Public Speaking has taken me to over 60 nations in 4 continents of the world- Engr. Abiodun Fijabi - THE BUSINESS PACKAGE


Sunday, December 29, 2019

Public Speaking has taken me to over 60 nations in 4 continents of the world- Engr. Abiodun Fijabi

Engineer  Abiodun Fijabi  no doubt is a household name in Nigeria  and a man who has made a lot of fame, influence, money and power through the art and act of Public Speaking. He is not just a speaker but a moulder of future generation of youths through leadership training . Thus,  apart from Public Speaking, the Engineer turned Public Speaker also run a leadership and Training Academy as signpost by his top rated Academy , Elyon College.  

 In this  Chat with The Business package, Engineer Fijabi went down memory lane on  how he transited from Engineering to Public Speaking; his leadership programme on Radio; his vision for the country’s educational system and his love for the country among other sundry issues. Excerpts.


TBP: Biodun Fijabi is a household  name in the creative sphere of this nation, did you start out to be a motivational speaker or how did it came about ?

A: Actually, I started out as an Engineer with the vision to become a very successful Engineer, but in the course of my study back in the University, I won’t say I stumbled. It was a divine happenstance. I read about a United States President at that time regretting that he didn’t take Public Speaking seriously back in High school and I was wondering why a US President  will feel such a regret and I told myself that I’m not going to grow up with regret that I didn’t take  Public Speaking serious. I was in the 200 Level in the University and I  decided to make Public Speaking my hubby. It is unusual to see an Engineering student taking interest in Public Speaking, but I did. Today, it has become the main stay of my economy. That is what I do for a living and in addition to being a Public Speaker, I am a Trainer. A lot of people will say, you are Motivational Speaker, but I said No, I am not a Motivational Speaker, I am a Public speaker. A Public Speaker uses Motivation to drive his points. So, Motivational Speaking is an aspect of Public Speaking. It is not the whole essence of Public  speaking.  So,I will rather love to be described as a Public Speaker and a Trainer. So, that’s how I got into Public Speaking and I did not know any other thing I could be doing order than Public Speaking. 

TBP: Take us to your formative days in Public Speaking

A: No, it didn’t just come about. By the time I was in the last three years of my University education, I was already doing well as a Public Speaker. I was developing boldness and standing before the crowd. The naturally shy young man that I was then was already finding the confidence to speak. To stand in public and to speak. I was becoming a story teller. Well, I actually learnt story telling growing up.  My father was a great story teller, so also  my mother who is 96 year old today. And, so naturally I flowed into storytelling and I began to gain confidence. I became an Engineer, became a Manager, became a Business man, and I was doing so many other things apart from Public Speaking

TBP: What happened to Engineering ?

A: You see, no knowledge  is lost. People have said that my brand of Public Speaking is different because I tends to look more into concept, rather than just pulling facts from the air. I usually build from the foundation up; I start from the known to the unknown. I tried to describe a system and then see the way this system fits into the situation in which I find myself. If I need to modify, I try to modify as the case may be. So, this is engineering. Thus, in a way, my Engineering has not being a waste. What actually happened was that, after I have practiced Engineering for several years, my wife just walked up to me one day, especially at a period when my business was not doing well  and she said, honey, I think you will be better off in Communication area, why don’t you think of it? . And, two weeks after that, I hit the road and began to monetize Public Speaking and this is well over two decades now. And, I am not regretting it. So, I made a midlife career change at 40 to begin to do Public Speaking for a fee and my wife is not complaining. I haven’t done anything pertaining to engineering in the past two decades. The closest I am doing in Engineering is my interest in Real Estate. In a way, Engineering still finds its way in. But, the kind of Real Estate that I do, I am more into the negotiation area of it, in which case it is still communication and less of Engineering.  But, I see myself  in the  future being able to go into development, and when I go into that , you will see me more into Engineering  than I am now. But, I am not missing Engineering, because  I see Engineering in my Public Speaking. 

TBP: What lessons for the younger generations from this your experience?

A: I think it should be obvious. We say that we attend Universities or you say that you attend Polytechnic. When you attend a University, it means that you are exposed to Universal knowledge from which you pick  and choose the area in which you wants to specialize and be focused  which  moderates  your life and then be able to bring the best out of you.  You also say you go to Polytechnic, Polytechnic is not a Monotechnic, Poly means many, so you have diverse knowledge and that is why we have elective courses  and so on. I did an elective course back in the University in Computer and today I have knowledge of Computing than a Computer graduate and it was just an elective course; I didn’t graduate as a Computer Scientist, but I am keenly interested in Computer. So, the exposure that we get in the University should make us very robust; it should not be to so streamlined as to lose its robustness. This is because, it is in that robustness that you will be able to pick. It could even be the minutest details that will ultimately define your life, just like an interest out of classroom today has defined my own existence and the things that I love to do. I do not think Engineering would have taken me to four countries of the world, but Public Speaking has taken me to over sixty nations in four continents of the world. It has given me the fame, the power and the little money that I have which Engineering would not have been able to do for me. So, you should never put yourself in a box or in a corner and say because, I have studied Engineering, I cannot be anything else, or because I have studied medicine, I cannot be anything else. I know a young man who studied medicine, but he is better known today as a Data Analyst. I know a lady who studied Engineering, but in the United States today, he is a Computer guru. So, it is not what you study, it is what you open yourself to; the opportunities that you take advantage of in the course of being in the University. Look at the Founder of Apple, Steve Job, he went to the University for one Semester and the parents couldn’t pay. Just before he dropped out of school, he just said; let me go to calligraphic class to see what I could learn. And, that calligraphy defined his life and his future. This is why you see that the Apple Computers are best in graphics, the typefaces and the presentation are just so unique and no other Computer has been able to copy that. I mean, for several years, apple has become the most admirable company in the world and it was because of one man who just attended a Calligraphic class and that semester of Calligraphic class defined his life and the future of most of us.

TBP: What role do books play in your career?

A: An average CEO, a successful CEO reads forty to sixty books a year.  This  is because, knowledge is not located in a  particular place or person or domiciled in a particular person and the more you know, the more you find out that you do not know. And, because of the rapid changes in the world;  to keep abreast of developments, you have to read. Reading makes a man. You cannot be who you want to be without being an avid reader; a voracious reader. And, there are opportunities for us to read. There are free books on the internet. There are a lot of information out there. Unfortunately, the younger generation, I can see that they are always into the  social media and so on and so forth and they are not reading. And, there is no way you can develop and become a person you want to be without being a voracious reader. I read a lot. I do not think that I read  up to forty books in a year, but I read up to thirty books. Just trying to get information; seek for information wherever you find them. If there is something new, I try to find out what is  in it for me. How can I adapt  and apply it? This helps me   to be creative in what I am doing and become a better person.

TBP: Standard of education being handed down to the next generation, are you satisfied ?

A: The standard of education being given to the next generation is not good enough, especially with the policy somersault in the education sector. It is difficult for us to know what the country is driving at in terms of its educational policy. And, of course the African Traditional  way of learning to me is not adequate enough. I am not talking about what it used to be in those days, but since the British came into Nigeria, the focus has been on passing exams; the focus has been on memorizing and then delivering on the day of the exams. This is different from the American system which opened up the brain of a little child; of a student, not to pour information into it, but to allow him or her reason along with the teacher, so that together they can come to an equilibrium in which there is proper understanding of what the issues are and the principles around it and the student will be able to participate in it. It is not unusual for a student to challenge his teacher  and give a different point of view  from the teacher. That creativity is lacking and the drive for acquiring degrees at any cost because we see that as a meal ticket has made so many students get involved in Examination malpractices and all other atrocities. This is because, it is not what you know now, it is what you can pour out; it is what you can provide during the exams. But, I think education should go beyond that; education should be learning, growing and development. It is understanding the principles and being able to apply the principles. You will see a Nigerian student, leave the shore of this country, go to attend schools in the United States or goes  to any part of Europe and then he fumbles in the first Semester, because he just discovered that look, you can’t just cram, you can’t just memorize, you have to know how to apply this and he catches it and in one year, he braces up. I know so many students who left Elyon College and they are on Dean’s list in their respective Universities. Some of them are the best students in their states and not just in their Universities. It is amazing what these guys could do with the right kind of exposure to learning and growing. And, these ones I am talking about were not even the best students that we had in our school. They were the average students and they got exposed to better ways of learning, developing and growing and they are doing well. I will certainly want a situation in which teaches are better paid, better educated, better oriented and  a situation whereby those who are in the teaching profession are there because they love to do it. I mean, I have a friend, who is a Ph.D.  Holder who is teaching in the Kindergarten in the US, because she said, that is where my love is. But, naturally, if you have a Ph.D., you have to teach in the University and the Lady said, No, I am better off teaching kindergarten because that is where my love is. So, it is not the number of degrees you have, it is where your passion is. We should have people, teachers who are passionate about what they are doing. One of them challenged me when I was in the Secondary School into Public Speaking because I felt I wasn’t  proud of my spoken English and he encouraged me. I am a Public Speaker and a successful one at that today because of one  Mrs. Akinyele who believed in me; who said I could do it and who helped me to know that I didn’t have to borrow English tongue just because I want to speak. Because of my mother tongue affectation and as an Ibadan boy, there are certain words I cannot pronounce accurately. And, then, I will like to speak like an Oyinbo man , without understanding the right phonetics. And, she said, Biodun just speak it the way you know it, It is the  confidence with which you speak it that will make the difference and then you can learn along  the line to improve on your diction; to improve on your phonetics, but first you  need to develop the confidence, to speak and air  your views. So, along the line, I began to leant phonetics, I began to learn how to pronounce my words accurately and nobody can take the confidence I already developed away from me.

TBP: Tell  us the story of Elyon College.

A: In the year 1993 M.K.O  Abiola’s election was annulled and in 1994 , we had a  challenge , we couldn’t leave  home, everybody was trapped in their houses and so on and  so forth and I wondered if that was the way we would continue and I said, it looks like my colleague and I , those of us in our late 30’s and so on were already fixing our  ways and I said what else could we do and I said, I better go to the younger generations. And, there begun the vision of Elyon College and I said, it was not just going to be another College next door, it was going to be a  Leadership Academy. We are going to develop the capacity of teenagers to be able to take on leadership positions in various professions, in governance, in communities, in religious houses and we are going to give them the finest of education. It didn’t start until 2004, but I am grateful to God that it started and here we are today. We started small. We started with only five pupils  at kemta Housing Estate. And, then we have 30 acres Permanent Site which we have stopped developing because of the bad road and mainly because of the challenges we had with the state government. But, we are trudging on; we are moving on ; we are expanding and growing and the vision is still alive despite the challenges that we are facing. 

TBP: What happened to your  Radio programme, Leading Right ?

A: We stopped it. First of all, a particular government didn’t like it because they felt some of those issues we were raising were exposing some of their policies as irrelevant and undemocratic. There  was a particular episode which would have gotten OGBC into trouble , but for the fact that OGBC was able to defend itself that that episode had been submitted three weeks before. Because, it just addressed some actions and inactions of that particular time. It was on a Friday and the Monday episode of ‘Leading Right”  addressed and situated it within the best practices of leadership and found it wanting. And, there was  no way we could have known this and the only way OGBC exonerated itself was that that episode was submitted three weeks before, because I was going to travel out of the country and I had already recorded about four weeks episode. Apart from that, after we have operated it and it has won an award. It won an award in Radio Lagos as the best programme of the year in the year 2007, we felt the time was right for us to relax it and then see what else we can do. From February, 2020, you will see Leading Right on you tube and people will be able to subscribe to it and get it delivered into their e-mails.  When the incident happened, we only stopped for about six month and then we came back. Now, we have decided to put a stop to it and then to get a wider audience and it is being packaged already and will be launched on YouTube as I said.  There is a number of books that I have churned out and there are so many other  books that will be coming out in the next couple of years , relating to Leading Right. It would be a compilation of  Leading Right.
TBP: What impact is your Leadership Institute making on the society generally ?
A:  I must tell you that we have made tremendous impact, because the parents attested to that and the kids also attested to that.  The best commendation we have had from a student to put it very succinctly was when one of the students said ‘’  I came in as an average student, I left Elyon College as an excellent student. It is a summary of the experience that students  have had and they  are still having at  Elyon College today. This was a girl that by the time she came to the school, she had no hope. But, she sat for GCE in SS2 and made enough grades to be able to gain admission and before she even completed her school certificate examination, she had gained admission into a University in the U.K and she became the first of the students to make a Master Degree out of her classmates. That’s the Elyon College story. Students who are morally upright. In our fourteen years of operation as a school, no girl in Elyon College had been pregnant. There had been no pregnancy. No male student had scaled the fence and our fences are low and none  of them had been involved in a brawl outside the school premises. It is not that we subjugate them,  it is because we let them see who they are on the inside. And, if you value yourself and see yourself as a creation of value, there is a way you will protect yourself. There is a way you carry yourself. Also, we have a low student-teacher ratio, so that there will be deep interaction with the students. We do not have a massive school, so we have close interaction and monitoring for the students.

TBP: Is Elyon affordable for the common man?

A: No, it does not discriminate. There are schools in Abeokuta  today that probably charge more than Elyon College. But, get this fact right, Elyon College cannot be cheap. If it is, it loses its value and the way we try to make sure that it is available to everyone is that, every year we have scholarship schemes. Some students have been able to benefit from the scheme. In fact, about 30-40% of the current population  benefits from one form of scholarship  or the other. So, that has made it possible for even a teacher in public service to send his child to Elyon College, even Civil Servants. We have so many of them, because they were able to gain some traction from the scholarship.

TBP: Have you been contacted by government for advice on school administration?

A: I have been available to making contributions  and I have made my own contributionsj in my own way. They do not need to invite me. I created High Fliers Nigeria and with that, those students who cannot take advantage of Elyon College Training have been getting the benefits. I have been running trainings. I run training in South West Nigeria. I have run training in North Central Nigeria for young people. All expenses paid. We took them to the best hotels. When we did the one for the South-West, we used Park in by Radisson and each had two tea breaks and one heavy launch and it was Buffet and there were  sixty-six of them across the South West. How do people get to apply? We let out information, looking for 18-30 years old  who are not content with the way things are going in this country and would like  to be exposed to leadership principles that will help them make contributions to the society. And, then we gave them some forms to fill to identify those that were serious and we got sixty-six of them out of well over two hundred that applied. And, then  when it got to the North , we spread it  to as far as Jos , Niger State and so on and we had about  twenty- five coming from across the North Central. And, we are going to do the same in the South East, South-South and all over the country. The kind of a country that we are, unless you belong to a political party or a particular interest group, you may not be called upon to come and do something like that. But, must you wait? As long as we wait on government to bring about change in our nation, we would wait forever. Individuals that have ideas that can help promote our country should pursue those ideas.

TBP: Your Philosophy of life?

A: Be the best you can be and help as many people as you can to be the best they can be.

TBP: Are you fulfilled?

A: I am grateful. I am not there yet, but my life is rich. I set out in the early days to build  a life that will not be consumed by my needs alone , but would find full expression in impacting other people’s lives and helping people to be the best they can be. To that extent, I feel  fulfilled. I feel really fulfilled. I am not going to tell you how many students’ school fees I am paying. Today alone, I have paid one.  Last week, I paid another one. Whatever  little that I have. I never see myself as someone who will consume whatever resources that comes my way. How much will I spend. I  have a five bedroom house, I have only slept in two before. My only house is not painted outside. I have only one car to myself and my wife also has one car at any particular time. Okay, there is always a third, which we can use if we want to. We rarely use that. You don’t need a lot to really survive. If your needs are minimal, then you are able to have a lot of left overs, which you can deploy in the service of the Lord and of the community that you find yourself.  I remember when I started the Christmas gesture about ten to  twelve years ago, I gave a pack worth about N10,000 to a family and the family burst into tears. They couldn’t imagine that they will not go hungry. And, these are people within my locality. It is not that I went to a village to look for them. They are the people that we greet on the road. They see you as you drive off and zoom off in your car. They see you as you smile to your wife. They see  you as you come out with bags of items that you just got from the market.

TBP: Your role as a community man.

A: I have been a leader in my community. Every community that I have been , I cannot just sit idle. One of the decisions that I made early in life was that in any community that I live, I will not drive my car empty. So, in all the estate that I live, I am known as that guy who will say ,  Are you going to the gate? Young men and ladies as well as the elderly ones as well, I picked them up. In my formal estate, they will say Engineer Fijabi  is the guy who will ask you, are you going to the gate? Do you mind a lift to the gate? This is because, I have discovered that it is the same amount of fuel that you are going to use and you will be able to smile at someone. Just because of the fear of dangers you will not want to help. Then, nobody will help. Maybe because I have been a beneficiary of some benevolent services in the past. I still remember my car, a new car having issue on Lagos-Ibadan expressway around  seven o Clock in the evening. And, the car wouldn’t start. Many years ago, there were no automatic gear cars. And, then, this lorry. The lorry just came by and three guys just jumped down from the lorry. I was so scared, because at that time , it was already late. I think I was coming to Abeokuta. And, the guyw just said, stay inside the car, put it in gear two and then they helped me pushed it to start and the car kicked off, but I didn’t know what was wrong. So, I have been a beneficiary.  Those guys could have killed me if they wanted to. And, since I have been assisting people, I have never gotten a bad company. I think there is also a spiritual dimension to that, because you have a good heart, the lord will not allow you to get into trouble.

TBP: Who is Abiodun Fijabi as a family man?

A: He loves his wife. He loves his daughter. He has only one child, a daughter. And, he is so grateful for these two people in his life. So grateful. They make his day. My daughter just came home today and changed everything in the house. I mean, it is just a  wonderful feeling having a family. People think Engineer Fijabi must be so outgoing that he won’t have time for family. I haven’t stepped out of this house today for instance. Perhaps  because my office is also in my house. And, mores o, after 7-8 o clock, what are you coming to see me in my house for?. That’s the time I like to look at my wife in the eyes and review what has happened in the day. And, then we want to watch a  movie together; we want to pray on an issue together; we want to do things together. And, because there is no club house for me to go. If I go to Church, I should be back home by 8-8:30 pm except if I travel and I have to come back late in the night. 

TBP: How do you unwind?

A: I do not unwind in Clubs. There are other ways of unwinding. Oh my Goodness! I unwind with a book. I unwind when I write. I unwind when I go visit a friend and then we banter and banter. I unwind when I am on phone with someone I haven’t seen in  a long  while and I have so many wonderful friends across the world and I can stay on the phone with them for a long time.  I derive deep satisfaction and joy in doing that. I also unwind when I have to take a walk. And, I have just recently joined the Golf Club. The Abeokuta Golf Club. I am not very faithful in attending, but I hope in the year 2020, I will be able to go more. The few times I have been to the Golf Club was such a big relieve.

TBP: Border closure, you take?

A: I support it. A nation like ours cannot continue to be a dumping ground. It is a shame of monumental proportion that we have been a dumping ground. The nations around us are taking advantage of us without giving us due regards. A Nigerian in Benin, in Togo in Ghana is looked down upon. We are seen as brash. We are seen as too competitive. We are seen as criminals and you benefit from our economy a lot. You dump good on us. At the slightest opportunities, you will embarrass Nigerians and yet you are taking a  lot from us. Benin Republic is one of the biggest importers of rice in the world with their small population.  5% or maximum of 10% of the rice is consumed by them and the 90% or more comes to Nigeria. So, you see, their economy is dependent on us. They import a great deal of cars and about 90% of those cars ended up in Nigeria. So, you could see that we have become a dumping ground. And, no nation worth its salt will watch that  happen without taking actions. I believe there will be protocols that will be set up in the next couple of months. There will be guidelines and bilateral agreement that will be mutually beneficial to both parties and once those protocols have been established, I believe that the border should be reopened .

TBP: Nigeria is  rich but poor, what is the way out?

A: 180 million people or 190 million people regardless of who you are talking to. That is a huge population. A single idea that you have can attract millions of people and business ideas. This is a country where ideas can easily thrive. A major challenge is the dilapidating and dilapidated infrastructure. As a business man, you have to be your own electricity generator. You will even have to get to repair your own road. And, these are given in some other climes. They are taken for granted. When you have a few people who have amass so much and they are not contented and see it that the only way to get a hold is to keep amassing and they see the national cake as dwindling and they want to keep massing. When you have people with such a mentality among the leaders, it leaves no hope.  People have asked me why  I am still in Nigeria and I say there is no other place like Nigeria. I see a meat seller smiling to his customers. I see a twenty year old girl , married with child selling kolanut and the  entire stock that she is carrying about is less  than two thousand naira. And, probably she will only make about two hundred naira a day and you could see the passion, you could see the devotion; you could see the commitment. I love this country and I love the people of this country. I don’t  think there is any country like ours.

TBP: Would you still love to come back as a Nigerian?

A: I would love to, because you see, God doesn’t make a mistake. Look, those nations have their own challenges. They have their own difficulties. I know.  There are some challenges we do not have here. We do not have the challenge of natural disaster for instance. So, Nigeria is a great country to be and I will still love to come back as a Nigerian.  


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