Subomi Balogun at 83: Indelible imprints in the sands of time
An insight into the life of a rare industrialist, consummate banker, manager of men and materials, in short, the quintessential man of many parts, as he adds another year to his age across the business and social circles in Nigeria, his contributions stand tall and his name resonates with respect.
Not only has he traversed virtually all the socio-economic quarters that matter, he has left outstanding marks on most, if not all.
That is why today, when you mention his name in the socio-polity called Nigeria, it resonates with awe, respect and admiration.
He is a first class Otunba of the highest and finest rating in Ijebuland and its history, a Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON), a prince and indeed the Head of princes as well, holder of numerous professional, academic and traditional titles. The treatise is about none other than the meritorious Asiwaju of Ijebuland, who has turned 83 this season. The recognition goes to Otunba Michael Olasubomi Balogun.
He is one man who aptly fits the quintessence: whatever he says, clap. Not clapping in just the sense of it, but because his views, no matter how modestly expressed, come with maturity, professional insight and experiential wisdom. They are indeed, usually profound. If it is integrity, you could bet your last naira on him, and be sure not to be disappointed.
Come to think of it, not all mortals live to grace 83, much more, with great accomplishments and sterling contributions following. Yet, in the midst of it all, the Otunba has remained his modest self, sold out still to humanitarism, and life of selfless service.
Eighty-three years after, this quintessential banker, entrepreneur par excellence and man of style has every reason to be thankful to the Almighty God. He has guided him to a life of fruitfulness, a life from which others stand to learn. As family, friends and associates roll-out the drums to celebrate a man who has impacted so much on the different facets of life in the country, it is a befitting tribute to highlight the practical demonstration of his belief in God’s hands in his affairs, and the indisputable proof that he is, indeed, a pencil in the hands of his Creator.
Otunba Balogun is a rare breed. He was born to Muslim parents, but he is a Christian who has not forgotten his religious roots. He demonstrated his penchant to dare from childhood, the same character trait that has seen him succeed in everything he sets out to do – including where others failed.
He was just 13 when he took the bold step to convert to Christianity, while at Igbobi College, Yaba, Lagos, though without resistance from any quarter, thanks to an educated mother who did not see anything wrong in such a major decision by a teenager who would normally not be considered capable of making an informed decision, especially on an issue as sensitive as religion.
His decision to embrace Christianity at an impressionable age enabled him to be a follower of Jesus Christ, which explains why Christianity has become his life. Now out of the limelight of banking, if he is not involved in one philanthropic gesture or the other, he is engaged in his favourite past-time of studying the scriptures to know more about God and God’s purpose in life. He found out, many years ago, that the more he studied about God, the more he knew Him, and the more God impacted on his life. It is the reason he considers himself a man with a special place in God’s heart.
Two examples of God’s rare intervention in his life would suffice, incidentally, interventions at no other place than His place of worship. When Balogun indicated interest to be the secretary of the Nigerian Industrial Development Bank (NIDB) where he worked, a very powerful Nigerian swore he could hold the position only over his dead body. The statement turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, for the man died in the first military coup of January 15, 1966, while his preferred candidate who got the job died in an accident shortly after assuming office. No one fights the Almighty Creator or resists His move and stands to boast.
A chance meeting with an Indian General Manager of NIDB in the premises of the Cathedral Church of Christ on Marina, Lagos revealed to him that the office of secretary would be re-advertised. He applied for the job and got it, even when many did not give him a chance.
Again, in the premises of the same church in November, 1979, on learning that the then Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, was going to worship in the church, Otunba Balogun and his wife planned an “ambush” for the nation’s number two citizen and his wife. As the number two couple walked down the aisle, the daring Balogun broke security cordons to hold onto the hem of the Vice President’s garment, while his wife did hte same to Ekwueme’s wife, much to the shock of onlookers and security operatives who were restrained by the former Vice President.
Right there, in the church premises, Balogun demanded from Dr. Ekwueme the banking license he had applied for, and succeeded in getting an invitation to Dodan Barracks, the seat of power then, which began the process that led to the issuance of the license to start First City Merchant Bank (FCMB).
His effort to establish the bank itself was considered a mirage, since private ownership of a bank at that time was unheard of. But Otunba Balogun relied on God to do the impossible.
It would be an understatement to say that the Almighty has been extraordinarily kind to this quintessential banker in all his endeavours, and has guided his path in his 83 years on the planet. God gave him the vision to establish a financial institution that would grow, like the acorn seed, into an iroko with numerous branches. God gave him a wife – Olori Abimbola Adetutu Balogun (nee Ayoola) – who has been a pillar of support throughout his life’s journey. God gave him children who have done credit to his name and reputation.
His love for white colour symbolises purity, which is indicative of his closeness to God, something he is very proud to talk about. He wears only white, and is usually decked in traditional attires, to reflect his current status in the traditional institution that he represents. This is a departure from his days as a banker, when his trademark business suits were part of his identity. Indeed, the doyen of banking is credited with compelling wearing of suit by bankers. This love of white manifests in his collection of white-coloured cars, including the most exotic automobiles money can buy. His eye-popping mansions in Ikoyi and Ijebu Ode are also painted white.
At 83, the staunch Christian has no other wish than God’s mercy for more years on earth, to enable him repay His kindness through philanthropy. A beneficiary of God’s blessings, his greatest wish is to spend the rest of his life as an instrument of blessing to others. It is the reason he considers contribution to the growth of religion an appropriate channel through which to serve his Creator. He has made contributions to Christian and Islamic causes a top priority.
Though a devout and practicing Christian, Otunba Balogun has not forgotten the religion into which he was born. In a rare show of open- mindedness, tolerance and demonstration of the fact that all religions worship the same God, he has made numerous contributions to various Islamic causes, prominent among which is an endowment of an annual award of scholarships to the best students at the Muslim College, Ijebu Ode, in honour of his late father who was a devout Muslim.
The IyeSubomi Scholarship, a scholarship programme he instituted in honour of his mother, targets Christian and Muslim students as beneficiaries. His contributions to the propagation of Christianity in his native Ijebuland, Ogun State, Lagos State where he resides and Nigeria as a whole, are too numerous to mention. But unlike the Biblical prophet that is without honour at home, Balogun has been deservedly given his due recognition by the Christian community in the entire Ijebu land. On March 9, 1997, they installed him the Asiwaju of Ijebu Christians.
He also organises an annual Christian crusade in his Ijebu Ode home every first week of January, which is preceded by an annual Christmas Carol in the same venue every year. They are occasions when the low, the mighty and the general populace of Ijebuland across different socio-economic spheres, including the Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Adetona, gather in Otunba Tunwase’s Court-the residence of Otunba Subomi Balogun to thank, glorify and pray to the Almighty God for His mercies, prosperity and sustainability of the Ijebus at home and in the Diaspora.