As Christopher Kolade clocks 90, By Simbo Olorunfemi

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“I hold the firm view that the surest way of combating and defeating bad behaviour in our community is to strengthen good behaviour in all the places where we find it.”

-Christopher Kolade

Sometime in April this year, my phone beeped, and it was Dr Christopher Kolade on the line. I had barely said ‘Good morning, Sir’ before he stunned me with an apology. He considered it improper that he was only calling when he had a ‘favour’ to ask of me. I was tongue-tied. Such a revered Elder-Statesman having me in mind over anything at all, to the point of calling, is a huge favour. I should be apologising, in the first place, for having not been in touch with him.

What was this ‘favour’ anyway? Dr Kolade wanted to see if I could assist a UK-based Author who had approached him about book publishing. He didn’t assume a position of superiority because he is an Elder, a national icon for that matter. To think of the fact that his request was a potential business opportunity for me. Yet, he was courteous and respectful as always.

That, for me, sums up the person of Dr Christopher Kolade in a nutshell. It is that sense of courtesy, a commitment to decency and civility that he, as an exemplar of his generation, has remained committed to, irrespective of how far away we have travelled away from these values. Respect for others is a virtue he strongly subscribes to. As he once told me, “…God looks at people as his most precious and important creation. So, people ought to regard people as important creation of Almighty God. People ought to be respected and treated with consideration.”
” I respect people. I have a very healthy respect for people, probably because of my background and my relationship with God. Only God creates people, human beings don’t. And whatever a human being is going to become, it will derive directly from what God has created him to be.”

For those who have not had the privilege of a direct relationship or engagement with Dr Kolade, they might wonder what it is really that always has his protégés, especially members of the Cadbury Alumni, speaking of him in such glowing terms. Whereas they often speak from the place of their experiences with him, I see it in the importance he places on people and giving people a chance.

On his management philosophy, he said to me: “I saw my role in the management of people as that of taking the person and saying, ‘Really, I don’t know how high this person can go. I have no idea what the ultimate can be. But it is my role to help this person to get there. I am not going to push them there, but I must create situations that facilitate their journey… create opportunities, but secondly and most importantly, create challenges, because we don’t grow unless we stretch. You have to stretch in order to grow. And you can only stretch when the thing you are trying to attain is not exactly within your reach right now. So, in creating challenges, sometimes, you will see that those challenges become opportunities.”

So, first and foremost, it is the dignity and respect that Dr Christopher Kolade, even as the Boss or Leader, brings to the table that earns me the respect and admiration from many. With him, there is no compromising on courtesy and civility. His words are measured. His mastery of the two languages – Yoruba and English, impeccable. His delivery smooth and precise in the manner of the well-honed Broadcaster that he was. His manners, civilised and polished, most likely formed before his years as a Diplomat.

For Dr Christopher Kolade, like some of the great men of his generation, there is an understanding of the place of self-respect and self-restraint. There is a grounding that he has of the philosophy and values of Omoluabi, which finds expression in the way he has chosen to live on the basis of simplicity and a keen sense of integrity. With him, there is nothing like a sense of entitlement. It is always about respect for others, service to God, country and humanity.
So much has been said, over the years, about Dr Chrisopher Kolade. His record in Broadcasting, Management, Diplomacy and other facets of his life, not forgetting charity, is eloquent. For him however, there is no situating whatever he has been able to accomplish outside of God.

He said to me, “I remember, one young man asked me at a certain stage – You’ve had this career, you’ve done this, you’ve been in business, did you plan it like that? And I said, “No, I did not plan it like that. The only thing I asked God for, from the beginning was – God, make me an Education Officer. I want to be an Education Officer to teach in school and so on and God heard my prayer. At that point, I did not even know what Broadcasting was. I didn’t have any inclination to be in business. No inclination to go into diplomacy. Just make me an Education Officer. God did that and I was an Education Officer for 5 years, only 5 years, and then God moved me from one thing to the other, by opening doors of opportunity for which I felt I had the ability to make something of. But he had to open those doors of opportunity. So, for me, this is critical to the person I have become…I am sure there are other things that I might have tried successfully, but I never went there because the doors that were opened to me were the ones I went through.”

He says that it could have only been God. Few will argue with that. Fewer will argue with Dr Kolade on anything, even if they do not agree. The true measure of the man is the respect he has earned for himself in the way he has conducted himself. Strong on principles. Solid on values. His sense of courtesy, decency, integrity, civility and integrity is rate. His fidelity to values that are at the verge of going extinct in our land is one reason he is an inspiration to some of us. What a man! What a life! Happy 90th Birthday to Dr Christopher Kolade.

-Olorunfemi works for Hoofbeatdotcom, a Nigerian Communications Consultancy and publisher of Africa Enterprise. Twitter: @simboolorunfemi

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