Abisoye Fagade: Why I Want To Be Oyo Governor


Some things are just too obvious and unmistakable about Mr. Abisoye Fagade. And among them are his gregariousness, graciousness, gentlemanliness, good nature and above all, generosity. Currently aiming at becoming the next governor of Oyo State, his Oyo si ma dun (OSMD) message is not only resonating well, but gradually permeating and enveloping the whole city.
The founding Principal Consultant/CEO of Sodium Brand Solutions Limited, he shared with YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, his unedited story on Wednesday, February 17, 2021.
The dark-skinned and dashingly bearded marketing communications professional, politico and businessman highlighted the importance of relationships in business, why multiple streams of income must be embraced and more. Much more…


What fond memories of your birth and childhood do you still remember?
There’s the simple one and the humble one. I can remember growing up in Oluyoro, Ibadan; it was around 1979. I remember earlier in those years when I and my brothers used to go and play football. My father was a banker, by the way, and in those days, banks closed by four. But they don’t come back until like 6/6:30PM and there was no computer. I remember joining my friends and brothers to go and play football, and when my father comes back unexpectedly, he’ll look at our side bones and if he sees sweat there, he will know that we’ve gone to play ball and he’ll give us a knock on the head. So, those were the memories. And it was fun in Oluyoro before we left around 1979 to go to Molete, where I grew up, did my secondary school and university. We will go to Orioke to pray. That’s why I’m used to going to Orioke, I took that from my dad.

You attended Queen of Apostle Primary School and the popular Lagelu Grammar School, both in Oyo State. What do you still cherish and remember about the two schools?
It was a missionary school and I could remember seeing all those nuns in those days wearing white and how they built us up to be upright in our ways and I remember that then, going to school was actually fun. My secondary school uniform was green white green and that school has produced a lot of distinguished Ibadan people. That school was where our former governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi attended. He was our senior then. Even the former deputy governor of Central Bank (Bayo Adelabu). So, we have a lot of other people like that; like myself. Then and till now, it is one of the most prominent schools in Ibadan. And we learnt a lot; like the sense of communism from that school and how you can hold each other’s hands to actually grow.


You read Demography and Social Statistics at the Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, Osun State. What exactly does that course entail? I must also confess that I’m hearing about the course for the first time…
Demography is the just the study of people, in terms of numbers. It’s a social science course and it has to do with statistics and that really helped in my choosing my career eventually, which is marketing and which is more or less like the study of human and data. I can actually use data to study human behaviours and other demographic studies. So, it’s that simple. Demography actually helped me a lot eventually, because in marketing, there are a lot of statistics and data to be able to deduce a lot of things and it helped in my early days in Indomie.


Now, your venturing into marketing communications, what triggered it?
When I was in Ife, I was part of a group called ISEC. It’s an abbreviation for a french company, it’s for people interested in economics and business and all of that. So, those days, they used to teach us about marketing. They will have events and they will tell us to go and market the event. So, we will go and pitch the events to sponsors. That’s how I started learning about marketing, but not exactly the kind of marketing that I’m doing now. But I took interest in marketing in those days of ISEC and immediately I finished from Ife, I was working with NITEL. That’s where I served, and I had this opportunity to join Indomie and they said I should come to the marketing department because I mentioned that I had served and I had a marketing background. So, that’s where I got the knack for marketing from really and that was from my university days. But the greater experience from marketing was from Indomie.
I went from Indomie to Starcomms, the telecommunications company, then to Tequila Events. Then, SO&U Saatchi and Saatchi. There were like two other companies in between. I was also at Soulcomm, which was actually where we met.


Your company is called Sodium Brand Solutions Limited, why the name Sodium?
I’ve always answered the name Sodium from secondary school, because there was a day during lesson and I was restless, and the teacher said, “Oga, you’ve been here and there since, stay in one place and stop acting like sodium in water” and then I took interest in the name and later I realized that every material has a combination of Sodium in it. So, when I was going to start my agency, I realized that I was going to do a 360 agency, and I said to myself that I needed to tell them that someday, somehow, you’re going to need my agency. And then, every other name starts with something funny. So, I also needed something that will bring about a topic or a conversation. So that it will be like why sodium? Something that will make people ask questions, something that won’t be too direct. I also chose Sodium because I realized that it is an element that is consumed in everything that human beings do. If you look at a bottle of water, you’ll see a very little portion of sodium. So, I said okay, since I’m planning on doing a 360 agency, let’s say someway, somehow, you’re going to need us. So, we are Sodium, like salt, let’s add a little bit of salt to your brand to activate you and to push you.


Wow! What stands your agency out or apart from the other agencies in your sector?
It’s the creativity. We always want to do something that has never been done before in terms of ideation and to always keep people on their feet, because we know that we are in Nigeria. As an aspirational agency, we know that we are supposed to be able to think on our feet and if possible, work from answer to the question. That stands the agency out. And also in terms of costing, we are very competitive. Most importantly, we don’t look at the budget, we first of all look at the idea before we look at the budget; then we also look at how the person’s budget can fit in with the idea. Because if we look at the budget, we won’t be able to think of the ideas.

Now, for one to have a taste of success in your field, what must the person do?
We are still trying to do the business the right way, even though we are one of the top agencies. But then, to be able to be on top and stand out, you need to be able to come up with ideas that clients can’t resist, and also in that sector, the entry barrier is so low that they can take any idea from anybody. You also have to make sure that the idea you’re coming with, you don’t share the execution plan with anybody before contracting, because it is easy for anybody to pick up your idea and sell it to anybody. A lot of them can give it to clients and then they execute it. When you eventually look at the execution, you realize that it is the idea, but that’s not how it is supposed to be done; you will realize that something is missing. Also, there has to be consistency, and most importantly, relationship is key. It is only your friends that can give you business. Forget about it, they might not be your close friends, but people need to be able to say that I know this person and be able to tell of their character. So, relationship is very key and you need to be able to manage relationships. Relationship management is one of the most fundamental ingredients of tasting success, and don’t wait for instant gratification, it doesn’t happen. What started our agency was our first job of N150m which was in 2009. That was really huge. We got that job because of relationship, not even because of any other thing and because they thought that this is the person that can deliver this job, not any other person. The job was given to Abisoye, before they even knew the agency, Sodium. My clients understand that I would bend backwards to make sure that I deliver on my promises, which is why most of the time, we under promise and we over deliver.


Would you like to shed more light on that your first job, the multi million Naira business?
The money is just big. The markup is not big. Well, it was in 2009, The Coca-cola Christmas Tree. If you remember that Coca-cola decoration that we used to do in cultural centres then, the tallest Christmas tree in Africa then, and I had just left my other agency and we pitched for the Christmas decoration and we won. And the first thing they did was that they wrote a letter to us that we had won, and we sent our budget and the next thing I saw was N150m. That was one hundred and forty something though. All I had was a paper then to show for it. I had to go to the bank to borrow to activate that job, but the good thing was that it was a huge success and we did that same thing next year, which was 2010. So, if we didn’t do that one well, we won’t have done the other year, and that kick-started the relationship between Sodium and Coca-cola which lasted for about 10 years.


Interesting! Aside owning Sodium Brand, you also own a hotel, Alexia’s Place. Will you like to tell us about the hotel?
We realized at some point that the kind of work we do, multiple streams of income is the only way that we can sustain ourselves and we needed to diversify. Initially, we thought of things that can bring daily money. I didn’t tell you that Sodium actually gave birth to Alexia’s Media also, It’s a media – buying agency, which also gave birth to Alexia Oil and Gas, an oil servicing company. We actually felt that we needed to do something that will bring us daily money, as an agency; something that can actually turn our cash around, lift up our cash flow. So, we started off the bottle water business and the pure water didn’t do well, because the industry is saturated and we spent a lot of money trying to put the factory together and that wasn’t a big success. But we still didn’t stop there. We realized that a lot of people come from outside the country and need a place that is very seclusive, a place where they can lay their heads, sleep and wake up, without noise. So, that’s when we created a space where this can be possible.
Alexia’s Place is a place we created where you can feel your real home away from home and it has already given birth to another hotel in Ibadan, and there’s another investment coming up in Ibadan too. So, in our bid to create multiple sources of income, that’s where we started the agency from. And also, we have a small bakery, which is not too small, but we have a bakery in Ibadan that is coming up. You all should watch out for that too. It’s called Bonike Bakery.

We are waiting. Mr. Fagade also has the Abisoye Fagade Foundation, what led to the foundation, why did you decide to come up with a foundation?
The Abisoye Fagade Foundation was established to help all these small businesses scale up. During the years when I started Sodium, I went through a lot. I was never a CEO before I started Sodium. All I had then was my self confidence and the blessings of my boss then, Obong Udeme Ufot. I was never a CEO. The lessons that I learnt over time can’t be pushed away. They are lessons that I want to share with people, and that’s why I started the Abisoye Fagade Foundation, to help small businesses scale up, to see how we can get funding where necessary for these brands, in a smaller way. Like what the Ford Foundation is doing, we can do it here in Nigeria. And what led to that was my experience overtime. You know it’s difficult to start a business in Nigeria and extremely difficult to run the business in Nigeria. If you have a business that has run for more than ten years in Nigeria, you have tried. So, those things are what I want to constantly share with people. Like Peter said, silver or gold, I have none, but what I have, I give to you. So, that experience is what I have been able to share all the time with the Sodium industry and Abisoye Fagade Foundation. And right now, we have companies that we are lecturing and mentoring; that we are helping their businesses to scale up. What we do is we help in mentoring them through mentorship programmes, look at their cash flow, assist with their marketing, production and so on. All in all, just to see how they can scale up their businesses. And I’ve also realized that most Nigerian businesses die after 10 and 20 years when the owner dies. We are trying to see how those businesses can live, even after the founders. That’s why we started off the foundation.


Many people believe that you are planning to become the governor of Oyo State. Will you like to shed more light on that?
Ten or eleven years ago, I started off a movement called OSMD, which means Oyo si ma dun. I just wanted to become a governor and I still want to become the governor. All of us just can’t sit back and do nothing. We won’t continue to allow the worst of us rule over the best of us. When the best of us just sit down and do nothing, we won’t enjoy good governance. So, I decided that let me just play my part and I know that as a good human manager of resources, we can do better.


The interest in politics, what ignited it?
My passion to see a better country. If I wanted to be a politician years ago, I would have probably been in the House of Representatives, but I wanted a position where I know I could control and be responsible for things that I do. Trust me, if I wanted to be, ten or fifteen years ago, I would have gone for a position in government and would have won more that twice and I’ll be part and parcel of that structure. I have never run for any post aside this – to be a governor. And this is because I feel I’m totally responsible for what I do, my decision is mine. Just like Mr. President, he’s responsible for this country, whether it is good or bad, he’s still responsible for it. And I feel that I can make a whole lot of changes and difference too.

You have this popular slogan, OSMD, will you like telling us more about it?
I came up with that name eleven years ago. Things weren’t as bad as they are now, but I thought it was worse as of that time. It was a year when we were trying to save ourselves and I felt that I needed something that will motivate those in the north; someone that they needed to listen to. I felt that someone that my people in Oyo State can actually identify with and something that is more like a call to action, reason for hope. So, the OSMD, Oyo Si Ma Dun, means that Oyo can still be sweet again, literarily. There’s this saying that Oyo can never aspire to be like anybody. But that’s not what is happening right now. I don’t want to take us back to the old Oyo, I want to take us to the future, where we should be, and if you see Oyo State’s number plate, it says The Pacesetter. But, where exactly are we setting the pace? And because the leaders are comfortable with doing nothing, and also because people don’t complain, they are complacent. They are scared of development because they feel that people are okay where they are. There’s a lot of reason I want to be the governor. A lot! And it’s only the risk takers that can take the risk, others are just politicians.


No doubt, you have done well for yourself. Now, I need you to share the strategies that you adopted to get to where you are today?
I believe that the world we are in is a market, and people go to market for different reasons to buy, to sell, to look, to do all sorts of things. Whatever it is you’re in the market to do, do it. If you’re in the market to buy, go and buy, don’t get distracted by the people dragging you to come and buy something, focus on where you’re going to. If you’re in the market to sell, sell, don’t be distracted by people calling others to come and buy something. Expose your business to those who want to buy from you. So, in this market of the world, the only strategy I have adopted is, things will happen, stuffs happen, but just stay focused, stay in the line, keep looking forward, and if you want to fail, fail forward, because failure is part of the growth of the chain. So, if you’re failing, learn what made you fail and always look forward and move on. At least, what you know caused you to fail, you won’t go back and fail in it again. It’s a step forward. So, you keep going and moving until you get to where you’re supposed to get to.

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