Dr Christopher Kolade was born in Erin -Oke, Osun State, Nigeria in 1932. After his secondary school education at Government College, Ibadan, he studied at Fourah Bay College, Freetown, Sierra Leone.
He is a veteran broadcaster and sometime Director–General of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. He was Chief Executive and Chairman of Cadbury Nigeria Plc and formerly the Nigerian High Commissioner to The United Kingdom. He currently teaches Corporate Governance and Human Resources Management at Lagos Business School (LBS), and Leadership and Conflict Management at School of Media and Communication (SMC).
In this interview with Ademola Adegbamigbe, David Odey (Idowu Ogunleye snapped the photos), Dr Kolade spoke on his days at Fourah Bay College, its contributions in producing the first crop of Nigerian intelligentsia and what the Nigerian education sector can borrow from the institution
You attended Foray Bay College in Sierra Leone. How will you describe your experience there?
I went to Freetown in 1951. What I know about Sierra Leone actually has to do with Fourah Bay College.
Why did you go to Fourah Bay? What attracted you to the institution?
I had the experience of seeing and listening to mainly senior clergy men, bishops, people like that, who had had their university education in Fourah Bay, because my late father was a priest.
So I was impressed with the kind of people that they were, people like Bishop Awosika, Bishop Odutola. I read the history of other people whom I did not even meet and these were people who had taken leadership positions in Nigeria, in education particularly and also in the church, one or two of them, in administration – politics. So I felt that if these people who were given leadership in Nigeria went to that place, it could not be a bad place.
So I went to Freetown in 1951 and in my four years there, I was able to confirm that Fourah Bay was just a place where they developed not just your academic ability but also your person as an individual. They made sure you had an opportunity to take part in activities that showed that God was supreme and that it was a good thing to follow what the Bible tells you. So they developed both your academic ability and your life personality. In those four years, I learnt a lot that I can say built many of the things that I have done since then. So it was a totally positive experience for which I will continue to be grateful.
Kindly name some of your school mates then?
There was Alex Ajayi who became Principal of Fiditi Grammer School at some point. Who else will I mention? Most of them have passed on now. Also the late Banwo who became Principal in a school at Ikorodu. We are talking about 60 something years now, so it is not easy to remember those people. All the people who went to school with me came back and took leadership positions in their own area of jurisdiction, it was a natural thing to do.
We want you to tell us how that country contributed to the first set of Nigerian intelligentsia
A: Yes you see, when you talk about higher education in West Africa, that was the place that we naturally went. Fourah Bay College was founded on 18 February 1827. That is a long time before we started setting up universities in other parts of West Africa. That was where people got their tertiary education at the time and it was natural that people that went and did that, came back and because they were the ones that had the university education, they naturally went into leadership. That is why the first crop of Nigerian leaders, whether in church, education, civil service, that is where they came from.
Sierra Leone is marking its 55th independence anniversary on 27 April. What is your message to that country?
My message is: Thank you for what you did for me, because to live in a place for four years, which is not your own country, it means that some people cared for you, some people made themselves available to help you when you went to a foreign land to study. So, my first message is: Thank you for what you did for me. It is many years ago now and I’am still reaping the benefits.
My other message is that like every other country in our region, Fourah Bay College continues to be a place from where people should derive wisdom, knowledge and competence for what they do because Fourah Bay College has now become the University of Sierra Leone. Really it still remains a place to which people can go for the knowledge they need. So I would urge them to continue because things change, situations change, and when things change, those who are managing situations need also to change. And for me, our tertiary educational institutions must continue to be custodians of our values and our principles. Fourah Bay has done that for about 190 years now. So they should continue to do same.
How did you feel when war ravaged that country in the early 90’s
Quite clearly, I felt very bad about it. I felt that you know, it is one of the ways in which the human society can lose track of itself. This happens when elements that don’t have the kind of foresights that the future must remain as positive as the past and present. The future is where our children are coming into and because of the responsibility we have as parents, and the love we have for children, it is our duty to help those children to have a good life when the future comes. So when some elements in the society do things that put that future in jeopardy, it is really a serious matter because that means that they are taking what God has given them now and they are making it deteriorate so that it would be inferior in future. That is a betrayal of God himself. So I felt very bad about that situation and I was glad when Nigeria decided to step in and help them bring the situation back to normal.
When last did you visit the place?
What was your impression of what you saw on ground, compared to when you were a student there?
You see the thing is that, first of all, I only spent a couple of days, so I didn’t have time to go all over the place. But secondly, I give myself good advice in these matters because if you haven’t been to a place before, 20, 30 years and you come to the place, you can only have a superficial impression of the place unless you go and live there for a protacted period. Then you can now compare what people are like now, what they were like before. The time I went there, I didn’t even have time to visit as many places as I would have liked but obviously like any other country, they are making progress, they have also suffered from civil war, suffered from bad politics and so on. But they are still standing on their feet which means they have recovered.
We also find out that many people bear Yoruba names in Sierra Leone. For example I was reading Nnamdi Azikiwe’s My Odyssey, where he mentioned one of his contemporaries as Herbert Bankole Bright of Sierra Leone. There are other people like Professor Eldred Durosimi Jones, an academic and literary critic; Balogun Koroma, a transport minister of that country…
Ok. We have to go into history on this one. You remember there was a period when there was something called the slave trade. And the people from Europe came to West Africa and our own people, the leaders of the time, sold their people to these Europeans as slaves. So a lot of people especially from the Yoruba of Nigeria which is the closest to the outside world, a lot of people were moved out of these country as slaves, they went to Britain, they went to America, they went all over the place as slaves.
But of course they still bore their own names. Then the slave trade was abolished. If you remember William Wilberforce and other people fought to free many slaves. They chose Sierra Leone as a place to settle these people. Then you then had Yoruba people who had gone to Europe or America as slaves, they had been freed and brought back. Those who freed them, instead of bringing them all the way back home decided, look, they have some unusual kind of experiences, so lets settle them so that they can have a life that is cosy. The belief then was that because if they brought them back to the place from where they were sold as slaves there would be trouble. So they settled them in Sierra Leone. That’s why many of the names you have in Sierra Leone are Yoruba because the people there were originally Yoruba.
Particularly Ajayi Crowther who led an evangelising mission to the Niger…
You see, that’s the history. In fact because those people were brought to Sierra Leone, and settled there, they were more advanced in what we call western culture and so on and so forth than anybody in Nigeria. When the Europeans decided that they were going to bring Christianity, they decided that a person like Ajayi Crowther who had been a slave, had been freed, not only free but has become a clergy man, you know, even a bishop, it would be better to start the mission here by bringing such people. That is how it happened.
Fourah Bay College was founded on 18 February 1827. That is a long time before we started setting up universities in other parts of West Africa. That was where people got their tertiary education at the time and it was natural that people that went and did that, came back and because they were the ones that had the university education, they naturally went into leadership. That is why the first crop of Nigerian leaders, whether in church, education, civil service, that is where they came from.
Some people claimed Sir Darnley Alexander, a past Chief Justice of Nigeria was born in Sierra Leone. However, others said he was from the West Indies…
It is possible that he was born in Sierra Leone. You see, I think one of the things we need to understand is that at certain times we need to understand movements between West Africa, Europe, America and even the West Indies. Movement was on the behest of those who had the means and authority at the time. So you would find that a lot of people in Sierra Leone whose claim of history belongs to the West Indies than any other part of the world because they served their slavery, some of them in West Indies, some of those slaves were also in the West Indies.
So there is a common history to those places, so you will find that even today many so called African Americans, the black Americans can trace their roots not only to West Africa. There is a population today that has a very rich history. I don’t know about Danley Alexander’s history particularly but I would not be surprised if his ancestors were born there.
What happened to us in Fourah Bay was that attention was directed towards that training in character. You were made to understand that it doesn’t matter how clever you are, what degrees you have, what position you occupy, character is key. So that is something that all education institutions should bear in mind. What happens is that people, human beings would emerge at the end of the system as what? They emerge only as professors, engineers but with no attention to character, they cannot be looked upon as whole. So that’s my take on that
What did you learn in Fourah Bay that you can recommend to the Nigerian education sector?
As I told you few minutes ago, in Fourah Bay, because of the Christian connection of setting the place up, the development of people in line with the teachings of Christ was a strong element in what happened. What we found was that a lot of people who went to Foray Bay to study whatever ended up becoming priests or in the case of somebody like me who did not become a priest, but at least we ended up following those teachings in our normal life.
Now what that tells me is that you need to remember that to produce a rounded person, somebody who is not just an academic or not just an engineer, you have to include training in character. What happened to us in Fourah Bay was that attention was directed towards that training in character. You were made to understand that it doesn’t matter how clever you are, what degrees you have, what position you occupy, character is key.
So that is something that all education institutions should bear in mind. What happens is that people, human beings would emerge at the end of the system as what? They emerge only as professors, engineers but with no attention to character, they cannot be looked upon as whole. So that’s my take on that