By Omoh Gabriel
C ome March 9th 2014, Otunba (Dr). Michael Olasubomi Michael Balogun will be 80 years on planet earth. At 80, most mortals look frail and sometimes senile, hardly able to piece words together. But talking to Otunba Balogun shows he has the presence of mind of a 60-year-old. He is agile, strong and reads without aid.
He attributes his good health and success in life to Almighty God. He hardly says two words without giving thanks to God. In what is more of a more of philosophical discussion with some journalists last week, he reflected on his life’s journey and concluded that he has no regrets for every decision and action he has ever taken. Here are excerpts of his saintly affirmations.
Why are you celebrating 80th birthday on reflection?
A number of people insisted that they want to know about my reflections at reaching the age of 80 and you should take it from me that I do not feel 80 and that is the grace of God in me. I do not want any controversial question and I am not interested in politics. I am a statesman, a man of God and I spend every minute of my life praising God.
How do you feel at 80?
There is a lot that you can pick from my modest 80 years to which I am profoundly grateful to my God. Let me read a letter to you that I wrote as an invitation by the grace of the Almighty God.
This letter went out in the month of January, but I said a reflection: By the grace of the Almighty God, the Alpha and the Omega and the ever faithful, come Sunday the 9th of March, 2014, I will be marking 80 years of my sojourn, we are all sojourning. Then I cast my mind back and reflect on the amazing and the abundant grace with which the good Lord has endowed me during this remarkable span of 80 years.
I am humbled, and at the same time bewildered by the awesome power of our God to crown with success and to protect his own chosen children in all human endeavour despite the unusual and negative intervention or resistance of fellow human beings.
What are your plans for the rest of your life here on earth?
With the greatest sense of humility, I am offering the rest of my life to continue to serve my God and humanity, as well as give thanks for all the good things the good Lord has done for me.
That is what the celebration is all about and thus I am bewildered by the amount of grace the good Lord has endowed me with, so I thought of going to church and thanking God in a choral communion service of praise and thanksgiving at the Cathedral Church of Christ, Marina on that exact date, a holy day, Sunday, the 9th of March 2014 by 1pm, after which we will be happy, if you can join us at the reception taking place at a special marquee to be erected at the TBS.
What are you expecting from your well wishers at the ceremony?
Rather than anyone offering me a birthday present, I will, with all due respect, want all my friends, relations and admirers to join me in the endowment of the institution which I built for the upliftment of health care, welfare and survival of children all over Nigeria and which will be named the Otunba Tunwase National Theatre Centre (OTNTC).
This institution is located on a 50-hectare land along Sagamu-Benin Expressway. It is equipped with the state-of-the-art medical appliances and it is both a primary and tertiary medical institution for treatment, referral purposes, research into and teaching about all diseases and other health problems of children and their nursing mothers.
I have only recently transferred the institution as a total gift to the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan and is now a satellite campus of the university.
My family and I, and the management of the institution namely — College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, will very much appreciate support for this humanitarian endeavour in lieu of any birthday present for me. No amount will be too small.
Looking several years back, how do you feel?
I am just overwhelmed by the enormous goodwill and grace the Good Lord has endowed me with. At times I keep on asking: Why me? And the only answer is to say maybe I am a fortunate son of God. So I just believe that I should spend the rest of my life to continue to give thanks and praise him for all that he has done for me, because there is no amount of anything that can be enough to thank God. So that is the theme of my birthday celebration. If you have the grace of God, celebrate it, celebrate old age with grace. That encapsulates the different ideas I have and the reason for celebrating my birthday.
You are a renowned banker, when did you veer into philanthropy?
I did not start philanthropy after I became a banker. I remember I was just about 36 when I set up some scholarship funds to train students in some schools in Ijebu. I gathered that at the last count, there were not less than about 300 university graduates that have benefited from my scholarship.
One of the schemes is in honour of my mother, and another is in honour of my father. But why particularly am I showing interest in children? Many years ago, the management of the University College Hospital, Ibadan, saw the dilapidated condition of their equipment and the whole environment, and they started inviting some distinguished Nigerians for help.
On the day I was invited, the late Chief Adebowale of Adebowale Electrical Industries, and Chief Michael Ibru and my myself were invited. We were being taken round the University College Hospital, and a cousin of mine, a physician, Professor Olumade Adeuja said; “Brother, come and look at the children’s ward in UCH at the children’s department.’
So I followed him. When I got there, a few things happened that really brought tears out of my eyes. Some of the children’s beds were an eyesore, just not what they should be.
Then I swore that I will spend most of the rest of my life looking into the welfare, survival and healthcare of children. So I adopted the children’s wing of the UCH.
That was when I just started the bank. I told the management of the UCH that I would adopt this wing of the University College Hospital. I decided to refurbish the whole place, restructure it, changed even the linens, bought electrical fittings, air conditioners and changed the whole place. It is still one of the best wings of the department of the university college.
Years later, to my surprise, I had a letter from Professor Osuntokun, then Medical Director, that the University Council and then Minister of Health, Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti have agreed that they should name that wing of the UCH after me.
If you go to UCH, the right wing, the first floor after the ramp is named the Otunba Tunwase Children’s Emergency Ward. It is one of the best maintained there and I do regular maintenance.
How then did the Ijebu Ode Hospital come about?
People from my home town, Ijebu-Ode, on seeing what I did at Ibadan said it is all around the whole place that you are doing everything but you have not done anything in your home town, Ijebu-Ode.
It was then I spoke to my royal father, I said if I am allowed, I would want to do something similar in Ijebu, if I could get a piece of land. Then I was asked to approach then Governor of Ogun State, Governor Lawal and he said I should just go to the General Hospital, that whatever I like, I should go ahead and do.
So I moved round, I saw a number of places, and I said “look, I need about 500 hectares. So I built a 40-bed air-conditioned children’s hospital which I named after my mother, the Iye Subomi Child Care Centre.
The miracle child
On the day it was being commissioned, God did something which I think is a miracle. Where we were all sitting down with the Ogun State Administrator and so many prominent Nigerians, suddenly we all heard a noise, they thought it was an accident and someone was being rushed to the hospital in a taxi.
To our surprise, with about 500 people watching, the driver got down and opened the door. Lo and behold, a woman who had been labouring just delivered her baby in the presence of everyone looking. I was moved, then I told one of my security staff around me and said go and tell them I will adopt that child.
So the parents decided to name the boy Subomi. I did not know the parents. That boy is now 20 years old and is in the university being maintained by me. He is actually a member of my family. In fact, whenever I am in Ijebu, he is always coming around together with his friends.
They all come to Otunba Tunwase compound. As a result of my interest in the welfare of children, I had a letter from the West African College of Physicians honouring me among other prominent Nigerians for what I had done for the medical field, particularly children.
At what point did you really embrace God considering your African background?
I did not tell you about my background which is also very interesting. My parents were very religious but they were Muslims.
When I was at Igbobi College, I was attending church services regularly and incidentally, my late mother was educated and she was the only educated wife of my father. I confided in her that I am going to be a Christian.
I accepted Jesus early in my life and was confirmed when I was 19 years. I am very firm and very much interested in the scriptures and that is because I read a lot, the more I read the more I get something into the unfathomable depth of the words of the Creator.
If I should continue on this thesis, I will write a book. But if you like, I will read another part of my book to you because it has been a progression.
I became so much involved in talking about Christ. As a student at the Nigeria College of Arts, I joined the Christian movement; this was an evangelistic outreach for students that were going to preach the word of God.
Bola Ige was our head then, he was not a politician then, he was a student (Christian movement). But as I grew up in Christianity, while I was in London, every Sunday, I would go and worship my God.
That was how I got to know General Gowon. We were staying in the same hostel in London.
Every Sunday, I would go to a church close to my hostel with General Gowon and a number of other people. That was how we created a relationship. Many Pentecostals became my friends but I did not deviate by leaving my own original church; the Anglican Communion.
At every stage in life, I found that the only way is standing with your God; always learning at His feet and I have always triumphed.
I have always trusted God
When I wanted to be secretary of Nigeria Industrial Development Bank, (that was why I got into banking, I trained as a lawyer), someone said; ‘Balogun can only become the secretary of NIDB over my dead body,’ I was scared. But I still continued praying. Do you know that fellow died in the first coup and his appointee also died in an accident?
One friend of mine, he is still alive, Kunle Ojora, (we were both staying at Glover Road, I was staying at number 14, he was staying at number 53), said; ‘Subomi, ori e ma le (meaning: Subomi, you are a tough one).’ He said he will never find someone like me, that ‘a person they wanted to offer your job to died on the way to Benin.’ I think I like talking about my appreciation to God rather than talking about controversial issues.
By January 15, the Nigerian coup occurred and the minister who said I could only be appointed over his dead body died. I was worshiping in the Cathedral one day, when an Indian gentleman saw me and recognised me and said ‘Have I seen your face before?’
I said yes, this face also looks familiar, who are you? He said he is the General Manager of NIDB and said I came for interview with the bank and then said he didn’t know what happened. We got to know ourselves.