By CHARLES KUMOLU
A remarkable Nigerian and Group Chairman, First City Group (a financial conglomerate comprising First City Monument Bank, FCMB Capital Markets, First City Assets Management, CSL Stockbrokers and City Securities), Otunba Subomi Balogun reflects on his 85 years on earth and credits his success to a deep faith in God.
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.
Talking about God
I’m extremely grateful to my maker for making me very agile, very meticulous, and very articulate. I am still behaving like a 60-year- old. I want to thank my maker for his benevolence to me. The whole essence of my celebration is to give thanks to my maker. 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.
Even at 85, I’m amazed. I have many friends who are 85 but they have one problem or the other. I went with my wife on my boat. And we went as far as Ilashe. People were wondering how I could still be walking around the boat in slacks. I don’t know what I have done to deserve this grace from God.
I 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.
Things of the past
However, these are things of the past. That doesn’t immediately make me whatever I am today. Maybe it is because my parents had the opportunity of putting me on the right track. 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 parents were affluent
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.
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. When I started First City Monument Bank, FCMB, I wanted it to have a solid character and intergrity.
I would be praying for 100
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.
I always believe there is something more. 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.
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 in my bank. I always want the best but I’m not arrogant about it. Rather, I am consumed with my appreciation to my God.
On mother’s burial
Since I’m Otunba Tunwase, I decided to bring her body from Lagos to Ijebu in a motorcade of over 100 vehicles. My royal father arranged that all the kings in Ijebu send their staff of office.
People were praying that they should have a Subomi as a child. But, I was only honouring my mother.
When people approach me for something, even though I’m not Father Christmas, I will at least do something. I won’t send anybody away.
During the opening of a children ‘s ward in honour of my mother with many top dignitaries 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. I decided to adopt that child and he was named Subomi. He has just left university. He even added my name to his surname.
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
Succeed in life
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 that someone 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 that the he will give me a licence. That was how I got it. And no Nigerian before then had single-handedly set up that type of bank.
On Daily Routine
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 will pour out my mind. I will pray for my wife and me, then I will pray for my children, then 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. I may respond in the morning.
I attend church regularly every Sunday. If I am not in the church, I would probably be worshipping somewhere.
*Anybody who listens to critics won’t be able to work for God.
*Somen can’t be successful without being criticised
*I have a culture of excellence