For Dr. Kolade, Chief Anyaoku; Honour Well-deserved


 Three weeks ago, I received a text message from someone who identified himself as Lemuel Iyalla, saying that he was directed by Dr. Christopher Kolade to invite me as his guest to an event where he will be honoured on September 7.

The text came with an audio message which explained what the event is all about: “The Heritage for Life Foundation and Greenland Classics invite you to a Nonagenarian Concert and presentation of a book titled “Spirit of our Treasures” in honour of Dr. Christopher Kolade (CON), former Nigeria High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, and Chief Emeka Anyaoku GCON, GCVO, CFR, former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth.”

Then it laid out the breadth and scope of the event. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, former President will be chairman while Governors Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos and Ademola Adeleke of Osun are the special guests of honour. Dr. Raymond Obieri, former president of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE); Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, chairman, Platform Petroleum Limited; and Dr. John Momoh, chairman of Channels Television, are distinguished guests of honour.

Mr. Donald Duke, former Cross River State governor, wrote the foreword to the book, Spirit of our Treasures, Matthew Hassan Kukah, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, will deliver the keynote speech and Ituah Ighodalo, Senior Pastor Trinity House, will anchor the event, which will hold at the Church of Nativity Auditorium, Parkview Estate, Ikoyi, thus completing a cast of distinguished Nigerians slated to play official roles at the event.

But who is Lemuel Iyalla? Neither the text nor audio message gave me a clue. So, I decided to call the ‘mystery man” on phone.

It turns out that Iyalla is a 39-year-old Nigerian with a never-say-die spirit, who hails from Engenni Kingdom, Ahoada West Local Government of Rivers State. A graduate of Industrial Relations and Personnel Management from the University of Lagos, he said the idea of the award was divinely inspired.

Iyalla’s Heritage for Life Foundation is on the lookout for 12 Nigerians who, through their unimpeachable character and integrity have contributed to nation building as role models to Nigerian youths. Rebranding Nigeria should not be about empty sloganeering, he insists. It is a process that must transcend ephemeral, mundane considerations to include a total reformation of the spirit being.

This can only be achieved through value reorientation – a complete change of attitude towards all the wrong actions and behaviours that have become Nigeria’s bane. The idea is to take a peep into the past in search of values that would reshape national character and image and those who embody such tenets and ideals.

Of course, the only way to go about it is to identify those Nigerians who have remained consistent in living good exemplary life, people who can be role models to beleaguered Nigerian youths.

 In Dr. Kolade and Chief Anyaoku, Heritage for Life Foundation found two nonagenarians living a life that sets a positive example for others to follow. Iyalla insists that both men are living with integrity: honest and ethical in all their dealings, treat others with respect, kind and generous, and continually striving to make Nigeria in particular and the world generally a better place.

I agree completely with them. I have no personal relationship with Chief Anyaoku but I doubt if there is any Nigerian that will not agree that he exemplifies integrity. But I am privileged to have Dr. Kolade as a friend and mentor. He wears honour and decency like a second skin.

So, having identified two of such individuals, the search continues for the remaining ten. This initiative couldn’t have come at a better time than now when Nigeria is being embarrassed globally by the conduct of its leaders.

Today, we have leaders who are fighting so hard, hiring expensive lawyers offshore to ensure that the universities they claim to have attended abroad do not release the records of their so-called studentship and academic qualifications obtained therefrom, leaders whose primary and secondary education have become matters of conjecture. And the society has become so permissive that some people boldly proclaim that such criminalities do not matter.

We are in an era where a serving National Youth Corps member is at the same time a serving minister contrary to the dictates of the country’s grundnorm; where somebody nominated as a minister claims he sat for five subjects in his senior secondary school certificate examination (SSCE), obtained only two credits with which he secured admission into the university, and yet, the Senate cleared him.

But why not? With two credits and an SSCE certificate, is he not better than his principal who presented no secondary school certificate at all with or without any credits? No one can even say as a matter of certainty where the secondary education was acquired. How many of the lawmakers who screened him have genuine education certificates of their own?

What qualifies people in other climes for public office – high moral character, good education, integrity, etc. – turn out to be the axiomatic Achilles heel here. Instead, ability to lie, cheat, forge certificates and set up structures of sundry criminalities are the keys that guarantee access with disastrous consequence for the polity.   

For instance, what motivation does the average Nigerian child have to go to school when most of those superintending over the affairs of the country are certificate forgers and school dropouts?

Like most Nigerians of my generation, I have known Dr. Kolade almost forever, but only by reputation. It wasn’t until he chaired the 2019 TheNiche Annual Lecture delivered by his bosom friend, Prof. Anya O. Anya, that I came to know him closely.

His humility is disarming and his passion for the Nigerian youth is infectious. He is an incurable optimist, who believes that Nigeria ultimately has a great future.

In the last one year, we have had at least five meetings in his house with none lasting less than two hours. And all the discussions centred on the Nigerian youth and why he believes there is hope for a national rebirth.

As he once said to me, “I am hopeful about Nigeria because those who are 35 years and below are in the majority and people like me who have grown old are in the minority. That means that the people with energy, intellect, ambition, are in the majority. So, my hope is that since the majority of our people are young, they should have ambition, they should have hope, they should have energy because we need those things in order to grow and become better.”

Of course, he knows that I don’t share in his optimism because as I have always told him, there must be basis for hope and I see none in the horizon. When he read my column on August 3, titled, “Nigeria: Is there a reason to be hopeful?” he called to accuse me of taking a potshot at him.

Truth is, I didn’t. But that is how passionate Dr. Kolade is about Nigeria. He agrees that things are bad. But he is eternally hopeful. Even if every other thing fails, he believes that God didn’t make a mistake and cannot leave Nigeria’s fate in the hands of a few hard-hearted people.

It is remarkable that at 90, Dr. Kolade keeps thinking not about self but the collective good. Inching towards 91, the man Nigerians call ‘Mr. Integrity’ has seen it all, ordinarily earning a bragging right. But for him, a devout man of uncommon humility, longevity is an unmerited favour from God and all praises must go to Him.

He has earned his stripes of honour and deserves some rest. But he believes there is a reason God is keeping him alive. He is not done with the job yet. So, instead of resting, he is still in the trenches, disappointed at the turn of events in his beloved country but hopeful of a complete turnaround for good.

His life-long passion is to mentor the youths and even as old age and the domestic accident he had two years ago have combined to limit his physical exertions, he still makes out time to counsel them.

For a society that would rather celebrate crass inanities rather than substance, it is heartwarming that Heritage for Life Foundation has put together this event in honour of these two national treasures – Dr. Kolade and Chief Anyaoku while they are still alive.

But I am worried. Born on January 18, 1933, Chief Anyaoku will be 91 years in January. Dr. Kolade will reach that milestone on December 28, 2023, three weeks before him. These men, though blessed with longevity, are, no doubt, in the departure lounge and there are only few of them. What happens when these men who bear the conscience of the nation are all gone leaving only the swashbucklers to hold sway? Your guess is as good as mine! That is my worry.

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