By Funsho Arogundade
Oluwaseyi Afolabi Tinubu is the eldest son of the former Lagos State Governor, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Recently, some outdoor advertising practitioners alleged that the Lagos State Signage and Advertisement Agency (LASAA) is shielding his business interests. Seyi Tinubu runs Loatsad Promomedia Limited, a new digital and outdoor advertising agency. Aside from having exclusive rights on some major roads in Lagos, he is said to enjoy unbridled freedomn. In this interview in his Lekki, Lagos office, the young Tinubu sets the records straight on the signage brouhaha. He also bares his mind on his passion and pains as a son of the political luminary
Recently, there was a report of a crisis between your company, Loatsad and LASAA on one side, and the Outdoor Advertising Association of Nigeria (OAAN), on the other. Tell us what happened.
It was nothing really serious, just a little misunderstanding. Everything has been resolved. However, for me personally, there is nothing better than the truth. All that matters to me is to let the truth be the narrative of the story. I don’t have anything to hide because our company, Loatsad is an outfit that operates and follows every regulation of LASAA to the letter. For me, I am particularly against pushing false narratives. So, when I see false narratives being pushed about Loatsad, it really hurts me because this company is beyond Seyi Tinubu. There are over 100 people —from drivers to scores of creative guys— who work for the group as a whole. But because of an individual, some would then sit somewhere to push a false narrative about a whole company, employing partisan politics to damage the efforts of hundreds of these young individuals? That really hurts.
Do you belong to OAAN?
Yes, we are a member, though we are very new.
But your coming into outdoor advertising has generated a lot of controversies. Questions have been raised about your eligibility as a practitioner. How did you find yourself in the industry?
I didn’t just stumble into the industry. When I finished from Nigeria Law School after I re-sat for my bar exams —I actually failed at my first attempt— and I was eventually called to the bar, it then dawned on me to figure out what I really wanted to do for myself. What I honestly knew then was that I don’t want to be chasing jobs or work under my father. I had promised myself to earn his respect by creating my own path. My business partner and friend, Adenrele Olusoga, then sat down to look at different opportunities we could explore. We tried many ideas including an online digital movie platform like Netflix which didn’t work out. We really went through various opportunities and looked at those failed experiences after which we discovered we had a passion to create something that would be innovative and unique. By extension, we discovered our flair for advertising, particularly in the digital space. Hence, we decided to float Loatsad Promomedia to operate both in the digital and out-of-home sub-sector of the advertising industry. We applied to the relevant bodies and got the licence to operate. And in the shortest time, we discovered our niche and have made a significant impact.
Where did the seed money to start Loatsad come from?
We never started with advertising though. My partner and I had run multiple start-up companies. When we were about to start Loatsad, we had to clear our savings. My wife, Layal, also an entrepreneur, chipped in her resources too. Of course, when you have a dream, you have to be determined and audacious in planning your finances towards the project. We created a timeline alongside our financial plans and that’s what has helped us. We were lucky as our plans scaled through.
The truth is many still wondered how your very young agency could manage to get those strategic, juicy sites.
Ok, let me use the Lekki Tollgate as an example. The owner of that asset is LCC. With regards to the site, would you believe me if I told you that I wasn’t in the country when the company applied and the process for the concession of the site started? Loatsad made an application to LCC and we proposed a new concept of putting an LED on the structure. We also approached Lagos State Signage and Advertisement Agency (LASAA), the regulatory body. While we are still in that process, I left Nigeria for my Masters. My partner continued the whole process. So, if you look through our contract agreements with LCC which I can make available to the public if necessary, we made the best offer to the LCC —N100 million for the concession— and not that it was just handed over to us like that. But talking about sites and juicy locations, at Loatsad, give us an empty land and we would turn it into a juicy site. You know why? We have a bunch of brilliant guys working to make this happen. We always sit together to put our minds together to create great ideas. That’s what we did also with Falomo Bridge. Before we moved into that location, Falomo was water. We had to sand-fill and dredge that site. We built that site from nothing to how it stands today. You can verify all my claims from those who should know.
You mean your father’s name didn’t help in acquiring most of these sites?
No, never. I have never entered any room to demand any site. I have never used my father’s name to influence any site given to me. I do not believe in such practice. I believe that whatever I do, I must be able to be above aboard. I am open to scrutiny and willing to be assessed fairly. Come to think of it, if I have done that, I am very sure multiple people would have come out to counter me. The truth is we grew as a company which evolved from using just static boards and lamp posts to LEDs. We realised there was a new market for us to enter. Digital is the future, and we are the future —we are the youngest in the game here. People were using the traditional methods of putting up a board, and we entered the space and made a change, giving advertisers something significantly more powerful for their brand. For all those who keep talking about Loatsad and my father, one thing they have failed to realise is that Loatsad, on its own strength, has been able to work with a lot of multinationals and partnered with many international tools like Airpush, Shazam, Rocketfuel and Snapchat for pop-ups ads on your mobile. I don’t know whether Snapchat knows who Tinubu is. But Loatsad has been able to build its reputation in its area of business without any external influence. We were invited by Facebook to their headquarters in Seattle, United States about three or four years ago. I think it’s high time people started to give credit to every staff member of Loatsad who is doing all the creative stuff in the industry. It’s not fair for anyone to think we got to where we are because of, maybe phone calls, from my dad to some people. Did the name open the door? Maybe, but if it opens a door in a bank or others, will it open a door with Coca-Cola or other multinationals that use our services? The truth and reality is that we deliver with a great deal of passion. We are persistent and tenacious and we believe we offer real value. Our aim is to let brands thrive in the best possible way and we see our services as a unique medium to facilitate that process.
But the name has come with some baggage?
Definitely! Some people think all these successes by Loatsad in our less than a decade of existence was because I am Seyi Tinubu. Sir, if I were in the banking industry today, some people would still talk: ‘Oh he’s only on top at the bank because he’s Tinubu’s son. What do they want me to do? To be carrying my father’s suitcase up and down? No! The truth is that I cannot tie myself to my father’s apron. I have to be my own man. I have to create my own family and legacy. That’s how my dad and mom —Senator Oluremi Tinubu— raised us to be. We were all told from day one: once you are done with school, that’s all we can give you.
The same thing happened during the Corona pandemic. We were all out there helping with foods and other relief packages to support the less privileged affected by the global shutdown. We understand that the majority of Nigerians are living from hand to mouth and we have to help in whatever capacity we can. But while we were doing all that, then we started hearing those funny narratives of ‘Yes, we said it; they are already grooming the boy as the next governor.’ Which governor? Haba! This is just a pure CSR being carried out by our company. It has become part of my nature not to sit back and watch while some people suffer. I must surely help as much as I can.
Your company also acquired a big outdoor firm, e-Motion for an undisclosed amount. How did you manage to achieve such a huge feat?
Let me tell you a story. When I finished my Masters a couple of years back, my dad called me to his place in Abuja. He asked me what I wanted to do next or where I wanted to work. I said to him that I didn’t want his money but that all I want is his moral support. This is because if I take his money and don’t grow it, he will obviously not be happy with me. In all honesty, when we were about to make a bid for e-Motion, I consulted him. And the only reason for that was to inform him —as a father— about my worries on how we are going to finance the acquisition. I told him I need a financial backup —that was after I had opened up to him about our company’s finances. All he did was to give me a strong financial advice and plans. And that advice actually worked perfectly for us. The truth is since we acquired E-Motion, till today, we have not finished repayment of the facility.
Wasn’t it a 100 per cent acquisition?
Yes, it is 100 per cent acquisition. But in our agreement, it wasn’t a one-off payment but staggered.
But couldn’t your father help out here?
The truth is my father wasn’t aware when the acquisition was completed. Of course, he knew I wanted to buy a company but he didn’t know it was E-Motion. He didn’t even know when we opened the discussion on the acquisition. Aside consulting him on financing, I also engaged him deliberately to know his perspective about advertising generally. When one has such a brilliant mind like my father, who is so vast in all disciplines, including advertising, banking, law and even real estate, and you can access him, I know he will give a sound advice. That’s all I need from him. But thanks to my partner, our lawyers and the bank, they have helped us to achieve the acquisition without getting into any financial trouble.
Was the investment really worth the effort?
Well, it has been a headache; I must confess. The acquisition was concluded late 2019, and as we were tidying up the deal in the New Year, by March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic hit us. This was followed by the total lockdown and shutdown of businesses. While we were hoping things were coming back to normal, then the Lekki First Roundabout and second roundabout were removed for the junction improvements by the state government. These are some of E-Motion prime sites. So, what exactly did we acquire then? Of course, their sites from Falomo to Kilometre 13 were an addition. But to tell you the truth, what we acquired was a brand new company. For me, I believe then that E-Motion was sitting on a goldmine but they are not actually utilising it enough and we had to step in.
Despite the influence of your father as a prominent figure in this country, do you have any pain at all?
Yes I do. As a human being, you have your ups-and-downs. But what pained me the most was when some people attribute our success to my name or my pedigree. It is painful to see the lack of recognition given to these guys who work day and night to make Loatsad the brand it has become. It pains me each time some wrong narratives are pushed to water down all our efforts. Anyways, one of those lessons I was raised with was to always stay true to myself and to never let what anybody else says distract me from my goals. Criticism is needed but baseless accusations and pushing of false narratives help nobody and change nothing. They only serve to further divide us when we should be coming together.
Let’s talk about your passion for polo. How did the interest start and do you truly own a stable somewhere in Ikoyi, Lagos as alleged by some people?
I listened to the old man who made those wild claims and found it so unfortunate. The truth is, I do not have a horse stable in Lagos or anywhere in the world. But as we speak now, I am already working on owning my stable. I am building my own stable outside Falomo. In fact, it will be far from the Lagos metro but somewhere close to Epe. I already own some horses and ponies enough to start a team. That’s why I am building my own stable. On my passion for polo, I would say I honestly love polo. I started riding horses at age 8 but started playing polo at age 13. Now, my second home is on a horse because when you’re on a great horse, you have the best seat you will ever have. Horses sometimes give you the wings one lack and while riding a horse, you can borrow some freedom. With that sport, once you are on the field, your brain is free and open. You push aside all the worries about business and every other thing. You are so free and that’s why I’m completely hooked on polo.