From Engineering to Writing. Hafiz Akinde took us on a journey of his story, and
how and why he switched from the Engineering profession to Writing. The award-winning Writer
is definitely on a mission.
Can you please introduce yourself to us?
I’m Hafiz Akinde, a native of Ogun State; I’m the 4th of 6 children. I am a graduate of Electrical Engineering from the University of Ilorin.
Prior to embarking on my first degree in Electrical Engineering at the University of Ilorin, I bagged a National Diploma in Electrical/Electronic Engineering at the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro. I am based in Lagos and am happily married.
Can you tell us about your background & how growing up was like for you?
I am from a family of 6. My dad had 2 wives, 4 of us are from my mum and the remaining 2 are from my step mum. I’m the last from my mother’s side.
Growing up with my siblings was fun. I attended St. Anthony Nursery and Primary School in Egbeda, Lagos. I then proceeded to State High School, Alimosho Lagos and finished in 2002.
I was one of those you would consider the brilliant students in school. But I was never made a prefect because I loved to maintain a low-key lifestyle, preferring others to take the burden of leadership. But one way or the other, through my participation in MSSN (Muslim Student Society of Nigeria) activities, I eventually got some leadership positions. I was first made the General Secretary before becoming the Ameer (leader) of my set.
Let me also add that I also held other positions at the Polytechnic. At the departmental level, I was the General Secretary of Society of Electrical and Electrical Students, federal Poly Ilaro. I was also the PRO of MSSN. This was around 2004/5.
At the University of Ilorin, I held several MSSN positions between 200L and 500L. They include Deputy Editor, Editor in Chief, Administrative Coordinator (Naibul Answer 2), Assistant General Secretary 2 UNILORIN Muslim Community, Chairman of Faculty Coordinators, and Chairman Final Year Muslim Students Association.
My family can be regarded as a middle-class family. We weren’t rich but didn’t lack much. We had very few friends due to our upbringing. We stayed indoors a lot and that gave us the time to understand ourselves, know our capabilities, and individual strengths.
My elder sister and I attended madrasah by chance because we weren’t allowed to go out alone back then. It was our mum’s friend (Mrs Omikunle) that intervened on our behalf. She convinced our parents to allow us attend Ile Kewu with her children. Surprisingly, my sister and I caught up with others very quickly and we turned out to be the brightest students. I was made the Naqeeb while my elder sister was made Naqeebah. Attending madrasa gave us the opportunity to mix with other kids in our environment and also learn the basic of Islam at a very early age.
I remember representing our madrasah in a Qur’an competition. Even though I was the smallest and with the least experience, I managed to finish third. That was my first competition and that achievement made me feel great and loved by my Ustadh.
How did your growing up motivate you and what impact did it have in shaping your person & personality?
Growing up motivated me in so many ways. My mum was a teacher and my dad had a stern, firm character. He was quite friendly but he never took any nonsense from any of his children.
As an “omo teacher” (the son of a teacher) there are certain things you can’t do because you are seen as a role model among other kids. You want to be of the best behaviour and not taint your parents’ name or spoil their reputation. As I said earlier, we spent so much time indoors, mostly reading and having family time.
I always wanted to be the best in whatever I ventured into. I graduated with a second class upper throughout my tertiary education. My participation in MSSN activities has also assisted in shaping my personality.
My family also influenced me in great ways. To date, I still live by the values I learnt from my parents and reflect on their teachings a lot. So, yeah, my parents are my biggest influence and inspiration.
You are an award-winning writer; can you tell us more about that?
I won a national essay competition in the year 2011. It was during my fourth year at the University. During my Industrial Training (IT), I visited a friend who was helping to sell my first published book at a Masjid in Ikeja. It was on a Friday. So after performing the Jumu’ah Service, I saw people gather at the notice board, checking out a certain poster. So I joined them and found that it was for an essay competition.
On reading the advert, I realized that I was eligible and so I got very interested. Unfortunately, that day was the deadline for the submission of entries. Because of my keen interest in the
competition, I got in touch with the organizers and explained my situation to them, pleading with them to allow me to submit a late entry. Luckily, they accept my plea and told me to submit my
entry the next day.
So I went home and wrote a 4-paged essay overnight. In the morning, I tidied up the essay and went straight to my friend’s place to type it and submit via email. I didn’t have a computer back then.
After the whole episode, I went back to school after rounding off my industrial training attachment (IT). As Allah would have it, I received a call that I was one of the winners but they didn’t tell me my position. I just knew I would be going home with a prize. I recall vividly that we were writing our 400L second semester exams when I got the good news.
On May 14, 2011, I attended the award ceremony at 1004 Estate in Lagos, and surprisingly the organizers announced my entry as the overall best. The reward for this was a free ticket to perform Hajj. Honestly, I was expecting to win a laptop and I had actually purchased a modem for browsing. But Allah had other plans. That was how I became a national award-winning writer.
Winning that national award changed a lot of things for me and boosted my morale. I felt like if I could win a national writing contest and a ticket to perform Hajj, I could actually become a great writer. So I kept working on myself. Today, I’ve published several books, trained a lot of people to become writers, and a large part of my livelihood comes from writing. I’m grateful for that.
You must be so proud of yourself, winning an award after getting to know and submitting late.
I was really proud of myself, becoming a champion out of the blues. My story got featured in the University Bulletin and the news was in some national dailies such as The National Mirror and
The Nation Newspaper. My interview was aired on National Television Authority (NTA) and other TV stations. My mentor, Prof. Mahfuz Adedimeji, took the advantage of my success to talk about my achievement at every opportunity he had. He also introduced me to the then Vice Chancellor of University of Ilorin, Professor Ishaq Oloyede. All those experiences made me believe more in myself as a writer.
As the Editor-in-Chief of MSSN Unilorin at that period, I was able to motivate my co-members to put in more effort in their writing. As Allah would have it, our members won the same national essay contest for 3 years in a row. We took the first position in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Our members also won other positions and consolation prizes. We were really hot back then. However, we lost to a student of University of Ibadan in the year 2014. My achievement inspired a lot of people and I felt like a true champion for that.
Did it also inspire you to become an author?
Not really, but it inspired me to do more. I was already invested in writing prior to winning the competition because I wrote my first book in the year 2008. Although it was a small book, publishing it was a very good start for me. My first book was a compilation of Islamic text messages. A lot of people knew this book before they met me.
The next publication I took part in was in the year 2010, it was an Anthology of poems in pidgin language. Back then, a writer by the name of Eriata Oribhabor was championing the cause of making Pidgin English a national language. He referred to it as Naija Langwej. I submitted my entry for the book along with 3 other members of the editorial board and our materials were selected and published in the book. That was the second time my name was attached to a book.
After the essay contest, I decided to focus on creating more literary works. My friends and I who had been recently featured in the Naija Langwej Anthology figured out that we could do an Islamic equivalent of the project. So we combined our efforts and co-authored another book in the year 2013. This time, it was an anthology of Islamic poems in English language. In the year 2017, I wrote another book on the subject of blogging. In the year 2020 I came up with yet another book on how to get a remote job. In August 2020, I wrote another book which is ‘ Finding Your Purpose ’.
As you can see, I had already begun my journey as an author but the achievement of 2011 gave me more clarity of purpose and it further inspired me to do more.
You are an author of five (5) books; can you tell us the titles of the books and the year they were published?
1. AlFawaaid : A Collection of Inspirational Islamic Text Messages (2008)
2. Reflections of the Sojourners – An Anthology of Islamic Poems. (Co-authored 2013).
3. The Ultimate Blogging Blueprint (2017).
4. Work From Home – How to Land A Remote Job and Succeed At It (2020).
5. Finding Your Purpose – Practical Islamic Teaching in Fulfilling Your Dreams and Living Your Best Life (2020).
As an author, what challenges have you faced and how do you overcome it?
As a young author, I faced a lot of challenges because I had to market and distribute my books by myself. For my first book, the process was so rigorous because I had limited funds to do proper marketing and distribution. I gave some copies of the book to my friends to help me sell in their respective schools. I also gave some copies to local bookshops and Islamic stores to help me sell and I only got paid after they had sold the books.
Unfortunately, the process didn’t yield the desired results. It was frustrating but I didn’t give up. I didn’t allow the disappointment I was experiencing to discourage me from putting in more effort.
At a point, I had to give some out as souvenirs because they just occupied space in the house and I couldn’t get back much of the funds I put in.
To be honest, the joy of being a published author trumped the disappointment I was facing at the time.
It was a huge learning curve for me and that is one of the reasons I decided to publish some of my other books in softcopy format. For example; the one on blogging and remote job are eBooks. That is because the process of creating a softcopy book is relatively easy. The rigours of printing, marketing and distribution are non-existent. When there is a sale, the book gets delivered electronically via email or WhatsApp. But the downside is that soft copy materials are susceptible to copyright infringements, thus making it difficult to make more sales.
I also faced the issue of plagiarism. Someone once replaced my name (on one of my eBook covers) with his and claimed my work. These are some of the challenges one must face as an author. Also the reading culture among people is really decreasing and that impacts negatively on sales.
These are enough reasons to stop publishing books in Nigeria. But then, the amount of impact the books would have on readers is enough reason to stay motivated. I think the impact is part of what keeps me going.
As an author in Nigeria, what do you think can be done better in the industry?
We need more modern publishing companies that would take your manuscript, publish it, do the marketing and distribution, and then give you your royalty. The old publishing companies are
getting out of vogue; they need to refine and upgrade their processes with the latest digital technologies. Also, they have to focus on building proper distribution and marketing channels. People don’t have to get to your physical bookstores to discover the books on display. At the end of the day, if books are not sold, both the publishers and authors will be at a loss.
For indie authors who want to self-publish their books, you have to consider using digital platforms such Amazon and Okada books, and apps like Wattpad. You also have to build a marketing system around your book, create an audience online and distribute your books via digital marketing.
Also, there’s an urgent need for people to revive the old reading culture. We can create book clubs in our Masaajid, schools and organizations, where people come together to read certain books, review them and share the lessons therein.
The time has come to awaken the consciousness in people with regards to reading because of the saying that “readers are leaders”. If we want good leaders, we need to revive the old reading culture. It is very essential. It is the duty of everybody including the government.
A citizenry of uneducated people will be very difficult to manage by the government, but enlightened citizens will aid good governance. So the government through the National Orientation Agency and other bodies should make it a duty to educate and encourage people to read. The Ministry of Education can also create an avenue to sponsor book clubs in schools to show their involvement in the process of reviving the reading culture in Nigeria.
We at our own different levels should also try and promote the reading culture. It is only when we achieve these things that authors can have enough motivation to create new books.
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
My advice to aspiring authors is that, whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a step, and the day you start writing a book is the first step out of the thousand steps you will take. Authoring a book is not easy, it takes time. At certain points, you might feel discouraged but don’t give up. That’s why you need mentors to guide you on this journey.
Furthermore, the process of writing a book is a lonely process. There’s nobody to do the hard work for you except you. To make this process easy, you should look for a community of authors where you can share ideas and rub minds with people that inspire you.
You also need to make writing a daily habit and let people know you are a writer. This will position you for opportunities and help to improve your personal branding.
Also, be prepared for any challenges that may come your way. You must always learn to rise above your challenges.
Do not allow challenges to weigh you down in any way because they’re transient. Money or fame shouldn’t be your biggest motivating factors. Rather, think about the impact you’ll make in people’s lives.
Your book could be the solution a lot of people have been waiting for. It could be the turning point in many people’s lives. As an aspiring writer, it’s important you prioritize your first project because a successful first project is a huge source of motivation. It inspires you to do more.
What does it mean to be an online business coach?
It basically means giving people smart business advice on how to start, run and succeed in online businesses.
What’s your experience in training people on digital marketing?
My experience in training people on digital marketing has been very good and also very rewarding. The joy comes mostly from the positive feedback I get from my clients. On the other hand, there are times I don’t get the kind of results I want. From time to time, I come across extremely lazy people who are always looking for ways to make money without willing to do the hard work that’s involved. This is the mindset of a lot of aspiring online entrepreneurs and it defeats the purpose of what you’re trying to achieve. But, generally, the positive experience is more than the negative experience.
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What are your principles in life?
- Put God first in everything you do because only Allah gives success. Be prayerful and God-fearing in whatever you do. Don’t cheat people , be honest and be truthful.
- I believe in the saying that we rise by lifting others. I’m always very happy and fulfilled when I help people to achieve their goals, solve their problems, and reach their destinations easily. These are some of the things that make me feel fulfilled.
- Always give value. I believe in the strategy of pre-eminence. The idea is that you have to give value upfront if you want to grow and become successful. Always give your best and deliver on your promises.
- Life is simple, don’t try to complicate it. Whatever you do, remember that your first obligation is to make people’s lives easier. Don’t make things difficult for people or compound their problems
What’s your business philosophy?
Create value first, and money will follow.
A husband and a business guru, how do you combine both without one affecting the other?
The secret is time-consciousness. There is time for work and there is time for family. I don’t allow one to affect the other and that’s how I’m able to create a balance. While working, I try to avoid all forms of distractions so I can finish on time. This ensures that work doesn’t get in the way of family time. But this isn’t the case all the time. There are times that my work spills over to family time but then, my family knows that it is just an exception, so they don’t take offence.
What is/are your advice(s) for those who wish to become an entrepreneur or tow your path?
Entrepreneurship is very rewarding but it has its own challenges, just like any other endeavour. Before going into any business, you have to take some time to learn and acquire relevant skills. Learn from experienced people, buy courses, sign up for webinars, and attend seminars amongst other things.
In addition to doing all of these, you must also acquire two (2) important skills. For every entrepreneur, irrespective of the nature of your business; you need to learn about selling and marketing. Learning how to generate sales and how to market your products is essential for all entrepreneurs irrespective of your area of specialisation.
As a graduate of Electrical Engineering, why the career path change?
I feel more comfortable where I can make an impact. I realized that the job gave me little or no chances to do that. So I switched. It wasn’t a tough decision to make.
After graduating from the university, I got a job within forty (40) days of finishing my NYSC. I worked in a telecommunication company for two (2) years but I realized that the job didn’t give me the kind of life I wanted. Also, the salary was nothing to write home about. I was managing about 45 base stations in Ogun State and my work then required me to be on the move constantly, to ensure that the quality of service was optimal. I didn’t have time for myself. Even during weekends and public holidays, I didn’t have any time for myself at all.
So I decided to quit and follow my passion, which is writing. I started off as a freelance writer in 2015 when I resigned and it was more rewarding than I thought it would be. It gave me joy, gave me the freedom to achieve other things and the chance to pursue other important things in life. Life isn’t all about work; you have to pay attention to your family, health, mental health, spiritual well-being amongst other things. My former work consumed me and didn’t give me any opportunity to do any other thing and that wasn’t what I wanted for myself. I want a life that is fulfilling and rewarding in terms of being able to do what makes me happy and the job gave me none.
Has being Muslim ever affected your career choice?
Not really, but I’m always conscious not to allow my career to affect my Islaam. No matter what I do, I must not cross the boundaries of Islaam.
In Nigeria where there is a high level of competition in businesses, how do you manage your competitors?
By simply understanding my market, and by over-delivering where possible. In business, you have to under-promise and over-deliver if you want to stand out. You have to do more than your competitors if you want to stay at the top of the ladder.
Generally, you have to work hard, do competitor analysis (understand what your competitors are doing and what they’re not doing) and study their client feedback. It’s also important that you do things differently and provide unique solutions.
Any advice to Muslims in general?
Whatever you do, always represent Islaam to the fullest. You are an ambassador of Islaam and that’s why the people around you have to see the Islaamic ideals, values and etiquettes in you. You must be a reflection of the pristine Islaamic teachings.
Don’t be a mediocre Muslim. Muslims are supposed to be opinion leaders, the movers and shakers of society. So we have to be good in our character, in our disposition towards affairs and we have to be upright and be God-fearing. We are in a period where people don’t want to practice Islaam according to the injunctions of Allaah; people want to practice Islaam according to their own terms and conditions. Don’t be that type of Muslim. Be a Muslim with a difference. And turn to Allaah in repentance before you return to Him. Asalaamu ’Alaikum.
Jazaak Allaahu khairan. Really appreciate your time.
Amin, wa iyyaakum.