Symbols of consolation, they had, by their deeds across time, reverently and consistently lifted the banners of genuine brotherhood, business integrity, dexterity, true statesmanship, exemplary industry, perseverance, and every other value of importance. And by a mixture of sheer grit and hard work, while steering their business brands, they became creators of employment, bastions of treasured values, crusaders of sustainability and worthy legacies, incubators of financial substances, as well as society’s solid standard references for success and notable history makers.
In this pack was the cerebral entrepreneur, a rare gem with panache, a Christian with an infectious value system, and the possessor of many positively inspiring titles – the late Otunba (Dr) Michael Olasubomi Balogun (CON). Call him a symbol of the true Nigerian dream, and you would be stating the obvious. That dream encapsulated warm relationships with and accommodation for people of other ethnicities, religions and cultural values, patriotism, and visioning – vital ingredients in the founding and nurturing of enterprises, as well as the spirit of altruism and help for others in need. In all these, the beloved Olori Omo-Oba Akile Ijebu had quite an impressive record.
Days to his last breath, he was mobilising prayers for his royal father – the Awujale of Ijebuland, and several others across the length and breadth of the land,that God should give them more time to live in good health in the land of the living. He spoke to many on the telephone, praying, thanking, and appreciating them for their good deeds, love, commitment, and loyalty to him.
Did he know his own time was up? Only God reveals.
Many stories of him in the public space are tonics for motivation, for embedded in them are the lessons of dexterity, doggedness, and commitment. A typical example is the story of the quest to obtain a banking license for the First City Monument Bank (FCMB), which today has become a premium banking brand. “What I did at that time was unheard of in this country, for one individual to say he wanted to establish a bank.
“But I was inspired by my God through the mouth of my 9-year-old son. We were praying, and the little boy went to his mother and said, ‘I pity Daddy. Why can’t he start his own business instead of wanting to be the chief executive of somebody else’s bank?” In obeying that submission, however, Otunba Balogun faced hurdles, which would have overwhelmed him if he didn’t have vision, commitment, and the help of God.
In retrospect, Otunba Balogun, had not failed at any point, to appreciate and recognise the contributions, support, and guidance of late Alhaji Otiti, a then deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the late former vice president, Dr Alex Ekwueme, who were used directly by God to assist him in doing what many people thought was impossible.
He confirmed they were there for him, through the entire process till the Central Bank approved and issued him a banking license.
Here again, you cannot but agree that divinity was at work for him, ensuring the opening of another door upon the closing of one. Rather than Otiti, it was former vice president, now late Chief Alex Ekwueme, who had been a friend well before the civil war,that God positioned for him and used. Balogun and his wife had resolved to ‘waylay’ Ekwueme at a church service.
“At the Cathedral Church, my wife and I planned that when Alex was being led-out that, I would grab his cloth, and my wife would grab that of his wife. When we made the moves, the security people with them thought something was wrong with us, but Alex looked back and said,’Subomi, Bimbola, what is happening?
“Do you know what I told him? I said, ‘Mr. Vice President, please why the delay in approving for me, a banking license?’ So, Alex said we should come to see him, and he assured me that by the following Thursday, the process would have been completed, and I would get my license. By 3 pm on that Thursday, a minister phoned me, and said, ‘Egbon (Big Brother), congratulations, the vice president says your license has been approved’. True friendship, across ethnic lines had spoken, a friendship that had taken strong roots long before Otunba’s moment of need.
Otunba Balogun himself emphasised that it was an evident example of reciprocity, and the lesson learnt was increasingly apparent. He recalled, “The first house I built in my life in Apapa, Alex had the next building to mine. As soon as the war started, some pool players took over the house and converted it to a gambling house. They would be there until midnight, but to protect my own house from being burgled by those people, I had to arrange for the police to evacuate them. And having done that, I renovated the house and rented it out to a lady from the East, and I was receiving the rent.
When the war ended, Alex Ekwueme returned to Lagos and came to see me. After the exchange of pleasantries, I went to my room and brought out a big envelope.”
Otunba Balogun narrated, “In those days, we didn’t use cheques much, it was all cash. So, I gave him the money. I told him I renovated his house, rented it out and that was the rent I had collected. Alex looked at me, and in utter disbelief said, “Mike, I am very grateful.” It is this kind of reciprocity that only men of integrity are made of. It can be imagined what could have happened, if Otunba had not, before then, shown himself trustworthy. Perhaps, his aspiration to birth a bank would have remained a pipe dream. On the other hand, having been tested, he became trusted, and when he needed help, to establish a bank, fulfilling the requirements, help came readily and easily.
Today, several other companies have sprouted from the brand, and they include: FCMB Group Plc, subsidiaries such as First City Monument Bank (FCMB), CSL Stockbrokers, FCMB Capital Markets, First City Asset Management Limited (FCAM), Credit Direct Limited, FCMB Microfinance Bank and FCMB UK. There are also, FCMB Pensions Limited and FCMB Trustees Limited.
There was more to the life of this man to demonstrate his ever willingness to be of service. For example, in a situation where many still cause divisions, using religious inclination, Otunba Balogun, had by his philanthropy, not only blurred the line, but obliterated it. He gave to the Jew as much as he did to the Gentile. So much, he took it upon himself to invest in the spiritual growth of Christians in his hometown, through an annual retreat and many more.
Interestingly, this retreat also accommodated Muslims. Many still look forward and pray that this great deed and legacy, even in the absence of Otunba Balogun, be sustained. What was the essence? The objective was to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, worship the Almighty God, touch, and impact humanity. Why not, when he was made the Asiwaju of Ijebu Christians, even when his mother was the Iyasuna of Muslims there, he had continued to enjoy the prayers and well wishes of all and sundry. “If God singled me out and made me what I am, who am I not to show appreciation to Him for the unique endowment this good Lord has made to me? It is for this reason that I do whatever I do”.
He was Otunba, and further, they also decided to make him the Olori Omo-Oba (the head of all the princes) and yet, the Asiwaju of Ijebu Christians as well as the Olori-Ebi of the Arojojoye Ruling House in Ijebu Ode, of Ogun State. That town is also host of the multi-billion naira Otunba Tunwase Paediatric Centre which he had given out as a total gift to the University of Ibadan and the University College Hospital (UCH), both in Ibadan.This was aside regular donations and lending support to worthy courses far and wide which altogether, continually proclaim the kindheartedness of this true symbol of a classic Nigerian brand.
“I am always joyous to do good and to have people around me, wherever you come from. And the good Lord has always been faithful to me.” Otunba Balogun also proved that people did not always hit it big early in their careers but should see each modest stage in life as a step to something greater in the future. His immediate job before jetting out of the country for the proverbial Golden Fleece was as a classroom teacher. And even when he was done with schooling in the United Kingdom, he did not allow the flashy lifestyle there to tie him down.
Many other jobs he landed had enough perks to keep him hooked, but he was persuaded enough to give to each, only what was necessary. Such included the engagement at the Western Region’s Ministry of Justice, where he was a Crown Counsel and later, a Parliamentary Counsel, at the Nigerian Industrial Development Bank, a dream workplace, for many young Nigerians then and at the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), the famous World Bank, and its subsidiary, – the International Finance Corporation (IFC) both in Washington DC.
Armed with a bigger vision of himself and tomorrow, he promptly returned to the country and began to explore business ownership options. His rewards and recognitions had come in quantum – profit for investments, commendation for good works, good name around town, and fulfilment in life.
But the icing was joining the class of distinguished Nigerians, bestowed with the prestigious national honour of Commander of the Officer of the Niger (CON). For being a true symbol of the Nigerian dream, the late Otunba (Dr) Michael Olasubomi Balogun, deserves all the accolades. All men of goodwill obviously doff their hats today for this rare gift of a man and chorus for him, everlasting peace in the bosom of the good Lord. May the Lord rest his beautiful soul . Nothing less can suffice than to appreciate this gem with panache as we bid him farewell.