The Olori Omo-Oba @ 86: A legacy of excellence, lifetime of impact
It is not always that you find the prized virtues of humility and selflessness domiciled in a single individual of outstanding means and affluence, a blue blood modestly defined. There is no better way to describe it than divine grace; specie specially dispatched from above. The impact is not only far reaching, but the evidence is also enduring.
Otunba Michael Olasubomi Balogun readily comes to mind when the issues of impactful living via philanthropy, thoughtful philosophy, and visionary entrepreneurship are mentioned in Nigeria. He belongs to that rare class, who by inspiration, birthed solid institutions that have stood the test of time. It is in this sense that you cannot discuss the Nigerian banking sector today, especially impactful enduring banking without due credence to First Monument Bank (FCMB). That premium-banking brand remains a testament to his entrepreneurial ingenuity and monumental contributions towards the nation’s economic growth and development.
Aside helping the regulatory agencies in realising their fiscal and monetary policies aspirations, FCMB is a key service provider to the Nigerian banking public and an employer of labour. It is a pride of an institution that globally plays its role in elevating Nigeria’s corporate reputation. All of these would not have been if the Olori Omo-Oba Akile Ijebu did not envision, and beyond envisioning, work in both clement and inclement weathers.
The man himself has shared his personal experiences in published books and memos how for example, the timing was not just ripe, or supposedly so for the regulatory agencies to give at that time, a banking license to an individual. But he never deterred. Clarity from his vision and dogged determination ensured he withstood all opposition, eventually receiving the licence to operate a bank. The rest, like they say, is history.
FCMB today has taken its place, a frontline place and as a strategic contributor to the economy of the country. For this Nigerian patriot, a visionary, first class banker, foresighted entrepreneur and humanist, the month of March is unique, being the month of his birth.
At 86 this month, Olasubomi Balogun remains a philosopher-king, a moral force, a father figure and a true patriot who has built bridges across ethnic barriers, helping to entrench the spirit of oneness in the country, and never discriminates. As a respected community leader, he is very much appreciated because he has made his life and impact felt in his community as well as other communities in Nigeria.
Truly, as a leading philanthropist, he has touched lives and restored destinies, by giving to worthy causes. A pioneer role model, he has distinguished himself in many ways, and cultured generations of Nigerian entrepreneurs on excellent business ethics, replete in his business mantra-The Culture of Excellence. Aside FCMB, other firms in the full stable include CSL stockbrokers, Credit Direct Limited, FCMB Pensions Limited, FCMB Capital Markets Limited (FCAM), among many others in different sectors, all owing their existence to the ideals of this man.
As much as these organisations command respect in different sectors and fields, their collective success has not in anyway, made the man stop working. The grand master of the Nigerian financial services sector, remains on the spot of action, driving growth, motivating commitment, creating leaders, gathering souls for the Lord, call him an evangelist, if you so desire, though he shies away from this fact, you have not made a mistake. Recapping the highlights of this life of purpose and the celebration could be understood from different perspectives.
On his birth
I was born in Ijebu-Ode; I can’t deny that I am from a notable family in Ijebu. I happen to be a primus inter pares among royalties. I’m a direct descendant of the Awujale (king of Ijebuland) who had the courtesy of receiving representatives of the British Queen in 1892. And he allowed them to preach Christianity, which was unheard of then. Anyone, who tried to preach Christianity before 1892, was driven away with Oro (a Yoruba deity). But my own progenitor allowed that to be done. He even allowed some of his children to be christened and gave them the land on which the first church in Ijebuland was built. Only he wasn’t partial. He also gave the Muslims the site on which the first mosque was built. It was in commemoration of going to thank the Awujale that the idea of the Ojude Oba festival started. They were all going to the Oba’s palace to show appreciation for what he had done.
Even though my parents were affluent, they had a common touch. We didn’t put on airs. Two things I like and have a weakness for are my white dress and my white cars. Maybe it is because my parents had the opportunity of putting me on the right track
When I started First City Monument Bank, FCMB, I wanted it to have a solid character and integrity.
The God factor in his life
My name, Olaotan and Olaonipekun mean wealth has no end. I’m throwing myself to God for him to make me whatever he wants. And I am enjoying it. I want to thank my Maker for his benevolence to me. In all humility, I’m using this opportunity to let people know how appreciative I am for what the good Lord has done for me. I marvel at every occasion and ask why God has been so kind to me. It’s the amazing grace of God. I attribute everything to the awesomeness of God. His love for little me is awesome. I now spend most of my time talking about God as a measure of my appreciation. I will spend the rest of my life just thanking him”.
Philosophy of goodness
If I see someone doing something good, I would rather emulate the person than criticise him. At a point in life, I said the purest thing I want is to be close to my God and God has allowed me to do that”.
I had good education. I went to one of the most illustrious secondary schools in Nigeria, Igbobi College. I came out with a very good grade. Then I went to Britain and studied law. I qualified at a very young age. At 25, I was one of the youngest lawyers in the Western Region. Then I tried to be very close to my God, always seeking His guidance, and it is the answer to such prayers that brought me to where I am today. The then government of Western Region trained me as the first Parliamentary draftsman. When the British were passing the Nigerian Independence Act, I was the first black face to be seen in the official box.
My Healthy living at 80s
I still do certain things people won’t expect me to do. I still go swimming. I still wear shorts. I am a child of God. It would be wrong for me to conclude that God has concluded his work in my life. I’m throwing myself as a free agent for him to use me till the very end. And I am also praying for something very interesting. By the time I am 90, I would be praying to be 100 and I would still want to be articulate and maintain my cerebral gifts. A friend of mine once visited and asked why I still use a staircase when there is an elevator. I said I still want to be walking like a sprinter. These are my prayers and my approach to God. I talk about it as the culture of excellence at FCMB. I always want the best but I’m not arrogant about it. Rather, I am consumed with my appreciation to my God, the Almighty.
Rare philosophy about philanthropy
When people approach me for something, though I’m not Father Christmas, I will at least do something; I won’t send anybody away. I don’t know why I do these things; God pushes me to do it. It is not that I have an ostentatious lifestyle. I am even scared to tell you because they amaze me. I regard myself as a special agent sent by my God to do all these. I am doing a lot which I don’t like people to know. When God gave me this endowment, he didn’t want me to spend it on myself. He wants me to use it for the upliftment of my neighbours. And my neighbours are not just my family or domestic staff. Everyone is my neighbour. I will pass through this world but once. Any good I can do, let me do it now; that’s what drives me.
A rare example
During the opening of a children ‘s ward in honour of my mother with many top dignitaries who were present, we saw a taxi driver screech to a stop in front of us. A woman, who was about to get down from the taxi delivered a baby in our presence. I decided to adopt that child and he was named Subomi; he has just left university. He even added my name to his surname.
Attitude to critics and criticisms
Anybody, who listens to critics, won’t be able to do the work of God. It is not easy for somebody who is successful not to be criticised. The mere fact someone has succeeded in life would make some people not to like the person. People should humbly do what they are doing and leave the rest to God because our God sees the mind and he will continue to provide to enable us to do what we are doing for his cause.
At the time we created FCMB, something was pushing me to do it. The reason was that I helped to set up another bank, which is now dead. And I thought I deserved being made the head. They didn’t want me. They said I was only a lawyer. I prayed to God. My nine-year-old boy, who is now almost 50 went to his mother and said, ‘why is daddy praying to be head of another person’s bank? Why doesn’t he start his own?’ The story is in my book. I went to the chapel and prayed, singing songs of praise. From my chapel, I walked into my study. I prepared all the papers. A few weeks later, I set up City Securities. Luckily, the indigenisation programme came up during the military era and foreigners had to sell their shares. I was the numero uno in this country. Everybody who wanted to sell shares came to me. After that, I decided to start my own bank.
People thought it was impossible. Someone said I would either end up as a multi-billionaire or go to jail. I applied. I didn’t have any foreign partner. My God was my only partner. They didn’t give me a licence initially. I went to church. I saw Alex Ekwueme. I asked my wife to grab his wife’s garment. I asked him, ‘Mr. Vice-President, what is happening to my licence? He said I should come and see him and assured me he would give me a licence. That was how I got it. And no Nigerian before then, had single-handedly set up that type of bank.
Beginning his day
When I wake up first thing in the morning, my wife comes in and we have a family prayer. I open-up as if I’m communicating with my earthly father; I pour out my mind. I will pray for my wife and myself, then I will pray for my children and their families my neighbours, my friends and then the people who work with me. I do the same thing the last thing in the evening when I go to bed. Unless there is something extraordinary, by 9:30, I’m in my bed. After praying, I don’t communicate again. If you telephone me when I’m in bed, I don’t pick. But I will respond in the morning. I attend church regularly every Sunday. If I were not in the church, I would probably be worshipping somewhere.