BY CAMI EZENWA
With some other birthday celebrations, you probably would be okay with the regular sumptuous meals and chilled drinks that naturally flow. However, if the bash is in honour of one of the leading lights in Nigeria’s banking sector, one whom many have come to recognize as its ultimate czar, you could be charged for expecting just food and drinks. You could in fact bet on life nuggets capable of steering you from the brinks to the frontlines.
So it was recently when philanthropist of note, banker of purpose, cerebral thinker and leading socialite, Otunba Subomi Balogun turned 85.
There was much to munch and sip, but much more a ceaseless flow of life’s lessons, philosophical sayings and nuggets of unquantifiable values. From his facial dispositions to his bodily apparels, down to gestures in cash and kind, morals were not in short supply.
He has many fitting positive epithets, each sphere of his life a lesson in itself.
Born on March 9, 1934 to the Fasengbuwa Ruling House of Ijebu-Ode, in today’s Ogun State, Otunba (Dr.) Subomi Balogun had his secondary education at Igbobi College, Yaba, Lagos, from where he passed out with Cambridge School Certificate Grade One in 1952.
He was a pioneer student of College of Arts, Science and Technology, Ibadan, where he obtained a GCE Advanced Level Certificate.
He later to the prestigious London School of Economics (LSE) to study Law in 1956, and graduated with a Second Class Honours degree in June, 1959.
He was called to the English Bar in December, 1959.
He was later to become the first Nigerian to receive special training in Legal Drafting at Whitehall and the City of London, with particular specialisation in financial legislation, instruments and agreements.
This he did on the sponsorship of the then Western Regional Government. Back to Nigeria, Otunba Balogun served as Crown Counsel in the Ministry of Justice of Western Nigeria and, later, as Assistant Parliamentary Counsel in the Federal Ministry of Justice.
He cut his teeth in the world of banking at the Nigerian Industrial Development Bank (NIDB) where he was the first Principal Counsel and Company Secretary for nine years, from 1966 to 1975.
Many years later, he left after a meritorious service to find FCMB Group, which is today, entrenched in the financial services delivery in the country.
Below, we present perspectives of the man to our readers, in his own words:
Strength at 85:
At 85, I am agile. I have not retired. It is true I do not go to the office again. Whenever I have the opportunity, I just pop in to see what is happening. It is the grace of God.
Celebrating his birthday
The whole essence of my celebration is to give thanks to my maker, and to ask Him to endow me with the wherewithal to continue to be appreciative for all that He has done for me.
Humility in honour
Sometime ago, I was given an award together with the famous writer, Chinua Achebe, and some other people, by the University of Ibadan. I was about turning 50 then and the other awardees were already in their sixties and even older.
When I was called to be given my doctorate degree, I put my hands together like someone who was praying. And Chinua said to me, “Mike, you are getting a doctorate degree before turning 50. What is your secret?” Instead of giving him a verbal response, I just put my hands together to signify that it was due to prayer.
On why he always prefaces his talks and answers with God
It is a measure of my appreciation to attribute everything that has happened to me to the amazing grace of the almighty God. I am just humbled by the awesomeness of the almighty God to think of a puny human being like me.
I see my contemporaries, people who had achieved even before I was born, and those I consider my mentors, and on every given occasion, I am amazed as to why God has been so kind to me. I will spend the rest of my life thanking Him. There are many of my peers who have one problem or the other, but I am still hale and hearty. I still swim regularly.
Insight on his family background
In Ijebu, there used to be three Balogun families – Kuku, Odunuga and Sarumi. I am from the illustrious Borogun family. The Kukus and Odunugas were children of Odufemi. But beyond that, I happen to be a primus inter pares among royalty.
I am a direct descendant of the Awujale, who had the courtesy of receiving, in 1892, representatives of the British Queen, and he allowed them to preach Christianity which was unheard of before that time.
If you tried to preach Christianity in Ijebu before 1892, you would be pursued with ‘oro’. But my own progenitor allowed that to be done. He even allowed some of his children to be converted to Christianity.
And he gave them the land on which the first church in Ijebu land was built. However, he wasn’t partial. He also gave the Muslims the site on which the first mosque in the community was built. It was in the process of going to thank the Awujale for that gesture that The Ojude Oba ceremony started.
Many people know that in 1959, I was called to the English Bar. Many people also know that the then government of the Western Region trained me as the first parliamentary draftsman. When the British were passing the Nigeria Independence Act, I was the first black face to be seen in the official box. This is the only background I have.
Reason for his rare kind of humility
I know my parents, even though they were affluent, had the common touch. They didn’t walk about with airs. If you witness the way my domestic staff talk to me, you would be amazed. You would wonder why there is so much familiarity between us. I get so involved in their personal lives.
I ascribe everything to the grace of God. I believe that before God, I am a fallen mortal. I just happened to be one of the children of God that has been endowed with His grace. Much of what I am doing is not I. It is God. If you look round Ijebu Ode, my age mates that are still alive are few.”
Optimism to life
I am a child of God and it would be wrong of me to conclude that God has completed His work in my life. I have thrown myself as a free agent to God for Him to use me in whatever way He chooses. I am also praying for something very interesting. By the time I’m 90, I would be praying for 100. And I would still want to be articulate at that age.
Feeling at 85
“I live a life of much younger generation than myself. I still write long articles. I still prepare speeches. I have that rare gift. I do not have to jot before I talk. I am inspired. I am not missing anything. But I am conscious of the fact that I am no longer the young man I used to. I have my limitation at 85.
Important reflections in life
“Most times in the weekdays, I wear my suits. I still remember that I was a bank official. I still remember that I started my career as a lawyer. I still remember that I was a secondary teacher to most of the distinguished Ijebu indigenes you see. I am still wondering, if not for the grace of God, how can I be strong at 85.
Greatest optimism in life
“I am convinced that my God loves me. Whatever success, opulence you see about me, it is through the love of God. In essence, I have put all my cares, desires and aspiration in the hands of God. I always accept His guidance and direction for my life. The first thing is that you must aspire that God loves you. Once God loves you, every other thing is place”
Any Regrets In Life?
“There is nothing I did I wish I had not done. I have no regrets over any of my past actions. When I was starting FCMB, I said I was coming with a culture of excellence and I defined what the culture of excellence would be. I was the first to create a special dining room for banks. I was the first to insist that my staff should be wearing dark suits. I wouldn’t say that I am anything more than a human being but there is the unseen hand of God holding me. If I come again, I would do all that I have done again”.