Subomi Balogun: The man who changed banking takes final bow
Otunba Subomi Balogun

Adebayo Obajemu

By the time he bowed out in glory and dignity uncommon in his country at 89, Otunba Subomi Balogun was already a household name. His own personal victory goes beyond success in financial world, fame and all the appurtenances that accompany life of the upper class.

His victory is that in a society of can, scandals and tainted money, Balogun remained, till the end, shoulder high, head held high, untainted by scandals or tarred with brush of easy money acquired through immoral means.

Were it not for its pejorative connotation, he qualifed for membership of the Over-class-
but the term generally imply excessive and unjust privilege and exploitation of the rest of society, which Balogun was not. In other words, he was the antithesis of what the Over-classers stand for – generous to a fault and an embodiment of righteous living and philanthropy.

For the puritans and those not interested in earthly pleasures, Balogun may have sinned in his sartorial elegance, the impeccably dressed always, clean and good- looking, an ideal that may not resonate with those, who set less store by appearance, preferring the spartan discipline of the early Buhari

Early in his life, according to those close to the banker – for Balogun was the founder of First City Merchant Bank, which metamorphosed to FCMB Group – he had a clear vision of what he wanted to do and achieve in life.

He believed the legal profession offers an elixir to success in other spheres, thus after his secondary education at the famous Igbobi College, he proceeded to the London School of Economics and Political Science for his law degree.

Armed with this, he entered the world of finance- investment, money and financial market to find his fortune. He returned to Nigeria to join the Ministry of Justice, Western Region. From the regional Ministry of Justice where he was a Crown Counsel, Balogun found a new post as a Parliamentary Counsel in the Federal Ministry of Justice.

After the January 1966 coup, he joined the Nigerian Industrial Development Bank. At NIDB, his interest in investment banking led him to advocate for the establishment of merchant bank sponsored by NIDB. When ICON securities, a merchant banking outfit was established in 1973, as a subsidiary of NIDB, Balogun moved to ICON Ltd as a director of operations.

When Balogun’s ambition to head ICON was not realised, he left the firm to found City Securities, a stock broking and issuing house. City Securities developed relationships with Mobil, Texaco and Total petroleum marketing companies, handling the companies equity offerings. He pioneered private ownership of banks in the country. He once talked of how he pursued former military president, Ibrahim Babangida, everywhere to get his attention to approve his application for banking license.

In 1989, he applied for a merchant banking license to establish First City Merchant Bank. Balogun was inspired by the entrepreneurial works of Siegmund Warburg, who co-founded S.G. Warburg, he visited Warburg in London prior to establishing his merchant bank.

He often told the anecdotal story of how his son inspired him to take the leap in starting the bank. When the operations of the bank took effect in 1993, Balogun established an entrepreneurial culture at the new bank, unique as an owner managed bank in contrast to the government owned banks at the time.

“Balogun is a baron of the Nigerian capital and money markets; doyen, pioneer and role model of entrepreneurial banking in Nigeria,” an FCMB press release celebrating its CEO read in part.

He was also said to be a constructive philanthropist and a distinguished church leader, who devoted a substantial part of his private resources toward the care and service of the less privileged.

Balogun talking about his own inevitable death said of himself: “When the final call comes, you will just open your hands and say, God, here I am. To be able to do that, you need the grace of God,’’ he was quoted to have said.

On his famed philanthropy, the FCMB statement on him reads:

“His story is that of a man, who understood early in life that the true essence of wealth is achieved only when it is deployed to the service of humanity, especially the less privileged. A man of proven immense wealth, who is highly regarded, respected and honoured in society, the honour bestowed on Otunba Balogun does not, however, stem from the immensity of his wealth, but from the good use to which he has put this wealth for the service of humanity.”

During his lifetime, many, who were close to him stated that Balogun was of a strong character with unwavering inner convictions that earned him resounding successes in many spheres of life.

He once said “I have a very strong character. There is nothing that I did that I wish I had not done. I have no regret over any of my past actions,” the late billionaire was quoted to have said.

Reflecting on his life during an interview with The PUNCH in 2019 on his 85th birthday, Balogun said, “I am at peace with my God. I marvel on every occasion at why He has been so kind to me. I don’t have any airs about me; I am always myself. I can only credit this to the amazing grace of God.

“At the climax of anything I may have achieved, I attribute everything to the awesomeness of God and His love for little me. I spend all my time talking about God. A friend recently called me and said he noticed that before I say three words, I would mention 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.”

Balogun built a National Pediatric Centre in Ijebu-Ode that he donated to University of Ibadan’s University College Teaching Hospital.

A direct descendant of Oba Tunwase of Ijebu-Ode, Chief Balogun once held the chieftaincy title Otunba Tunwase of Ijebuland. He was also the Olori Omoba of Ijebuland and the Asiwaju of Ijebu Christians. He did much to promote Christianity in his native Ijebu Ode. When the history of banking is written like his fellow Yoruba banking colossus, Samuel Asabi, he will occupy an exalted place.

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