December 31, 2022

Mr Integrity turns 90

Muyiwa Adetiba

By Muyiwa Adetiba

Dr Christopher Abiodun Kolade, called CK to his face by his few remaining contemporaries, behind his back by those who have worked with him or have close interactions with him and simply Dr Kolade or Ambassador Kolade by others, turned 90 a few days ago. I was not physically with him on this auspicious day.

It was not my wish. But I had to respect his wish which was that the day would largely be of introspection and meditation. And of thanksgiving. It should start with a formal service in the morning with close family members. It would thereafter be an open house for those who remembered and felt the need to visit. But he would not be available to receive visitors since God had explicitly told him to spend the day sequestered with Him.

This wish not ‘to make joyful noises unto the Lord’ on a landmark occasion as this, especially given his challenges in the past couple of years, would only be strange to those who do not know him. Dr Kolade naturally shuns any kind of ostentation, more so if it has to do with his person. Secondly, he is very unlikely to do anything outside his normal routine without asking for and receiving God’s directives.

His belief in God is absolute. He does not wear it on his sleeves but you cannot spend time with him without noticing his deep religious inclination. This is not ‘a road to Damascus conversion’ or a latter day pull as a result of age. An only son of a Reverend who was assumed would continue in his father’s footsteps, Dr Kolade never felt the need to rebel or break out in search of a meaning to life as some of us would do.

Whenever he felt he strayed in his younger, more exuberant days, he simply went back to God for a reset. And if he didn’t hear from God on a given issue, he would be worried. ‘Has He spoken and I have not heard?’  This intimate relationship has served him well on many occasions especially when at crossroads.

The only job he ever applied for was as an Education Officer – in a way he has been a teacher all his life – when he came back from Sierra Leone after his university education. The rest has been due to providence. Or God’s directives. His phenomenal success in his various engagements has in part, been due to his obedience to those directives and in part, due to a diligent application of his God given talents.

This belief has been largely responsible for his relatively stainless corporate life. He is called Mr Integrity because of his ethical approach to issues while in the corporate world. In his engagements in both public and private institutions, he has always come out as being above board. This has given him an image that very few Nigerians have.

Some three decades ago when I was looking for investors for a project, just attaching his name to the project opened doors for me. Many people wanted to be in the same boardroom with him. He was the litmus test for the credibility of the project. I once asked him what his price was since they say everybody has a price.

He smiled as he said ‘I am still trying to find it.’ Twice I was worried that his hard earned reputation would be used and soiled. The first was during Obasanjo’s administration when he headed an investigative panel. The second was during Jonathan’s administration when he headed PTF. His simple answer to me was that the owner of the reputation knows well enough not to allow it to be soiled.

To the young who want to be like him, I will say this. You cannot emulate him without understanding his driving force. It is rooted in his belief in the omnipresence of God. ‘Many people’ he said, ‘would avoid doing certain things if they think they would be caught or if those things were to be in the open.

That is precisely the point with me. I believe everything is in the open with God’. I sometimes find this faith so disarming for someone who otherwise has such a lucid, logical mind. While the word of God is sacrosanct to him, everything else is subjected to reasoning and logic. To be like him, you also must shun acquisitive tendencies and have the conviction that you will not be defined by wealth.

You must therefore be prepared to seek and pursue higher ideals. The place for example, where the modest birthday celebration took place was not at some fanciful Event Centre in a highbrow part of town. It was at his home. And that home is a modest bungalow on the mainland. That home incidentally has hosted dignitaries over the years including Heads of Governments, foreign envoys and business leaders. Despite the absence of obvious trappings of wealth around him, few indeed, are those who would say ‘no’ to a Kolade invitation.

I have learnt many things in my relationship with him. I have learnt about humility, accessibility and how to deal with subordinates and staff in a humane way – he never forgets to ask after my wife whom he taught at the Lagos Business School more than two decades ago by name. I have learnt to always look at the bigger picture in the scheme of things. But one-hard to-forget lesson happened more than fifteen years ago.

It was the first time of meeting with him after his successful stint as Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the UK. We were to meet on the Island. He was late and I was worried – if you knew him well enough, you would be worried if he was more than ten minutes late for an appointment. He came in apologizing profusely.

The traffic along the Ajah axis was horrendous according to him – he was coming from the Lagos Business School. This was when I told him ‘Sir, you have been there, done it as they say. (Second Nigerian DG of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, NBC, first Nigerian CEO of Cadbury, recently High Commissioner to UK and Chancellor of Pan African University among others).

Don’t you think you have earned the right to put your feet on the coffee table in the morning instead of wading through traffic almost everyday to teach?’ He looked at me as you would a child and said ‘You have earned no such right. The God who has kept you alive has His plans for you. It is not up to you to determine when to stop. Besides, I love to teach and if it is one more person I can convert to my way of thinking, then it would be well worth it’. I was humbled. He was then well into his 70s.

Happy Birthday Sir. May you continue to impact lives positively until the Lord whom you serve so implicitly calls you home.