics and we have allowed politics to become so prominent in our behaviour. Politics is not an end in itself. Politics is to help us get to good governance. We are to use it as a good platform to arrive at good governance. We have seen that the politics we practice now has not brought us consistent good governance. We had flashes here and there but we cannot claim we are a country that has achieved good governance.

One of the things that would help us is to set quality standards for the emergence of good candidates for elections. In choosing those to contest, it should not the amount of money you have or the influence or power that you wield. It should be what we know you for, what you have done, what you have achieved, and how you have related to the joint interest of Nigerians. If you had taken the joint interest of Nigeria seriously, then we know you are the person we can trust. This should apply to every public office. For any public office, we must remember that the person is offering service to the nation not to rule or govern the nation. That is where we are to start. Since our present system of politics is not based on that principle I don’t see how it is going to give us what we want.

Also read: No power can hold our youths if they want to break away – Prof Akintoye, Afenifere leader

Has our politics ever been based on principle?

Yes. If you go back to the original team of Nigerians that brought us out of colonial government into independence, you ask yourself what was their motivation? Some of them were sent to jail because they were agitating, and some of them lost positions. They were people who made sacrifices that did not lead to their personal wealth or anything; it was a sacrifice so that the nation could become independent. That is one system of politics. That is the basis upon which you can achieve anything that is respectable and has sustainability. If you don’t make the personal sacrifice you will not be able to build something that will sustain you for a long time.

At what point did we miss the mark?

It was at the point we changed the party politics to that, that lost focus on the quality of individual and focused on their ability to throw money around.

Was it in 1979 or the 60s? Some said it started with military intervention

Whatever time we did that was when that culture changed. People were no longer entering the place because they wanted to serve but because they wanted to rule or get rich. When we changed that culture we lost it.

So, it is okay to say that is where we changed. What are we going to do going forward?

By the grace of the Almighty God, we are here today and have the opportunity to make the change we desire.

How are we going to do it?

We cannot call on the people who are benefiting from today’s system and ask them to come and make the change.

So, when you talk about restructuring, reprogramming, etc, remember that the people who have an interest in restructuring are not the ones benefiting from it.

If we are to restructure, reprogramme and change things here, let us look at our young people whose life is not based on party politics; people who have done something respectable; technocrats who have made impact in their professions and have shown that they can achieve something through their efforts, and have shown also that they can stand anywhere in the world and display what they have done so that people see it and respect it. That is the kind of people we are looking for to lead the nation.

Most people who qualify for that are probably in their 50s and below. They are the ones who have had to tackle the problems, and issues of the modern world. Find those people. They are also the ones who still have a stake in Nigeria’s future. Many of the people who are running politics today, in 10 years, if God is kind to them, would find themselves unable to run around any more. So, let the younger generation redefine what really leads to corporate success and do it.

One of the things I find funny about the Nigerian situation is you see business organizations that are succeeding, they are making a profit and they are creating a market place that is winning global respect. If we have that in business, what are the principles on which they do this?

The first principle is looking at corporate interest rather than personal interest. Because they are looking at the corporate interest that is where they put their effort and that is where they achieve their success.

So, we need younger people who have proved themselves in some professional or technocratic way and are willing to make sacrifices. If somebody is already running a business and his income every month is in millions, what are you going to offer him to say come and be a governor or this or that?

He will not come unless he has a spirit that says I want to go and serve and I am ready to lose some of the benefits I have today in other to serve. That is the kind of sacrifice I am talking about, people who are not looking for influence or trying to throw money about for people to give them adulation.

Our national anthem says we should be ready to serve the country. The constitution talks about serving the country but most people, because of the way they get to power, don’t. Have you ever heard of a party that won the election say ‘we are the party in office?’ They tell you, ‘we are the party in power.’ If you approach it like that you will get it wrong.

On the difficulty of getting the electorate to support credible young people at the polls

In the demographics of Nigeria, the ones who are 40 years and under constitute 65 per cent of our population. That is where anybody who wants to get into offices should concentrate his energy. What is it that will appeal to young people and make them give you that support? You will find out that these days money is important but it is not the main focus of some of these young people unless they are listening to bad advice. Show them how they can make headway in future, exercise their productivity, how they can by merit get to the place where they earn respect. That is the thing that should be moving the young people now, so concentrate on that. This business of going around, sharing money is so sad and that is where we are.

Many of these young people don’t think like this because of the system. Merit has been sacrificed…

You are saying exactly what I am saying, that we have a system which needs to be changed. The people benefiting from this system today are not the ones to change it, they have no motivation to change it. We need young people to get together under their own leadership. I know a number of young people in their 50s,40s, 30s that are beginning to see the light. They can see that the future cannot be based on what we are doing now and they are willing to come out and say so. Let us give those people the voice, let us rally around them because they cannot do it on their own.

Is it right that we should abandon merit and go for patronage? Analyse-it for them, that merit is actually the thing that makes you achieve something, patronage weakens your ability to achieve anything.

Somebody needs to be telling people these things so that they will understand. Fortunately for us, the younger generation is not made up of nonsensical people. It is made up of people who are studying hard. Go abroad, go to the UK, America and look at what our young people are doing; they are holding their own in competition with even the natives of the place. We have talents, ability and merit. The reason many of our young are looking for opportunities abroad is that they think they can hold their own there; they don’t have the opportunity here. If we start challenging them here and they see that it is not who you know that is going to get them to where they want to go, it is what they can offer, they will stay and offer it. Many of them are still here doing that.

On credible people shunning elections and voters apathy due to violence, snatching of ballot boxes, killings…

You have just described the situation that is very difficult to handle. Things happen that should not happen in any decent society. When you see on television people snatching ballot boxes and engaging in indecent behaviour, is that what we want to be known for as a country? If we don’t want to be known for that we should take some effective actions as a people to stop it. Those who were snatching ballot boxes were doing it in broad daylight where were other people who do not like what they were doing?

To challenge them unarmed?

There are situations in which somebody who is armed will back off when he sees the magnitude of the opposition. Unless we are willing to do something that is not easy because the objective is worth it, there will be no solution.

The 2019 polls are some of the most challenged in the history of elections in Nigeria with 809 petitions at the tribunals. Do you see justice being done at the tribunals?

Do you know what that means? When the next one comes, unless we have done something drastically effective, people are going to expect that this what is going to happen again and they will take action to prevent themselves from losing out.

So, it is going to be worse. Now is the time. Some people contested the last election and lost. Maybe they have the right ideas but did not win. What are they doing now? Now is the time for them to show people that we can change if we do the right things the right way.

The boys who snatched ballot boxes did it on behalf of somebody. What are we doing with them now that the elections are over? What are we offering them now? If we leave them the way they are it is going to be worse next time.

When we talk about leadership, we look at the president, governors, etc. No, leadership exists at every level of life. Even in school, you have class monitors, prefects, that is where leadership begins. Let us begin to educate people that leadership means responsibility and service.

On insecurity, kidnapping, banditry, herdsmen menace Boko Haram insurgency, and way out

When people do something wrong, get away with it, nothing happens in consequence of what they have done, and there seems to be silent acquiescence, you are promoting or strengthening bad behaviour. We should be conscientious in dealing with bad behaviour. We have a constitution that tells us how to behave and contribute to nation-building. If people are violating these things, there must be some way of showing that if you violate these things you will suffer for it.

The moment you have situations in which you are losing the standards, and abandoning principles you must expect things to deteriorate.

For instance, if I want to become Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, what should be the expectation? For me to become CJN I am going to be heading the entire judicial system. Should there not be some description of the kind of person you want in that job? This should apply for all public office-President, governors, etc. We should agree that a country so rich in human resources, a country where many people are making waves internationally, earning respect abroad, shouldn’t we utilize that at home and say in order for you to lead this team of people you should be able to earn their respect? You earn respect by doing the right things.

The moment you don’t insist on that and begin to use other ways to bring people into leadership, what do you expect? The whole system collapses.

You started your career as an education officer in Western Nigeria, how do you see the education sector now given your experience?

Let’s not go into that anymore because we must remember that education is not going to school and getting a certificate. Education is building the person and making the person an effective unit of the contribution to what we call nation-building.

To be effective, and doing what is necessary, what should be the preparation?

Let me give you an example, not long ago, somebody came up with the idea that schools should stop teaching history. I understand that they have made a change but the fact that there could be a policy that says stop teaching history is one way we are fighting against ourselves. It means when we sing the national anthem, the Labour’s of our heroes past shall never be in vain, we don’t want to know our heroes past. It means the benefit we get from learning what people did in the past, we are saying that is no longer necessary.

We must be careful about policy decisions that are so stupid considering where we want to go.

Many of the unity schools that we had before, we knew how they have developed what their ambitions were. In running those schools we said it had to be egalitarian, if there is a school that is doing very well and shinning and there are other schools that are not doing so well, instead of raising the other schools to standard, you deny the top school of funding to bring it down. That is stupid. Nigerians are better than that. Some of the policy decisions we take completely negate the quality of the people we have in this country. Why will anybody make a decision that defeats the interest of the people because of personal benefit? The moment that is your focus you cannot concentrate on doing what is right and the quality will fall.

How can we address this?

The way that we look at teachers in this country has to change. When I was growing up, the teacher in any community was a highly respected person. It was not that they were getting highly paid. They were highly respected because of the responsibility they were carrying. The way they were treated by the system was to give them that respect. Sometimes we don’t realize that the personal dignity of an individual is not built on money. It is built on the recognition that you are an important member of the society because of the responsibility you are caring. Therefore, we look up to you and do everything to support you in order for you to carry out that responsibility.

I made up my mind when I was leaving school that I wanted to be education officer because I had been taught in school by education officers and I said I respect this person for the value they have added to my life. The value they added to my life, I want to do the same. I did not even know how much they were earning.

The point is that eventually, the human being whose life is wrapped around money and material things begins to deteriorate in performance because it means you can use the money to buy that person. Whereas the concentration should be on what can I add to my situation, how can make the situation that I inherited better? If that is your focus you are bound to do well. And the community is bound to do well.

Why did you veer off education into broadcasting?

I discovered that after a few years as an education officer there were other things that needed to be done. The society needed action here and there I saw that being an education officer was not enough; I was not being fully stretched. I was not making the optimum contribution that I could make, so I started looking for other opportunities. However, if you trace my career you will discover that I started as an education officer, and after 60 years, I retired from the post of lecturer in a business school. So, I have never abandoned the need to add value to other people.

We have hundreds of thousands of people in this country that have the capacity to add value in a place that is respectable but if the public policy does not give those people the respect they deserve money becomes the focus. I don’t know how much money anybody can have and say that he has got enough.

You went from classroom to broadcasting, journalism

I was in education, teaching in a classroom. Then the government said they wanted to set up school broadcasting. I so was the first educational officer in school broadcasting in Western Nigeria. I was the pioneer in that place. But when I had done that for another three years, opportunities opened up in broadcasting generally.

You were in broadcasting during the civil war. How and what was it like?

The civil war itself was an episode that arose from governance and administration.

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Broadcasting as an endeavour is meant to help people to communicate with each other. Whatever may be the political or governance structure, broadcasting can always facilitate communication provided the broadcaster is doing it from the basis of well established, respectable principles.

From accounts, the Biafran broadcasters appeared to have out-performed Nigerian broadcasters, including you during the civil war…

I am glad you said ‘’appeared to have out-performed.’ The appearance may have been there but the reality was different. Propaganda cannot overcome the reality of the experience of people who are involved.

I was in a meeting towards the end of the civil war where somebody was saying, for every Biafran soldier that is killed, five Nigerian soldiers are being killed. So, you say to yourself very soon the Nigerians will disappear completely. Then, the situation arose in which you saw that the civil war ended and somebody surrendered to somebody else.

So you say what happened to the five to one story? So, propaganda always has a day that it will fall to pieces.

With hindsight do you think the civil war could have been averted?

O yes, every war could have been averted. Let me remind you whether it is the First World War, Second World War, or Nigeria Civil war when the war ended what did we do? We came back to a round table to discuss how to go forward. Supposing we had done that, sat down to discuss before the war, we could have avoided the war. But because we wanted to show superiority, strength and wanted to win, to be the ones who scored a victory, we fought the war.

When you have conflict or disagreement don’t look for victory, don’t look for the chance to win, look for a resolution because the problem belongs to all of you. Look for a way to resolve the issue rather than I will win over you. If we had used that principle we would have averted the war.

Some people have argued that if the Aburi, Ghana Accord had been implemented the war could have been averted?

Who went to Aburi and agreed on the accord? Soldiers? Correct?

And some technocrat super-permanent secretaries…

Acting for the soldiers. So the soldiers did what they knew how to do. They precipitated the war.

It is what I was talking about leadership. If you don’t understand the essence of the responsibility you are caring you will make the wrong decisions. So, the soldiers thought: ‘we will fight the war, we will win it. If you win the war, what next? Are you going to keep your defeated opponents under subjugation forever? But if you had resolved it so that each person says I know my rights, my obligation and what to contribute to nation-building you will have a viable situation.

Some people from the East still feel that the civil war is still on, that the area is marginalized in terms of number of states, citing of projects, appointments, etc

All I can tell you about that is that I know many people from the East who don’t feel that way. So, it is not a universal or unanimous thing, it is perception. If we are going by perception, it depends on what I want from any situation. My perception is influenced by my desire or ambition. Even when things are going well if my desire is to be above everybody else then I will always say that the situation is not satisfactory.

Just as you said that many people think that things are still not okay, I know many people who feel it is okay because what we should be looking for is not what I am getting from the situation but the opportunity I have to express myself and to put in what I can put in because as long as the nation-building endeavour continues, nobody can say we have got to the destination. And because we have not got to the destination there is a lot of work to do.

Some people argue that the structure of the system makes it impossible for them to contribute their best. They clamour for restructuring, regional autonomy, devolution of power

That is back to where I started. Change is necessary. The system has not got us to where we want to be so we need to change. My take is that it is the younger generation that should be pushing for change and bring in viable ideas because those who are benefiting from the system will not volunteer to change it.

On June 12 and Chief MKO Abiola

We have said a lot about June 12 and Abiola. What we ended up with was not a normal situation. You and I went out to vote and did what we were supposed to and somebody or what they called cabal came out to cancel it. There is no human society where that can survive unless you are doing it with a corpse in your hands. For me, I have always said that June 12 and the Abiola thing is just to show us how low we can get if we don’t take the right action.

On comments that June 12 can recur in Nigeria

Of course, if we don’t use the right principle or standard to do what we are supposed to do we can always get another June 12.

Those who announce the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election said many years later that if only we know the real reason that annulment was necessary we would be thanking them. My question was if you knew that you can earn our gratitude by telling us what was good about what you did, why delay it? Why wait for several years, why didn’t you tell us the day you did it? He knew it was not so.

That was not a normal situation even our constitution was not effective and all the rights the citizens were suspended.

His assessment of 20 years of democracy in Nigeria

When you used the word ‘democracy,’ we have to understand that there is a definition-government of the people, by the people and for the people. If we accept that definition we should now look at what we have been doing. In theory, when we elect people into the House of Assembly, House of Representatives, Senate, those are the people who are representing us. If we look at the performance of the legislature since we started, to what extent do I agree that they have been representing us? In fact, to what extent do they agree that they have been representing us? Because if they were representing us many of the things they have done would not have occurred to them. If the things occurred to them they would have a comeback to us to say, ‘we are thinking this way, what do you think?’ No, they take actions that we now protest against. So the theory is beautiful but the practice may defeat the theory.

On former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s letter to President Muhammadu Buhari

I am not going to comment on Obasanjo letter because this particular citizen has written letters expressing some views, which he has a right to hold. He has chosen to publish his letter or write a letter in public space became he knew that he has things to say to everybody.

Some of us also have views to express but we know we cannot just start writing letters in public space, so we talk among ourselves. I go to seminars and meetings to which I express my views, sometimes people like you listen to me at those seminars and publish my view. What is the difference? It is the same idea.

You served in Obasanjo’s government

As high commissioner

You also served in Jonathan’s government


What were your experiences?

You are going to force me to do something now. Anybody who serves in any two situations knows that it is very unlikely that any of the two situations would be the same. If you go back to some of the things I have said in public about my service especially in SURE-P you will know that I did not find it totally easy to do that but then being a free citizen, I took actions I needed to take to make sure that I did not compromise my principles and standards.

In each case, I can say very frankly that both of those Presidents did not interfere in my freedom to make my own decisions and to do what I needed to do. If I felt there was an attempt to interfere with my freedom I quickly did something about it.

Will you be willing to serve under President Buhari?

At this age?

You have energy

No, no, It is not a matter of energy, I am now too old to take any public service position.

At 86 you look very strong what is the secret?

I thank God for it, it is the grace of God. My philosophy of life is based on the fact that I did bring myself into the world. The fact that I was not consulted before I was sent into this world the almighty God, who sent me into the world has a reason, a purpose for doing so, and would empower me to fulfil the purpose. As long as I am doing what he wanted me to do life will continue to be good and He will continue to supply the energy and resources for doing what He wants me to do.

Looking back, 86 years after, do you have any regrets?

Yes, I have regrets but that is life. Life is made up of success, regrets, joy, unhappiness, it is a package.

Could you share one or two with us?

Let us not go into my regrets because the point about life is that when you make a decision if you are a sensible person you are following the teaching of family, church, etc, you hope you are taking the right decision.

It may turn out to be a mistake then you regret it. That is normal, that is human life. The regrets I have will not help anybody because my principle is before you make a decision to make sure, as far as you can tell, you are doing the right thing.

There are two reasons even your best decision may fail. The first is that any decision you make today will affect tomorrow. You cannot see tomorrow, you don’t know what is coming tomorrow. You are making your decision in the hope that it will be okay for tomorrow. Tomorrow may bring you circumstances that you did not think about so you will find that it is not the right decision.

The second thing is that you are making decisions which will involve your working with other people. You cannot see the hearts of people, even when you are facing them and they are telling you things you do not know what they are really thinking in their hearts. So in this respect, you are making a decision in the hope that the people with you will see what you are saying and do it the way that they say they would do it.

So because of these two realities, you cannot predict if any decision you take will fail. The important thing is when you notice that the decision that you take is an error, change it to the best of your ability.

His advice to Nigerians

For any Nigerian today, my single advice is this: Because you know that your time in this world is limited and it is by the decision of the Almighty that you are here, now, you don’t know for how much longer, do what you can today to make sure that you prepare this country for a better future.