His success is indeed a remarkable one and his story is worth telling as it can inspire many Africans.
He is an architect. He is also an Associate member of the Business Continuity Institute in the United Kingdom. In addition, he is classy in what he does. The entire ambience of Grandeur Hotel, an exquisite hospitality facility that is home to his operational nest boldly attests to this. These may confer great value and charm, but when it comes to entrepreneurship, give it to Afolabi Oke. He is a serial entrepreneur. Yes, that is exactly how he sees himself, and wants to be seen by others.
Hear his response to a question on that: “I believe I am a young passionate serial entrepreneur. I believe so much in the Nigerian dream. I had the opportunity to go and do other things outside of this country, but I believe that tomorrow is very bright for all of us if we play our roles well. So, I decided to invest my time and my life in this country as an entrepreneur, to develop people. I love to mentor particularly a lot of young people and help give hope to the seemingly bleak future of many in this country, I have tried to do that in several ways, and I am still doing that.
“This springs from what my late mother, a psychologist used to tell me that whatever you find yourself doing, do it to the best of your ability, because you never know when you will need it. So, I consider myself a serial entrepreneur, even though I studied architecture.” And when the issue is entrepreneurial success, his is a big story waiting to be told.
He has just climbed the fifth deck to attain the golden age of 50 and is set to roll out the drums to regale family, friends, and business associates. Beyond this, however, Afolabi’s footprints and successes in entrepreneurship remain amazing.
Coping with challenges
Afolabi is not one daunted by challenges. At 50, he is already every inch successful in four business endeavors traversing technology, showbiz, logistics, and hospitality. Do not forget in a hurry that he also started an NGO@50, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that is dedicated to reaching out to the less deserved in the society and youth empowerment. Not a few have continued to wonder how he is able to cope with the demands of these undertakings. More so when they are not so closely related. But Afolabi has a readymade response to that at the tip of his fingers and describes it as balancing the Life Triangle. This quick-win formula is not cheap. Nor can it be developed overnight. It took years of humility, mentoring by eminent personalities, dedication, tenacity, and determination to succeed.
How he sees it? “My typical day is as you have witnessed it today. One thing I have learned as a young man is that I have had a lot of mentors. People like Dr Felix OmoikhojeOhiwerei and Dr Christopher Kolade. Mostly Felix Ohiwerei because growing up at some point in business, I saw when Richard Branson came into Nigeria. He was looking to appoint a chairman. After a rigorous search he came out to announce that he had appointed a chairman for Virgin Nigeria, and it was Dr Felix Ohiwerei.
“At a point I went to his office and requested to have an audience with him. He obliged. We sat and he was expecting me to ask him for money. I told him that I was not there to ask for money, that I came to know how he got to where he was. He told me only very few young people would come to ask him how he got to where he was at that time. I was so intrigued by his story. I learnt a lot from that. He talked so much about humility and integrity.
“I learnt from Pastor Ituah Ighodalo who is also my great mentor. He taught me how to balance the home, business, and career. He taught me what I call the Life Triangle. The Life Triangle is first about God, the foundation of your life; and the next leg of the triangle is about your home, your family. The last leg of the triangle is business. Every day of your life, you must always try to balance your triangle. You need to create time every day for your home, your family, your wife, your children, and others. Make sure you are connecting with them. Your business is what funds every other thing. So, I have learnt to always balance my triangle, and that’s how my typical day is.”
The Golden age
He is now 50! But does he feel any different? Not the least. The serial investor told Pleasures Magazine:
“Climbing up to the fifth floor, for me, it doesn’t feel any different. I do not feel 50 at all, to be very honest with you. I feel very young at heart. I still feel that I have a lot to give to our nation, Nigeria. I am even planning something now based on a book I read about the revival of a nation.
“This is in tune with Martin Luther king Jr’ saying that “Do not follow where the path may lead but follow where there is no path and leave a trail.” He was a promoter of non-violence. I am also a promoter of non-violence. He had a dream that one day his little children will be judged not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. I believe that we are a generation where we need to promote our good character as duty, not about fighting the constituency or asking for blood, it’s about letting out what is more positive about life intellectually, not by drawing the sword.
“I believe in the efficacy of prayer as well because if you look at the people of Israel, they fought every battle trusting God to lead, it was God that always went ahead of them to give them victory in their battles. I believe so much like the sons of Issachar that understood the times and the seasons, I think we are in the time when we need to dig into the situations that are against the people and being to groom great leaders. We thank God that we are still united as a nation. I am a believer that united we stand and divided we fall. I believe that a lot can be achieved through prayers for our nation, Nigeria.”
Afolabi reminisces that growing up was full of fun and laced with learning curves that have helped to shape his life today. He learnt a lot from his mother who was a disciplinarian that grew up under the tutelage of Dr Tai Solarin, an epitome of strict discipline. The third child in a family of six, he grew up loving and sharing a lot together. Afolabi so much loved his late twin sister that he dropped his name Kehinde after she passed, apparently in her honour. As a student, he was not only taught to be disciplined, but he also learnt to farm and grow what to eat, cook, sing, and do much more.
“I grew up in a family of six- four boys and two girls. I happen to be the middle of the pack. Ironically, I happen to be a twin. I had a twin sister. I grew up loving her so much because we did a lot together, but at some point, she passed. That was a turning point in my life. I still remember going to wake my dad up from sleep, (because they called me by my twin name, “Kehinde”), to say I do not want to bear the name Kehinde again. My name is Afolabi. To avoid explaining that my twin had passed I took up the name Afolabi to hide under that,” he said.
“I come from a family where my father was a Choirmaster and my mother loved to sing. We still tag ourselves as volunteer musicians. Every one of us, each time she wanted us to work, we all sang around the house while we worked. We grew up in that family of love and at some point, every one of us could play one instrument of music or the other. There came a time when families and admirers invited us to family functions to sing for them. A time also came when we were being drafted to different concerts to sing which led to the necessity of having a name, and that’s how they called us The Joyous Six. That was the name of our family band,” he added.
In his primary school days, Mayflower was one of the best schools in the country at the time. Though his mother founded her own school, it was Mayflower Junior School she sent him to. It was apparently to inculcate discipline and a strong feeling of self-independence in the young Afolabi.
He told Pleasures Magazine: “My mother was an educationist who started a school in 1978 called Omolayo Junior School. As an educationist, she had a mentor who taught her when she was growing up, a very strict disciplinarian by name Dr Tai Solarin. My mother is from Ikenne. Because she loved me somuch she wanted me to experience that level of discipline at a young age and to be independent-minded. So, at a very young age, she drafted me to study under the auspices of Dr Tai Solarin who also loved Nigeria and taught me to be self-independent. He believed so much that every young person in Nigeria needs to learn to be independent-minded. So, she took me to Mayflower Junior School for my primary education.”
“We literally grew everything we ate. We were both farmers and students. So, we went to the farm to farm what we were going to eat. She taught me in life never to be dependent on anyone but to depend on the works of my hand. That was in consonance with what she had ingrained in me that whatever you find your hand doing, do it to the best of your ability. At that early age I had to learn to cook for myself to survive. She taught us a lot. Honestly, that foundation gave me a head start in life, because from that moment she took me to Dr Solarinwho taught me to believe in the Nigerian dream, and that we can make a difference in this country, he gave me a foundation to love this country called Nigeria.
“I wanted to explore the country, so when my mother gave me an opportunity to travel abroad to study for my secondary education, but I turned it down and opted for a Unity School where I could meet people from other parts of Nigeria. Federal Government College Kaduna afforded me the opportunity to meet people from other parts of the country. It was one of the best schools then. So, I took the examinations and passed. So, my mother did not have a choice but to send me to a unity school.”
Meeting his wife
It goes beyond human comprehension. Afolabi met his wife Opeyemi Oluronke Falomo in a manner that could be described as a marriage made in Heaven. How else do you explain it when while playing the saxophone he cherishes so much at a church service, it coincided with the beautiful lady he later married eight years after also singing in the same church? Naturally, admiration and appreciation of each other found space in their eyes and minds. They became friends, and the rest as they say is history.
Afolabi added: “So, I met my wife when I took up playing saxophone in the church. She sang in the choir, and I had my eyes on her. We became friends and remained so for 8 years before we got married. We were going round Lagos together to play in clubs, singing at karaoke spots all around Victoria Island, and more. I wanted a family of love in music, I wanted to marry someone who loved God, loved music and would sing and worship. And voila, it happened. Our two children are blessed with musical talents, and they live and breathe their love for music. They can play multiple instruments and various kinds of music. As a matter of fact, I am super proud that my wife and I have been able to replicate what my parents did. My father has been with me for some months now and I am happy to play host to him. I am the second generation of what I call the Levites.
My sister sent me a book at a very tender age written by a gentleman called Mike Murdock. I will never forget that book. In that book he said that the fruit of your desire in life is pursuit. The title of the book, I remember, is Dream Seed. If you dream about something, you must pursue it. Anytime I picked a saxophone, it stirred something inside of me. So, I wanted to learn how to play it but didn’t have it. So, I wrote to my uncle“ TopeOke “ to tell him, don’t send me money, don’t send me any other thing. Just send me a saxophone. For one year I persisted, and he sent me a saxophone. I was very excited following the principles to learn how to play the saxophone. I am the first in the family to learn how to play the saxophone. I had a passion for it.”
Of all his achievements in the past five decades of his earthly sojourn, Global Infoswift Consulting Limited (GICL) ranks first. He has spent time to build it since the past eight years. He is still nurturing it with the hope of turning it into a big group. This explains his quick submission that “The landmark achievement is the Global Infoswift Consulting Limited (GICL), which I have been spending a lot of time to build into a major group. It started on the 7th of March 2003. At that time, there were a lot of things I did not understand. I was a passionate technical young man. I did not understand how to set up a business. I did not understand what it was to be a shareholder or a director. I went into it blindly and learnt a lot of hard knocks in the process. So, I had to learn and relearn the process. Thankfully, I had an uncle who is currently the chairman of my company, Otunba Adeleke Adesina, who is the architect that designed the offices of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in Abuja and Lagos. He designed but Julius Berger built. I owe him a lot today because he guided me through life. He guided me through boardroom politics and did not allow me to make any further mistakes in setting up businesses. I learnt a lot from his wealth of experience as well. He introduced me to a lot of people who helped me to become who I am today. I am grateful to Otunba Adeleke Adesina, an astute businessman who guided me through life. I give credit to Pastor Ighodalo on the spiritual side, Dr. Felix Ohiwere, Dr.Kolade, Mrs. Adeola Azeez, Mr. John Ayoh, and Mr Tunde Lemo and Ernest Ebi former Deputy Governors in Central Bank for giving me a chance and for their consistent support over the years.
Life after these six known endeavors
In his words: “I think I am at a point in my life where I should be giving back to the country that has helped me to get to where I am today, giving back to society, helping to solve the leadership problems of today. Leadership is about integrity. It is not about amassing wealth for yourself. Leadership is about service and to change the norm and make a positive change. I have the “When Youths Pray” Initiative and I am hoping to promote my NGO called The Afolabi Kehinde Oke (AKO) Foundation which will help reach out to the less privileged in the society and youth empowerment.
Look at France, for example, it is a young man that is making a lot of positive change in that country. So, why are we recycling the old leaders who do not have the passion to move the country forward? We need more of the young leaders, men and women of integrity, people that can take this country to the promised land. That is why I am passionate about the agenda of “When Youths Pray”, where we can build leaders who I call the Joshua Generation, who happened to spy the land and see the challenges but believe that we can still take on the challenges we see in the country and take this generation to the promised land. This country is so blessed.”
The serial innovator wants to commemorate his 50th anniversary reaching out to the under-served and less privileged in society beyond clinking of glasses. He wants to be remembered as a man who was able to give back and add value to our country, Nigeria, as the source of courage and voice of love, with the Nigerian dream to operate a tech company that can engage people and improve their wellbeing.