Afolabi Oke is the convener of the upcoming, Runway Jazz Show at the Eko Hotel & Suites. In this interview, he tells TLR about his life and why he has chosen to organise an event of that magnitude. Excerpt:
Can you tell us more about yourself?
I started my company 2003 and it’s been a very interesting journey as well having to start a business in the Nigerian terrain and having to be responsible for several lives every 30 days. I run an IT company called Global InfoSwift Technologies in Ikoyi. The company is typically into Consulting Technology outfit. I’m also the founder of Sweet Sound Band. Sweet Sound is a set of young guys that are committed full time musician. I’m not a full time musician. One of the things we’ve done very well in the IT section is the banking consolidation. For example, the former Central Bank governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi started an initiative called Certification compliance to the global IT standards. When he became the Central Bank governor we bided in First Bank and we won the project. So we helped First Bank become the first organization to be certified to information security. When he heard about it, they invited us to Central bank to come and do same thing because they want to practice what they preach. We got Central bank certified. He now mandated before the end of 2015 for all the banks to comply to the same standards, so we have to help a lot of the banks to comply. Basically, information security is really about protecting customer information on their data. If you are not protected, then it now exposes you and I to fraud and that’s how a lot of fraud happen. That is really what I do, music is just passion that I have. We deal a lot with Central Bank and Corporate institutions. I pioneered the Certification. I started with First Bank, then did same for Central Bank and mandated Central Bank to get all the banks to comply with their IT standard
You are a musician and an IT expert, how did you combine the two?
Many years ago as a young lad, I read Mike Murdock book, it says the proof of your desire in life is pursuit. Anytime I hear Saxophone, I really like to know how to play the instrument. But I didn’t have one. I can’t afford one at the time, so I wrote to an uncle of mine in the UK at that time. I told him not to send me clothes or money but to send me a Saxophone. For a whole year, I didn’t get a response and I didn’t stop. One day, the guy sent a Saxophone as a Christmas gift and that was the best gift I think I have ever received in my life. I never went to any school of music, I picked up that Saxophone, I locked myself up with the chart and I started learning. That is the same spirit I brought into my business. That in life the proof of your desire truly is ‘Pursuit’. Anything you pursue and you are determined to make it work, it will happen for you. That’s how I was able to develop my interest in playing Saxophone. I have been playing in the last 25 years. I brought that same passion into my business and here is where we are today.
Tell us about the UNESCO Mandate.
I have always had a passion to help to contribute to promoting the image of our country and when I stumbled on the International UNESCO Mandate promoting peace, giving music to promoting peace, unity and dialogue, it resonate with me and I thought there’s no better way to help to promote the image of our country on such a fantastic platform. For me, ‘The UNESCO Mandate’ is my own way of giving back to the society. When this opportunity came, I approached UNESCO that we can be their Ambassador in Nigeria to help to promote the initiative. Rather than doing my passion, (Jazz) alone, I reached out to Neo Mantra, let’s bring your fashion into the music we are trying to do. That’s how we came about the partnership of runway Jazz.
How has it been birthing this vision?
It’s been very tasking. Personal time and fund. Typical of any new innovative there is price to pay. I see it as my contribution to my nation. Anytime I turn on CNN, they always look for the bad story about our country, that really infuriates me and from what I have read, whatever infuriates you, I think it’s primarily what you’ve been assigned to solve. So it’s my own way of solving this problem by using what we have to promote the image of our country positively.
I realized during my research that same Zenith Bank through inside Africa sponsored the CNN event in Kenya last year. I mean the same International Jazz Day that was done there. CNN did a documentary on that which is hosted on their global website. We’ve approached Zenith to try and approach CNN to come and cover the event but we haven’t gotten a response.
How was it growing up?
I was brought up in a lovely family, we call it music family as well. We are family of six , four boys and two girls. Everyone plays one instrument or the other. My mother brought us up like that. I thought that was what informed my passion for music. They used to call us joyous six because we are a band. I grew up in Ibadan and Lagos but more of Lagos.
In Primary school, I was brought up by Tai Solarin, He taught us in Mayflower then. That was where I did my primary school. You have to be confident about yourself, you have to learn how to solve problems in whatever environment you find yourself. From there, I went to Federal Government College Kaduna. It was very interesting because government used to feed us then, clothe and take care of us very well. From there, I came back to Lagos. I worked for a while. I’ve always love to do business. Later, I went to Ladoke Akintola University of Technology University where I became an Architect. After University, I travelled abroad and I noticed there’s a thin line between architecture and IT. I served in the Central Bank of Nigeria. As a Corper, my mind was opened to huge and many opportunities. They wanted to retain me in Central bank as a Corper and I said No. I don’t want to be retained. I said to them, then that I see a lot of problems in Central bank and that I was going to come back to come and solve some of those problems. They didn’t believe me then. I left and I went to work for Omatek at that time. The logo that Omatek is using, I helped them to design it many years ago.
How was it working with a female Boss at Omatek?
She’s a fighter, she’s a fantastic woman, she’s amazing, she’s a visionary woman and once she believes it, she’s thought about it; she goes for it. She’s someone that has contributed immensely to Nigeria. I worked for a while and joined another company. I said rather than spending 24 hours working for someone, I already wanted to work for myself. So, I started my company. The company has really grown and we have trained a lot of Nigerians at no cost to them. Some have gone ahead to start their businesses as well in IT. It gives me great joy when I see all these young guys creating their own businesses from the training we’ve given them. It makes me sleep at night. That’s why we are trying to do the same thing in the music world because you realized that musicians suffered a lot. Forget about the few that are making it. They are just pretty lucky because music is something that is not 100 percent appreciated in our country. That is why we want to create a platform in the corporate world for them to be respected. People think musicians are school droppers, they are not. I’m using my position to fight their cause. Musicians are not hooligans or school droppers they are just people that are talented. Abroad, once you discover a talent the banks put money behind them. I have taken them from one corporate events to the other.
What informs your sense of style?
I just believe you dress the way you want to be addressed. I work a lot with the bank and I know that it’s very important to dress properly for them to take you serious. Again, my late mum was a powerful dresser. Ironically, she used to run a school which she helped to mentor young people to dress well to be presentable.