An Amazon with a finger in many pies, she multitasks. A nurse, midwife, pharmacist, medical doctor, farmer, entrepreneur, philanthropist and lately, politician. Confident, compassionate and creative, Dr. Mojisola Kolade is Imbued with dynamism and is reputed for setting up the first black-owned hospital in Connecticut in the United States of America. In this interview with Adedayo Adejobi, she shares her life struggles to raise six siblings with her widowed mother, going to America and making it big by dints of hard work and ingenuity, and how her husband’s love has sustained her. She also shares her involvement in Nigeria’s murky waters of politics and quest to become Ekiti State governor… excerpts
An Intimidating Profile in Courage
She is not your conventional woman. She parades an intimidating resume dotted with degrees and professional certificates in nursing, midwifery, pharmacy, medicine, farming, and entrepreneurship, rolling a life of philanthropy into politics. Born in Oye-Ekiti, Ekiti State, her heart of care saw her attend University College Hospital and Sacred Heart Hospital, bagging a diploma in nursing and midwifery respectively. In addition, she attended St John’s University in New York, earning a bachelor of science in pharmacy. In 1984, she found love in the kind heart and caring arms of Ebenezer Adekunle from Erin-Ijesha, Osun state. After a brief career as a pharmacist, Dr Mojisola Kolade enrolled at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine and graduated as a medical doctor. She went further to complete a post-doctoral training in Family Medicine and became a board certified consultant physician. Over the course of 34 years in career in health and business, Dr Kolade has worked as a staff physician and vice president at New Era Rehabilitation Centre, of which she is a co-founder. She has continued to dedicate her time to various philanthropic causes, serving presently the chief executive and managing director of Irede Farms Nigeria.
Raising Six Siblings: A Sweet Story
Being the first of seven children at a young age, she came to the realisation that a lot had been thrown on her feeble shoulders having lost her father – to assist her widowed mother who worked extra hours to raise and care for her and the other children. Dr. Kolade recalled: “I’ve always been the second mum but when he passed away, it was obvious to me that the shelter is gone and I just had to grow up quickly and be the big sister. My siblings today, now grown up, said they couldn’t believe I was just 16 when I was raising them. I would take them places on Christmas Day in Abeokuta just to give them good time with my little money. Caring has been something I’ve been doing. Nobody was there when my dad left aside my mum, so I took responsibility. One of the reasons I got married a little bit early because I had to mature and build my home.”
How I Set Up First Black Hospital in Connecticut
In a country ravaged by racism, Dr Kolade achieved a feat by setting up the first black-owned hospital in Connecticut, United States of America. How did she do it? “I believe everything is possible with God. My husband has a fellowship in a unique speciality called addiction medicine. He was an assistant clinical professor in a particular college in New York. So we started and I told him why we can’t have our own hospital. At first, he said, ‘Here I come again!’ But I told him it was do-able. We started gradually together, tirelessly went through all the requirements and got certified by the highest certifying organisation in America. Being a nurse, pharmacist and a physician helped me in setting up the hospital. And for the first two years of the facility I acted in the capacity of a four-in-one administrator. It got to a point, it got to me. So, I started assigning responsibilities to other people. We have quite a lot of staff –so I was just supervising. I was highly gladdened and felt God was using me. I’m not the smartest. I was given the opportunity to serve the less privileged and the minority. To the grace of God, a lot of women in the minorities stood up from the organisation. They saw me as a role model, a beacon of light and hope. Coming to Nigeria, America was following my political trajectory. Some were ready to come and campaign for me if I had won. They are very eager to let people see and know who their boss is. If had won the primary, Nigerians would have seen Caucasians and black women campaigning in Ekiti State.”
A Clarion to Return to My Roots
At a time many are itching to leave the country for the US, she left a well-paying job and business empire to settle in Nigeria. This is the impulse behind her bold decision: “I’ve been in the US for at least 30 years. The greater part of my education was American. I have experience from both sides of the world. I felt it was time to give back and it’s very important to me. I came to be part of the solution in a failed system. It is not enough to condemn what is going on in Nigeria. Nigeria is ours and we must give it everything we have. I believe I’ve made some impacts in Ekiti politics. People have seen a woman can actually vie for governorship. I’m, however, supporting the governorship candidate who has set up an advisory council and he asked me to be one of them. We’ll give him the best advice and support him so we can have the best administration in Ekiti.”
She recalled her foray into politics: “I delved into politics in 2010. Turning 50, I started thinking about my life and giving account to myself and it struck me that I’ve been blessed and highly favoured by God. All my life, I’ve always loved to give back. Then it dawned on me that giving back in America is not all that it is to my life. I was born, raised and grew up in Nigeria until my early 20s before I ventured out of the country. I then came back home and got involved. So, the sense of responsibility brought me into politics. I started going back to Ekiti to give back to my people. I formed a foundation in 2012 – Christiana Ebenezer Kolade Foundation. We sponsored and empowered youths, widows, supported schools and different communities. I got to know the people in town and the hinterlands, got involved with the Fayemi administration. I later realised there was more work to being charitable and giving money. I had been doing the easy work for the last 30 years. I then took the plunge to go into active politics. It is a calling. The experience has been exhilarating, no regrets. I learnt quite a lot of lessons about my people in Ekiti –their needs, the politics and it even engraved my faith in God deeply. It’s been a thoughtful, challenging but surmountable journey. So it’s a wonderful experience no regrets at all.”
Blazing the trail across fields some men have dared and failed, upon returning home she has decided to give back to her foundation’s focus is hinged on assisting the less privileged in the area of human capital development, job creation and assisting the aged struggling with debilitating medical conditions. Shedding light on how her rather quiet husband and children reacted to her gubernatorial aspiration, she said, “It took a while to tell him about it as I’ve been thinking about that ambition for at least a year before the reality dawned on me. He knows and understands me, having been married for 34 years. He knows how I operate, and that I’m a giver, determined, focused, and deep-seated thinker. Once I made up my mind I brought it to him. We prayed and he knew he was going to commit some money to the project – he supported me. My children are proud of me. They know and believe I can do anything. My first child said he believes I can fly. They were not too shocked but surprised because they saw the handwriting on the wall of everything I’ve done. I also made them serve, volunteer, give things for free so they are used to me being me.
“After I lost at the primary election, my eldest son wrote me a piece to me that I did the right thing. He took me to the Bible and told me he’s very proud of me and that I’ve done marvellously well and among doctors, I am the greatest of them all –no anger, no animosity. He was more supportive. He became my preacher and when my soul thirsted and I read it, it made me feel better.”
For Dr Kolade, the gesture by her eldest son evokes happiness and the assurance that she’s raising a very good generation to follow her footstep of giving and service. Sharing her future plans, she noted: “Losing is not a suitable thing. It’s painful but it does not slow me down. I’m gearing up to continue my charity work and business. I’ve spent quite a lot of money. I still see it that my essence is to support, to give and to carry on with what God has called me to do. In 40 years, I’ve never had a break doing charity, so no slowing down. That’s my life I’ve been involved in charity work since I was 16 years old. Even though I didn’t know what it was then, I started very small by going to psychiatric hospital visiting the sick and abandoned. As a grown woman, it became clear that’s what God wants me to do. I’m still looking for a bigger platform to do what I have to do. The governorship race may not have worked but I’ll continue my work.”
Using Irede Farms to Stem Tides of Agricultural Imports
She is not averse to risk. She can plough any industry, once she believes in the dream. Impossibility doesn’t exist in her dictionary. Her drive, verve, realism and optimism are apparent as she goes into farming –dealing in maize and cassava export. Her establishment, Irede Farms also sell to many production factories in Nigeria. Her goal now is to see to the end of cassava (starch) importation into Nigeria with her team gearing up to launch a new production factory that will produce garri (cassava flakes) and high pharmaceutical grade cassava starch (HGCS). Does she still believe in the dream of becoming Ekiti governor someday? “The dream is very much alive because I pray and hope it comes to reality. My goal is not to become a professional politician for life. My goal is to set a standard of how politics should be played and how democracy should work,” she responded.
When Dr Kolade is not working, she eases off stress by dancing to quality and timeless Christian or secular music by the likes of King Sunny Ade and Ebenezer Obey. In the spirit of regaining sanity, she also loves going on vacation to the Cayman Islands, Hawaii, Antigua and Bahamas. And when she has the opportunity, she swims. For her husband, their love is like a sweet vintage red wine, sweet as taste of grape. The incredible smell of love still intoxicates her. Her heart beats harder, her mind sings love song and she walks in love. She speaks glowingly of him at the slightest opportunity.
“It (our marriage) has been beautiful and wonderful: we’ve been blessed with children and wealth. We have had challenges too. It’s not been a bed of roses and I have learnt with patience, prayers and perseverance all things will work out. Thirty-four years going strong, we love what God has done and we are still looking for 50 more years. Love is patient and it encompasses all that marriage stands for. Having God as the focal point is key. I wouldn’t be who I am if not for God’s Grace,” she related.
Speaking about her she juggles her many roles, she stated: “As a young physician, I always hired professional help and I have been blessed having a mother who came to look after the kids for me. I hire people to assist me. I, however, believe in spending quality time with the children. People believe in the length of time; I believe in the quality. I put my children above all in everything. When I was choosing my speciality in family medicine, I did same based on the need for children. As a woman, my family comes first. When we were newly married, my husband was going on with his professional thing. I always said my family would be at the centre and all other things with would follow. I’ve worked as a physician, pharmacist and I went to school. But I’ve always been around my children and I’ve been blessed and successful. I have the best husband in the whole world. He would shop and even cook when I couldn’t cook despite the fact that we have house-help. He would support me in every way.”
A Life Hinged on Grace
If she were to write the story of her life, it would be themed, “The Grace”. At 57, she is confident in her skin. For her, it’s the beginning of good and great things to come. She wants Nigeria to watch out for her as she is about to start steering things up in the country as she did in the US.