Only hard work, commitment will lead to success — Founder Opolo, Dr Aina

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A Doctor of Business Administration, Dr. Lawrence Olusegun Aina  in an interview with our correspondent, ISMAIL AZEEZ expresses how Nigerians can solve societal problems. Dr Aina reveals a new technology ‘OPOLO’ that will create employers of labour

Congratulations to you on the award of  Doctor of Business Administration in Osun State University (UNIOSUN) in recognition of your hard work. How do you feel today Sir?

Well, I feel great and am thankful to God for His grace to be awarded. So, it’s a very good day. I feel very good. This came from a University owned and based in my state of origin.  It’s a very great honour that I thank God for. I thank the University also for considering me worthy of this award.

What do you want to tell the youths who want to be like you? 

My prayer is that we have youths that are not just like me but youths that are better than me and better than those that are better than me, and the only way to achieve that is for youths to be very focused, committed to what they are doing and to have strong positive ambitions, making sure that in spite of failure that may come along the line, that they remain resolute to be able to contribute and add value to the society.  In this way, they will be recognized for the good they have done. And they will also be good examples to generations coming behind them.

Unfortunately, a number of youths of today likes shortcut.They believe shortcut is faster. But what about credibility? What about honour? What about integrity? These are things that in Yoruba land, we value so much.

All over Nigeria today. we have put to the background credibility and integrity. And that is why a lot more people want to cut corners. They’re ready to do anything just to make money. They want to be rich at all cost because even the society does not want to know how the wealth came about.

If you look at the background for instance, the woman we were awarded together today by the school, I said it openly that we have known for over 30 years. I knew her when she started a small petrol station. And now, she owns a big company operating in 27 states of Nigeria. She’s so committed. She doesn’t cut corners. Meanwhile, she was unrelenting for those 30 years. That was why she could achieve what she has achieved. And that is why the honours are coming to her.

In my own case, in my little way, there are lots of  things I have ventured into, some of which I have even forgotten. These are things you’re bringing back to memory.

This kind of honor is worth more than any amount of money to me. This is not monetised, but recognition by a citadel of learning. It is a kind of honour that cannot be bought with any amount of money.

My message to the youths is that they must know that only hard work, positive orientation, commitment, and being focused are the way to bright future and success. This is what can  help them to achieve greatness, after which they could be recognised in the society in later years even when they might  have forgotten all the good they did.

Why are you investing in technology: FINTECH, Opolo, what informed the interest?

I have overseen in a very long time ago the future of the world in terms of creativity and in terms of new things lying in the use of computer. I foresaw the use of digital  technology in making things happen. In those days, computers were seen as those tools to work with. But today, technology has taken over developed businesses. No business, I mean even in your media business, technology has taken over. For example, instead of newspapers printing many hard copies, that you will begin to struggle in order to make sales, online news has taken over, which will still fetch you your desired money and even more. I saw this ahead. That was why when I was in the bank, all I focused on was the digital aspect. Some of the banks I worked with, particularly Eco Bank and  Guaranty Trust Bank, they were leaders in technology because I was in charge of operational technology, such that even when I left as bank MD in early 2000 I started with a telecom company called FinTech Associate  Limited over 20 years ago. When people hear us today, they don’t know we ‘ve come a long way, since 2002. But that time FinTech had no money. But today FinTech is all industries’choice, especially the banks.

Well, I can say I see myself as being futurist, thinking ahead. So when I left banking, I went to the FinTech space, putting together the FinTech ecosystem in Nigeria, which is now thriving. We have a lot of banks projects and a whole lot  from telecom. And at a point, we went continental, penetrating Africa. We sought the Africa FinTech network. And now,we are operating in 33 countries. By next year, we expect that we will be in 50 countries developing and moving FinTech from Africa to the global stage.

I’m the President of that institution. I single handedly founded it. But in recent times, during COVID-19, when everybody thought the whole world was going to fail, I came up with the ‘Opolo’. Opolo means brain, that every good thing comes from. I came with the idea during the lockdown and I turned our office in Ikoyi, Lagos into an innovation hub. This way, I said let’s get young people to be trained, to be supported in emerging technologies like STEM equipment to be able to design things, to train both young people, children and youths that are in transit form. We went inside creating innovation hubs in universities and rural areas. We started in rural areas. I founded it. I founded the one in my village, Otan Ayegbaju in Osun State. We built an Opolo Center there for the rudiment of computer technology. Some of them are now coming up with good ideas.

Prof. Yusuf Ali who is the Pro-Chancellor here provided fund we used to found the one in Ifetedo, his home town, the small version of what we have right now.

Today, for instance, Mrs. Samson said she built one in Iree, Boripe area of Osun State. Prof Olabopo Popoola, former UNIOSUN VC said he wants to build one in Ilesa. So, we have about nine in the rural areas. Can you imagine how easy it is. People believe it is only when you are in Ibadan or Lagos that you can have interconnectivity. We went to Airtel office and told them, we want you to provide for 4G Internet in these villages, free of charge. People in Ifetedo have better internet service than those in Osogbo because of the support from Airtel using my contact with them.

The University is where you can incubate bright mind students. That is why we started with 15. We did first in Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. We commissioned Opolo Hub OAU, Ife on 21st February. Between now and the next six months, we are going to build in six other places: Ul, FUTA, Bayero in Kano state, Abubakar Tafa Balewa,  Bauchi State, University of Benin and another one in Port Harcourt whereby we will have seven or eight across the other regions, through which we’ll be able to reach out to the global world. That is the reason why we call Opolo global. We started locally. We have partnered with Universities across the world, including Oxford University and Samo University in Kenya because they have done this kind of thing before. We are learning from them, at the same time improving on it because you cannot follow and say you want to do it the way they have done it. We want to do what they call leapfrogging. We  want to start where they are. We are not saying we want to follow otherwise. We can be better than them, so that we can be an example they can also follow. That is the plan we have developed.

Many of us complain about government. The government may not be able to do everything. What can you do? 

What can I do? That is why I’m using my network, my contact to attract partnerships to attract funding to help the coming generation. Even lecturers in the Universities are just writing papers to get promotions that they end up putting on their shelves. But now, say your topic focuses on solving the problem that exists in the society, that is what will bring you money. When you solve a problem, then we can take it to the industry, saying,  look at this invention, we can do it in a way we can make money and it’s accepted. The university can make money. The one that designed that  too can also make money.  It thus becomes a win-win thing. You will not remember your salary anymore because when you are involved with some of this invention money comes in large quantity, just like a musician that produced songs. When he’s dead, as long as people play those songs, the money keeps coming. It is the same thing with  invention. We want to use that to create for the future, a sustainable source of funding for the university.

What we’re doing today, the impact will be felt in five or 10 years. And again every individual must recreate himself. I left banking about 18 years ago. Now people know me as Mr. FinTech. Even now am moving in to innovation generally, incubation and acceleration, helping the young people, investing in them, providing fund to meet the ideal growth.

People believe there is nothing you can do without having enough capital. No, money is important, but not as important as having the will and using the connection that you have.

My advice to all of us, and I mean all of us, it doesn’t mean that it’s only when you are in a high position that you can do everything.You can solve a problem, you can support somebody. It doesn’t have to be a scholarship.It could be sending someone to learn a skill, carpentry, electrical skills or trade that can fetch him/her money. It will reduce the number of miscreants in the society.

The reason why kidnapping and some other vices are rampant in our society today is because most young people have become so  hopeless. Some of them want to go to school, no money. Some have even graduated but have no job. We need to help and support these misguided young ones to bring them back to sanity. It will surprise you to know that they are very bright and intelligent. We want them to use those intelligence positively, not in a way to ruin the society .

 In summary, can we say Opolo’s invention helps to erase unemployment and frustrations? 

We want to create employers of labour for those that are looking for jobs. We want to test their OPOLO (intelligence) to create wealth for them and the society.