AFOLABI Oke, popularly known as Alfredo is the CEO of one of the fastest growing information technology companies in Nigeria, Global Info Swift. Apart from his knack for business, Afolabi is also into music and he leads Sweet Sound Band, an African Jazz ensemble with a distinctly African slant. Working with UNESCO and Theolonious Monk Institute of Jazz to promote global peace, dialogue and unity, he says April 30 is dedicated to bringing together communities, schools, artists, historians, academics and jazz enthusiasts all over the world to celebrate and learn about the roots, future and impacts of jazz. He spoke with Explore recently.
By Christy Anyanwu.
Aside your IT company, what else do you do?
I’m also the founder of Sweet Sound Band. Sweet Sound Band is made of young guys committed full time to music but I’m not a full time musician. One of the things we’ve done very well in IT is banks consolidation. For example, the former Central Bank governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi started an initiative called certification compliance to global IT standards. When he became the Central Bank of Nigeria governor, we submitted our bid to First Bank of Nigeria Plc and we won the project. So, we helped First Bank to become the first organization to be certified in information security. When he heard about it, he invited us to Central Bank to do same thing because they wanted to practice what they preached. We got Central Bank certified. Sanusi then mandated all banks to comply before the end of 2015. So, we had to help many of the banks to comply. Basically, information security is about banks protecting customers’ information. If they’re not protected, then customers are exposed to fraud and that’s how a lot of fraud happens. That is really what I do. Music is just a hobby I’m passionate about. We deal a lot with Central Bank and other corporate institutions. I pioneered certification.
You’re a musician and an IT expert, can you tell us more about this combination?
Many years ago as a young lad, I read a Mike Murdock book. He wrote in the book that the proof of your desire in life is pursuit. Anytime I listened to the saxophone, I felt the urge to know how to play the instrument. But I didn’t have one. I could not afford one at the time. So, I wrote to an uncle of mine in the United Kingdom. I told him not to send me clothes or money but a saxophone. For a whole year, I didn’t get a response but I didn’t stop. One day, the guy sent me a saxophone as Christmas gift and that was the best gift I think I ever received. I never attended a school of music, I only picked up the saxophone, locked myself up with the chart and started learning. That was the same spirit I brought into my business. This experience only means in life, the proof of your desire is ‘pursuit’. Anything you pursue and you are determined to make it work will surely happen. That’s how I was able to develop my interest in playing the saxophone. I have been playing for 25 years. I brought that same passion into my business and here we are today.
You are thrilled about your UNESCO mandate, can you tell us more about it?
I’ve always been passionate about promoting the image of our country and when I stumbled on the International UNESCO Mandate which entails using music to promote peace, unity and dialogue, the mission resonated in me and I thought there’s no better way to help promote the image of our country than such a fantastic platform. The UNESCO mandate is my way of giving back to society. When this opportunity came, I approached UNESCO that we could be their Ambassador in Nigeria to promote the initiative. Rather pursuing my passion, Jazz alone, I reached out to Neo Mantra and told her, let’s bring your fashion into the music we are trying to do. That’s how we came about runway Jazz and we had a successful show in April.
As the visioner how has it been?
It’s been very tasking considering the time and funds involved. Typical of any new innovative, there is always a price to pay. I see it as my contribution to my nation. Anytime I tune to CNN, they always look for the bad story about our country. That really infuriates me and from what I have read, whatever infuriates you is primarily what you’ve been assigned to resolve. So, it’s my way of solving this problem by using what we have to promote the image of our country.
Tell us about your upbringing
I was brought up in a lovely family of six. Four boys and two girls and we call it a music family as well. Each of us plays one instrument or the other. My mother brought us up like that. That motivated my passion for music. They used to call us joyous six because we formed a band. I grew up in Ibadan and Lagos but mostly in Lagos. The late Dr. Tai Solarin taught me at Mayflower School, Ikenne. That was where I had my primary education. In that school, we were trained to be confident and we had to learn how to solve problems in whatever environment we found ourselves. Subsequently, I attended Federal Government College, Kaduna. It was very interesting because government fed and clothed us very well.
From there, I returned to Lagos and worked for a while. I’ve always loved to do business. Later, I attended Ladoke Akintola University of Technology where I studied Architecture. After my that, I travelled abroad and I noticed there’s a thin line between Architecture and IT. I served at the Central Bank of Nigeria. As a youth corps member, my mind was opened to huge opportunities. The CBN wanted to retain me after service but I said no. I made them realize that there were problems in central bank and I would solve some of them. They didn’t believe me then. I left and I went to work for Omatek. I was among those who designed the Omatek logo.
What was it like working under a female boss?
She’s a fighter, fantastic and amazing. My boss is also a visionary woman and once she believes it, she thinks about it and goes for it. She has contributed immensely to Nigeria. I worked for a while with her and joined another company. Later, I told myself that rather than spend 24 hours working for someone, I wanted to work for myself. So, I incorporated my company and it has really grown and we have trained a lot of Nigerians at no cost to them. Some have gone ahead to start their IT businesses too. It gives me great joy when I see these young guys starting their businesses from the training we’ve given them.
It makes me sleep easier at night. That’s why we are trying to do the same thing in the music sector because we realized 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 dropouts but they are not.
I’m using my position to fight their cause. Musicians are not hooligans or dropouts, they are talented. Overseas, once you discover your talent, banks encourage you. I have taken them from one corporate event to another.
What’s your sense of style?
I just believe you dress the way you want to be addressed. I work a lot with the banks and I dress properly for them to take me seriously. Also, my late mum was a powerful dresser. Ironically, she used to run a school where she mentored young people to dress well to be presentable.