This is the second part of the Connectnigeria.com interview with Okechukwu Ofili. Read the first part here: Okechukwu Ofilili: How Stupidity and Laziness Saved His Life (Part 1).
That’s a difficult question. But, it’s my dad. What I admire about my dad is that he prized education above anything else. I didn’t grow up in a rich family; we were a middle class family. The only difference was that my dad had this crazy addiction to education. He said: we are going to send you to the best schools. He didn’t go buying cars. He doesn’t own his own house. We’ve been robbed 3 times but he can’t afford to move out. His pride is that he invested in our education even when it seemed like he shouldn’t have. That’s why I look up to him and I admire what he did. Especially for raising up a family, with four boys, it’s not easy. He made sure that even when times were hard we didn’t know that, we all thought it was easy. It wasn’t until I went to America, and came back, that I realised we weren’t really as well off as we thought we were. It’s because of all the sacrifices he made.
In terms of writing, the person I really admire is Malcolm Gladwell. I like the way he merges engineering facts with his writing style. Another person is Hugh MacLeod. If you look at my sketches, it’s not like they’re artistic in the sense of exceptional art. It’s not as though I’m drawing to perfection. They are very loose and easy sketches. I learned that from MacLeod. I had this restriction that if I was to draw, it had to be exactly the same way other people were doing it. But when I saw his sketches, I started realising that you just have to draw the way you want to draw. Pablo Picasso said that everybody is born an artist. But, somehow, as we start growing up, people tell us that our art and our way of recognising objects is not the proper way, so we start tell ourselves that we are not artists. And even till today, when I call myself an artist people say: You? You draw stick figures and you think you are an artist. They make fun of me but I just keep drawing, I keep sketching. Probably so Dangote will give me a contract (Laughs). I look up to him, Dangote.
Which books have you read that have made a profound impact in your life?
Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell
Rich Dad, Poor Dad, by Robert Kiyosaki
Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell
How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie
If Life is a Game, These Are the Rules, by Cherie Carter Scott
I have read so many others but these are the ones that resonate with me. Outliers is very important. Everywhere I go, I always tell people that as an entrepreneur, as a manager, as a teacher, you have to read this book. It debunks the myth that people are naturally gifted in terms of reason. It shows you how you’re a product of the way your family brings you up, the way your parents encourage you, and what you start doing at an early age, how all these factors determine your success in life. That book is an absolute must-read.
Another book that I thought was very profound was Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad. If I hadn’t read that book, I would have just been working 9 to 5; I wouldn’t even be doing anything like this. When you read that book, you realise that 70% to 75% of people in the world live to work for someone else for the rest of their lives, and once they lose the job, maybe they’re laid off or due to some long term disability, that’s the end. They go broke. That book taught me to do a lot of things. I started Real Estate investment because of that book. And my first deal was terrible; I lost a lot of money. But the fact is that I started it, and I was able to do another one. All because of that book. I started investing and saving a lot of money: in 401K’s, Mutual Funds, and even the Nigerian Stock Exchange that everybody is running away from, but they don’t know that it’s like gold that is about to erupt. So I started learning how to invest and instead of working for money I started finding out ways to make my money work for me.
And also, not to forget, the Holy Bible.
What are the things you like best, and least, about yourself?
One thing I like about myself is that I find it difficult to get angry with people. I have this philosophy that life is short so if someone does something wrong to me, I will apologise first. I don’t hold grudges. In my family, if you have something against me I would not avoid you. I will go straight to you and talk to you. I don’t know how God blessed me with that. I’m very slow to anger and if I get angry then it has to have been something really crazy.
I feel that sometimes I just don’t have enough time for my friends and family. I get into this whole thing that I have to write and work. I feel that in that aspect I can do better. Sometimes I forget people’s birthdays — I forgot my mom’s birthday last year. It’s not intentional but I wish I could stop that. Maybe I’ll invent an App, a birthday reminder. But that’s just it. I wish I could spend more time with family and friends.
You started an organization, Chaynge.org, which awards financial grants to students on the basis of their creativity. Do you plan on doing something like that in Nigeria, for Nigerian students?
Right now, it’s technically off. It was based in the US, and easier to run from there, but now that I’m back to Nigeria I tried to run it as a non-profit but I couldn’t. It was set up to give scholarships to students. One of the things that happened to me at the University of Houston was that my dad would send me money and say something like that’s what we have for one semester, just figure out your way for the other semster, and it was difficult. We couldn’t apply for scholarships because we were international students. We couldn’t apply for jobs. I remember one day I was on the phone with my brother and I was crying that they were going to deport me because I hadn’t figured out how I was going to pay for the next session. I remember how I felt at that moment, and I said that however I can, I will give out scholarships to students. Just to help people out, especially international students. That’s what drove me to form that organisation. But it’s no longer active.
What I want to do is to set up an entrepreneurship type of organisation, and I want to make it come under Ofilispeaks, where we recognise people that are making creative strides, that are making a difference. And they just need a little bit of encouragement, or a little bit of capital. You know, maybe N500, 000 or something, that’s what I really want to do. Regardless of Chaynge.org, I’ve worked with several organisations in Nigeria where we have made donations, like Toyin Adesola’s Sickle Cell Organisation. I’m always willing and looking for avenues to make a difference.
You wear so many hats. How do you balance your personal life, your day job, public speaking, sketching, business, and writing, among others?
It’s passion. I’m really passionate about making a difference because I see Nigeria and I see so much talent. Some people are just standing at the edge and they need just a little nudge to get them there. There’s nothing like when you speak at a university and people come to you, either through Facebook or through Twitter, and tell you that what you said to them was what they needed. That they were about to quit but you just told them to keep going and it made a difference. That’s really what drives me. I told you before that I hate the concept of writing. But because of the end results, the way it influences people, that’s what pushes me.
Also, I love the English Premier League. But some Saturdays, I just sit down at home and say look, I’m not watching TV, I’m writing. I won’t pick up the phone, I won’t be on Blackberry, Twitter, or Facebook. It’s discipline. Some people look at me, at times, and say Ofili, you’re falling asleep at work; you went partying! A lot of them don’t realise that that’s not it. I just black it out because I don’t like people knowing exactly what I do. A lot of times I sleep at work is really because I was writing the night before. When I was in Houston, sometimes when I do an all-night writing and I go to bed at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. I have just about 2 hours of sleep before I go to work. What I do is that I would go to lunch, eat quickly and go somewhere like a Mc Donald’s drive-through and sleep for about 1 hour. Those are the sort of things that I have to do just to keep pushing it. But, at the same time, packed with the whole How Laziness Saved My Life message, I do nothing but relax.
So how do you relax and unwind?
I love live performances: poetry, comedy, motivational speaking. I love the places like Terra Kulture and Bogobiri. Even when I was in the US, I went for concerts by John Mayer, Coldplay, Lagbaja, Matchbox Twenty. There’s something amazing about seeing people perform live, and in person. Aside from that, in terms of staying in shape, I play soccer every week. I hate going to the gym. I swim, too, but once in a while. And I like dancing.
What does the future hold for Okechukwu Ofili, can you let us in on any exciting plans and developments?
I want to make a difference. That’s all. A lot of Nigerians feel that the system is not fair; they feel that the only way to succeed is if they are corrupt, but my message is that we can still fight this. We can still create a system where honest people succeed. It’s like what happened to James Ibori where the English actually did what we should have done. That’s encouraging. People ask me if I want to go into politics and I tell them no. Everybody thinks that if you are a great speaker or leader, the next thing is politics. I tell people that you don’t need to be in politics to make a difference. Steve Jobs made a difference, Bill Gates made a difference, Dangote is making a difference, and it’s not politics. As long as you strive for excellence in all you do, and you are honest with it, you will make a difference.
One person I really admire is Linda Ikeji. People criticise her but, categorically, you can say this is how she’s making her money, this is what she’s doing. She’s not getting any contracts and all, she blogs and she gets paid for it. It’s like a message to girls out there: to be successful you don’t have to sleep with someone. If you can’t get a job, you can start something like Linda Ikeji, and start making a way for yourself. But let’s not sit at a place and moan that we can’t get a job, or we can’t do anything. That’s what I hope I can do, to inspire people to be and do the best that they can.
This interview was conducted last month. Okechukwu Ofili’s second book, How Laziness Saved My Life, has now been published and can be obtained here. The mobile version of his books, for the Blackberry, have also been approved on the MTN network. You can connect with him on his website at www.ofilispeaks.com, his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ofilispeaks, and on his Twitter handle at @ofilispeaks.