Dr. Christopher Kolade, CON, Nigeria’s former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, has occupied several top positions both in government and the private sector. He is a veteran broadcaster and one time Director–General of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC). He also served as Chief Executive and Chairman of Cadbury Nigeria Plc. Currently, he is the chairman of the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) set up by President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria. He is also the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council, Pan-Atlantic University, where he teaches Corporate Governance, Leadership & Conflict Management. In this thought-provoking interview with BrandiQ correspondent, Ogbodo Adeshola, this distinguished statesman shared his opinions and insights on brand Nigeria at 53, Leadership, economy, and other sundry issues.
Nation building is a key segment in your popular book series, Kolade’s Canons. In your opinion what makes a country respectable and reputable?
First of all, you do not set out just to make yourself internationally acceptable. You first set out to make yourself domestically respectable before looking at the outside world. In other words, if you don’t have self-respect, if your behavior does not make you to respect yourself, there is no way somebody else is going to respect you. If we behave in a way that will make our internal audience disrespect the country, the global audience cannot respect us. You have to perform in a way that makes you proud of what you are doing. So if you do something, it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks, if it makes you proud and you are basing your pride on the right values, then you are likely to make great impact and progress. In our country, for instance, we believe it is right to fight corruption because this is one of the things we must do as regards nation building. If we say corruption disturbs our nation building, we must fight it in an obvious manner. We must fight it in reality not just in words. We must find ways of making it uncomfortable for those who want to practice it in the country.
How would you describe the internal and external perceptions of brand Nigeria after 53 years of Independence?
Some years ago, a minister of information said we needed to re-brand Nigeria. My answer to that was, what Nigeria needed first, was not re-branding but rebuilding. Because it doesn’t matter what great packaging you put on the product. If the product inside the packaging is bad, it will deceive, but not for long. Re-branding was not the thing to do now, what we need to be doing today is to say, really, what kind of people do we want to be? I’m not even concerned as to how we want to be seen by other people. My first concern is that what kind of people do we want to be within Nigeria? Do we want to be a people that when we talk to each other, we are telling the truth? That when we deal with each other, we can trust and believe each other? If we are that kind of people, then we will be a wholesome community. If you go back to when you were growing up as a child, what your parents told you was that there were certain values you should cherish. There were certain things you should not do because they bring disgrace to your family. Where did we put all of that? Today, we have a national pledge that says “I pledge to Nigeria my country to be faithful, loyal and honest”. Unless we go back to the values that we ourselves believe to be the right values, we cannot do anything. And all these rebranding programmes will fail.
You were quite active in the manufacturing sector you also wrote on business and economy in the Canons. In summary how would you describe the business environment in Nigeria as of now?
The business environment in Nigeria has developed in such a manner that we sometimes forget that it is not really government policies that run the economy. Government policy can facilitate or can upset the development of the economy. But what actually develops the economy is the productivity of the people. If people can exercise their productivity potentials properly, that is how the economy will grow. Therefore, what we need to be looking at constantly is if these policies that are crafted by government will facilitate our productivity or not? For instance, we are still struggling with the provision of electric power in Nigeria, which is a key factor in productivity. And really, our failure to overcome that problem is one of the reasons why there are still distortions in the economy today. If you want to set up an industry, you have to factor in your plan how much you are going to spend on generators, on diesel, etc. This has made our economic environment not too conducive.
How do we overcome these?
What can we do? First is to make sure that we give responsibility to people who can handle it. This is one mistake we all make. We all think that anybody can become a leader in this country. It is not so. If you want someone to go into the responsibility of managing the economy, give them some training so that they understand how these things happen. We make the mistake of thinking that politics is all you need to be a good government leader. It is not so. There are some skills that you need to acquire before you can manage this nation. If somebody comes to me now and say I should come and run this newspaper company, you would have to give me some training on how to do it if it must succeed.
The issue of diversifying the Nigerian economy is a song every government sings, but oil still remains the mainstay of the economy. What can be done?
Why do we have oil? We have oil so that we can exploit it as well as other resources. In other countries where they have this oil, they have used it to set up petro-chemical plants; they have used it to diversify their economy. What have we done here? All we do is bring it out of the ground and export. Even the one we try to refine for daily use cannot be done because our refineries are down. We need to put our acts together and study all the dimensions of value that we can get out of oil and go after them properly. It must be done with patience, and in a focused manner. It must be adequately planned.
The issue of corruption seems to be the single largest impediment to Nigeria’s progress. How can this be tackled?
Very simple, this can be tackled if we do exactly what we say we want to do. We all say we want to fight corruption; but you don’t fight it by practicing it. All those who say they want to fight corruption but are practicing corruption themselves are the ones leading Nigeria down the path. You as an individual must make up your mind to fight corruption yourself. And if most Nigerians make up their minds to do that, every time they come to a tempting situation, we will see progress. It may cost you something, but let us not forget that if one door closes, another will open. You may lose something by not practicing corruption, but limitless genuine opportunities still exist in this country. It is by allowing ourselves to focus on some insignificant immediate advantages that we practice corruption.
It was announced that proceeds from the launch of your books, The Canons would go to indigent students of Pan Atlantic University. Don’t you think you may need to look outside because the general perception is that one must already have some of financial muscle before thinking of learning at PAU?
Don’t forget that when you have a situation in which the cost of getting something is quite high, there will always be some people who might otherwise be qualified to get that thing, but because they can’t afford the cost, they forgo it. These are the people we are aiming at, people who have the capacity to benefit from that university education, but do not have the funds.
You are now a key participant in the university system. Most citizens that Nigerian universities are not keen on producing innovators, creators and pathfinders of development. Our universities are also never listed among the best in the world, why is this the case?
Let me make a small correction, the Lagos Business School of PAU, is listed among the best 55 schools worldwide by the Financial Times of London. It is not true that we don’t ever get listed. For the global audience to call you a person of quality, you must know that you are doing something of quality yourself. Recently you heard that the federal government set up nine more universities. And you say to yourself, can’t they see what is wrong with the ones they already have? Without correcting what is wrong with those ones, what will be the fate of the new ones? We set up more universities and the quality will become even worse. Because now the resources that are not enough to run the universities we have now, will have to be spread to these new ones. Sometimes you ask yourself how is it that otherwise intelligent looking people can sit together and take a decision like this. But you and I are witnesses. Until we actually do the things we say we want to do, we would never get good results.