Subomi Balogun, The London-Trained Lawyer Who Had Weakness For Luxuries In White

Subomi Balogun, The London-Trained Lawyer Who Had Weakness For Luxuries In White

 

On Friday, Subomi Balogun breathed his last in London at 89. The demise was that of a titan whose footprints were golden tracks across different aspects of Nigerian society.

A renowned legal practitioner who participated in the drafting of the Act that initiated Nigeria’s independence, his feats as a banker have been woven into tales teaching younger generations grit, focus and management of success.

Balogun was a man of great opulence who confessed his “weaknesses” were white dresses and white cars.

He was a high-ranking Ijebu aristocrat from Ogun state with a litany of titles like Otunba Tunwase, the Olori Omo-oba of Ijebu, Baba Oba of Ijebu-Ife and the Asalu-Oba of Ijebu Mushin.

Balogun, who was a devoted Christian and would never narrate his success stories without punctuating them with hearty praise to the almighty, was also Asiwaju of all Ijebu people who shared his faith.

Born into a family of greats, Balogun’s success story was foretold before his birth. He had always been destined to be the sun that outshines all the stars that came before him.

A WEALTHY MAN FORETOLD FROM BIRTH
Balogun was born on March 9, 1934. To his mother, the Iya Sunna of Ijebu Muslims, it was immediately apparent that her new son was special. While she was straining in the labour room to squirt the toddler out into the world, it was said that there was an outpour of hail stones in Ijebu-Ode town. A rare occurrence was heralding the presence of a child. The mother believed that the hail stones symbolised abundance in Yoruba mythology, and she named him “Olasubomi”, which loosely translates as “I’m submerged in wealth.”

He was born a nebula into a family of stars, a prominent branch in the Ijebu-Ode lineage of rulers. Balogun was a direct descendant of Oba Adesumpo Tunwase, who signed the treaty of relationship with the British government.

His was a childhood of majestic splendour accentuated by horseback riding and appreciation for the colours of culture and tradition.

His father, Abdul Odutola Balogun, was an aristocrat and one of the first indigenes appointed court clerks during the colonial administration. He married four wives, with Iya Sunna as the last.

Subomi began schooling, and his academic brilliance further strengthened the clairvoyance that preceded his birth. His vibrant brain earned him admission into the prestigious Igbobi Grammar School.

There began a new thread in his life, a spiritual journey that would remain the cornerstone of his existence until he passed.

At 13, despite being from a staunch Muslim family, Subomi discovered he “appreciated Christ” and converted to Christianity.

“The day I wanted to convert, I didn’t tell my father. I arranged with my mother that very morning and rode my bicycle to church,” he said in an interview with Punch.

“My mother kept mum about it. She had always been a liberal person. I still remember her reading lullaby stories to us during bedtime; she read to us bible stories about creation, the ultimate power of God, and God loves us, which influenced me a lot.”

Not long after, he finished secondary school education with a grade 1 score. Balogun spent a brief period teaching English, Literature and Latin to students in some institutions in Lagos before moving to the UK to study law on September 22, 1956.

According to him, he decided to study law after seeing his father getting bossed around by lawyers who were younger than the man. At 22, with no law school in Nigeria, Balogun enrolled in the London School of Economics (LSE).

He was poached from the UK immediately after his studies by the federal government, and he was engaged as a parliamentarian draughtsman for Nigeria’s Independence Act of 1960.

“I was in my final year when Chief Awolowo and Chief Rotimi Williams contacted the London School of Economics and asked for a bright scholar from the western region,” he said.

“They requested that the person be trained as a parliamentary draftsman — someone who would draft laws. In my final year, I was picked and the government of the western region gave me a scholarship. Immediately after I graduated, I was called to the English bar in December 1959 — I moved to the British parliament to be trained. I had the fortune of sitting in the official gallery when the Nigerian Independence Act was being passed in the British Houses of Commons and Lords.

CAREER SWITCH TO BANKING
One constant theme in the smooth-sailing story of Balogun is destiny and what he described as the invisible hands of a divine being. He entered into banking in the most innocuous ways possible.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) was about establishing the Nigerian Industrial Development Bank (NIDB), and Balogun was informed by a friend privy to the information. He joined the bank as a lawyer and secretary and soon found himself fascinated by the readings of the stock exchange.

“Not long after that, the NIDB decided to send me to the World Bank in Washington and also to Wall Street in New York, and I felt it was an opening. There, I met distinguished lawyers who were heading stockbroking firms. I met investment bankers who were there,” he said.

“When I returned from my training, I went to my bosses and said we should have an investment bank as our subsidiary to be raising money and doing other things. It took them some time to accept. I didn’t know what their reason was. Maybe they thought I was ambitious, but God has his ways of opening doors for me.”

His ideas facilitated the establishment of Icons Securities Limited as a subsidiary of NIDB. He was appointed a co-director of the institution alongside Olutoyin Olakunri.

Everything changed when Olakunri left Icon Securities and one of the top brass at NIDB said Balogun was not qualified enough to lead a banking institution.

“My boss said to me, ‘You can’t be given the job, you’re only a lawyer. I will redeploy you to your law.’ Everybody knew me as the topmost man in the stock exchange. I was distressed that I wouldn’t be given the job. I ran around to everybody I knew in Lagos and some people in the chamber of commerce. And my boss said, ‘Well, we could make him a director and he would be strictly in charge of the stock exchange’,” he recounted in an interview with Tribune.

FCMB AND THE IDEA OF A NINE-YEAR-OLD
This was another turning point in the life of Balogun. The hindrance from the top brass shook him to his root, and he retreated into the invincible hands of the almighty.

During one of the prayer sessions with his family, a seed that would germinate into one of Nigeria’s oldest banks was planted.

“One evening after our prayers, my wife asked me if I heard what one of our sons said, and I said no. My wife told me that the boy wanted me to set up my own company. And I looked around and said, ‘Oh ye of little faith. How can a nine-year-old boy have an idea of me setting up a company?’ So, I went into the boy’s bedroom. He was already covering himself,” he said.

“I said to him, ‘Babajide, what did you tell your mummy?’ He said, ‘Daddy, I pity you. Why don’t you set up your own bank?’ So I went back to my altar and prayed. I said oh my God, please show me the way. As I prayed, I started singing a chorus in Yoruba (Oh my God, show me the way; don’t let me get into a wrong thing; show me the way of what I will do well), which many Christians sing in churches, especially in my part of Nigeria. That was the simple prayer. And when I thought I had had enough, I rose. Somehow, the tune of another song came into my mind: ‘You cannot fail; you cannot fail, because of Jesus you cannot fail.’”

First City Monument Bank (FCMB) was born following that epiphany. Abimbola, Balogun’s wife, was the confidential secretary of a bank established by a lawyer in the murky financial market of the country.

Challenges came and he could not get a banking licence from the CBN without a technical partner, and that would have been the death of FCMB except for the timely intervention of Alex Ekwueme, former vice-president of Nigeria.

Ekwueme was a former neighbor to Balogun. A shared history meant the then vice-president of the country could offer Balogun a favour.

“We had been friends before the war and he came back. So, in the church, in the Cathedral, my wife and I planned that when Alex is being led out that I will hold his dress and my wife will grab the dress of his wife,” Balogun recounted in an interview with Encomium.

“When we made the move as planned, the security people felt something was wrong with us. But Alex looked back and said Subomi, Bimbola, what is happening? Do you know what I said to him?

“I said, Mr Vice-President, why are you not giving me a licence? My wife went to his wife and said, Bee, my husband wants something only your husband can give him. Alex said I should come and see him. He assured me that the following Thursday, I would get my licence.

“By 3 pm on that Thursday, a minister telephoned me and said, egbon, congratulations, the vice-president said your licence has been approved.”

RELATIONSHIP WITH ALEX EKWUEME, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT
Balogun’s friendship with Ekwueme began long before the latter became the vice-president to Shehu Shagari in 1979. It was even earlier than the Nigerian civil war between 1967 and 1970.

The two families were neighbours in Bombay Street, Apapa area of Lagos, when the civil war broke out. Ekwueme, like every other indigene of south-east, returned home amid military clampdown and persecution from mobs.

Louts took over the empty house left behind by the Ekwuemes, and the daring land-grabbing attempt annoyed Balogun, who took drastic action.

“As soon as the war started, pool stakers seized his house and were playing pool there. They will be there till midnight or near morning,” Balogun said.

“I wanted to protect my own house. I don’t want people to jump into my house from Alex’s place and bungle or rob me.

“The first thing I did was to arrange with the police to evacuate them to protect myself. I did not want to leave the house lying fallow. So, I renovated the house and rented it out to a lady who came from the east, Uloma Nwachukwu, and I was collecting rent.

“When the war ended, Alex returned to Lagos, and he came to see me and I said, Alex, I am pleased to see you. I went into my room, brought out a big envelope with raw cash, and gave it to Alex. I told him that I renovated his house and rented it, which is the rent we collected from it. Alex couldn’t believe it. All he said was Mike, I am grateful. That was how the friendship started.”

THE PHILANTHROPIC OTUNBA TUNWASE OF IJEBULAND
Balogun was also a philanthropist and a passionate church leader who devoted a substantial part of his private resources towards the care and service of the less privileged.

In 2021, he built a N5 billion Otunba Tunwase Paediatric Centre donated to the University of Ibadan and University College Hospital (UCH) at Ijebu-Ode, Ogun state.

He also talked about his philanthropy and its impact on his immediate community.

“Anybody in Ijebu who would approach me for help, even though I’m not a Father Christmas, I would at least do something. I won’t send anybody away. Another story was when Ijebus were doing registration. My wife and I went to Ijebu-Ode Grammar School to register ourselves,” he said in a chat with Daily Independent.

“I came out in my simple dress and people were queuing and I took my position in the queue without going forward. Suddenly, the man conducting the registration just got up and asked that they allow the Otunba Tunwase to register.

“I greeted everybody and registered. I turned to the young man and asked to know him better because he made me break the rules.

“He said I made him. He then narrated how he used my scholarship through secondary school and how I gave him a university education. I asked to know his name and what he does.

“He said he made a first class in the university but was still looking for a job. I sent him one of my cards to FCMB. FCMB recruited him. Today, he is one of the senior managers in FCMB.”

 

 

THE CABLE

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