You may not believe this, but at one time, over forty years ago, I had more money than my friend Tunde Cole who recently donated a $2m building to Fourah Bay College. Well, not quite! The year was 1980, when Tunde and I met at Sierra Rutile as young Engineers after I joined Rutile from NDMC. We were both part of the bunch of bachelors, mostly Engineers that the company decided to “deposit” in the bachelor apartments at Kpanguma camp.
When I joined Rutile, Tunde and the other bachelors had great admiration for me as I was the only bachelor with a car! A car was a badly needed commodity at that time for those who wanted to spread their wings beyond the Rutile area-and that was all of them! They all wanted to be in my good books because of my car, which was a holdover from my Dad that I brought from NDMC. The car, a Peugeot 504, with number plate SB1008 was fondly called “SB100 one yai” as one headlight was broken. It was nevertheless a good car despite the fact that the alternator had a problem, the gear sometimes got stuck and the sunroof was a bit leaky for the rainy season.
Njala, Bo, Sieromco, Mattru Jong-all became hunting grounds for the Rutile bachelors. Not in the least interested in domestication, we shared one decent tea set, which went to whoever had a visitor (of predictable sex) for the weekend. We had to buy another one when an observant visitor noted, much to our embarrassment at another friend’s house- “Tunde sef get dem same tea cup dem!”. Tunde, though a beneficiary of my car was very sparing in joining us in our exploits as the GPS in his head always pointed towards his beloved Aberdeen. Whilst ours malfunctioned and pointed in all kinds of directions, Tunde was steadfast and as we would later find out, his childhood girlfriend, now his beloved wife was at Aberdeen. And so Batili took Tunde away from us when he left for NP in Freetown.
The loss of a brilliant Project and Design Engineer at Sierra Rutile was NP’s gain. Tunde rose up the ranks, working in various Departments at NP and heading operations and marketing at various times until he later became Managing Director after Vincent Kanu retired.
Under his leadership NP became an industry leader in the downstream petroleum sector. He led the rebranding, revitalization and expansion programme of the company’s operation in Sierra Leone and the sub-region. NP (SL) Ltd. remodelled its existing stations and established operations in Liberia, Gambia, Guinea and Cote D’Ivoire. He helped fulfill a laudable and unmatched vision for a local company to compete in the West African sub-region.
Tunde’s success in the corporate world did not only end with NP. I had the fortune of working with him on the inaugural Board of Ecobank SL Ltd. (where he took over from me as Board Chair) and on the Council of the Sierra Leone Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, where he later became one of its most successful Presidents. He currently serves as Director on the Boards of other prominent institutions including NP SL Ltd. and has served as Chair on the Board of Reliance Insurance Company Limited, Leonoil Company Limited and a few others. He is also currently the Executive Chairman of the NP Group Limited – which is the holding Company for NP Sierra Leone, NP Liberia, NP Gambia, NP Guinea and NP Cote D’Ivoire.
His hard work over the years has resulted in a comfortable financial position. He has however chosen to share his blessings with humanity, carrying out his philanthropy with humility and without fanfare. The Tunde Cole Building provided primarily for FBC’s Engineering Department, recently opened by President Bio is a four-storey multi-purpose building with modern facilities.
But his philanthropy has been evident for quite a while. He had constructed a block of classrooms for his alma mater, St. Edwards Secondary school, a squash court for the Sierra Leone Grammar school, funded other projects for the Muslim community in Aberdeen and dabbled into other philanthropic pursuits which he has not trumpeted.
There are many lessons various groups of citizens can learn from this humble man. Ever the preacher, I would like to suggest a few.
1. It was not obligatory for him to do this
One observer wrote: “I will applaud him because he didn’t have to do this as a private citizen.” Indeed, he was not compelled to do so.
- His philanthropy is not based on politics
Most people who would make such donations would have an eye on a political prize but not Tunde. He has never manifested such an interest and I do know that he has shunned offers of political appointments before. Notwithstanding this, NP-SL has had its own share of political attacks from partisan operatives who only view things through a political lens.
- His philanthropy is targeted
Tunde has shown he has a passion for education. His philosophy relies on funding opportunities for self-improvement, seeking to maximize human potential. Tunde has been inspired to create a ladder through enhancing educational potential and giving those who desire to rise the aids by which they may rise. He probably wants to make opportunities of the sort he experienced available to others.
- He got successful by dint of hard work and went beyond his professional comfort zone
Tunde worked hard at NP. Ultimately, he branched out beyond Engineering into the commercial world, improving his marketing skills to the extent of later branching out beyond these shores into newer pastures-and this is for my young Engineering friends-An Engineer is not limited but is trained to be a logical thinker and should not be afraid to branch out beyond his/her comfort zone.
- He does it with humility
Tunde is by nature not showy. It is only people like us who tell the world we have “rich friends” who are doing good…like I am doing now……lol!
- Private sector is under threat
NP SL Ltd. is privately owned by indigenes. The privatisation process which started at the tail end of President Bio’s NPRC regime was concluded under an SLPP Government in 1996. Sierra Leoneans were given a leg up to take over the company. They in turn did well to reinvigorate the company to not only survive in a cut-throat market but expand, whilst their mainly foreign owned competitors shipped out. The question to be asked is this- “Why don’t successive governments continue to show faith in locals to show their mettle in the corporate world in such a big way?” This will undoubtedly be the subject of another “pondering”!
- Government must create the enabling environment for philanthropy to thrive
Alumni Associations have helped meet the critical challenges in some of our secondary schools which include limited infrastructure and limited learning and teaching materials. Encouraging them with various incentives could increase their impacts on our schools. Tax incentives for corporations could create useful avenues for them to be socially responsible. I heard the University spokesman talk recently about the need to encourage the setting up of permanent endowments that would provide reliable sources of income in perpetuity.
9. Anyone can be a philanthropist
A philanthropist is a person who donates time, money, experience, skills or talent to help create a better world. We should all be encouraged to do so individually or through our various organisations. Anyone can be a philanthropist, regardless of status or net worth.
But back to my friend Tunde Cole. You have indeed made all of us proud of your achievements and may God continue to richly bless you. One last reminder, though, Tunde -You still owe me for the rides in SB 100 one yai” and for breaking some of those tea cups- you may pay me in old Leones if there are no new ones in the Bank! As the saying goes “when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren”.
Ponder my thoughts.