Every January, Otunba Subomi Balogun, the founder of FCMB Group holds a New Year thanksgiving service at his sprawling Ijebu-Ode country home. Otunba Balogun who is also the Oloori Omooba Akile Ijebuland and the Asiwaju Onigbagbo of Ijebu had this year Thanksgiving a few days back, to thank God for all he has done for him and to also ask for new years blessings. This year he hosted friends, family, and business associates to celebrate the year.
After the Thanksgiving, he granted City People’s Bunmi Mustapha an interview about how his 9-year-old son, Ladi inspired him to set up FCMB and the men whom God used in helping him actualise his dreams.
In 3 months time, you will be 84 years, going by the kind of work you do, can you tell us the secret that has kept you sound, both in mind and physically?
That is the grace of God. You probably will notice that whenever I am in a gathering, particularly Christian gathering, the musicians will start playing nipa ife olugbala ki yo si nkan, I for one , I believe that it is the good Lord that is protecting me and guiding me and as such I am always glad to sing that song, but it is more than that, I am a child of God.
I believe fervently in it and I have thought that all my cares to the good Lord, and one of the benefits is that, at 84 I look young, if you get me to run 100 meters I’m not sure many people will beat me to it, I do a lot of walking and I also swim, every home of mine you will always find a swimming pool, and I am particularly grateful to God that even at 84, I am not only very agile and active, cerebrally I am active too. It is the grace of God because I know what is happening around us, you want to imagine, I am as active in Ijebu as I am active in Lagos and all over Nigeria. Within the Christian circle, I am well known, I genuinely worship my God.
In every home of mine, I have a chapel and different chapels, and on my birthday I go there first to thank God for mercies received and to pray for further mercies. The secret of it is that I throw myself into the hands of God and trust him that he will do the best for me.
Recently at the 90th birthday of former deputy governor of Central Bank, Alhaji Otiti , you mentioned something he did for you when you were trying to set up your bank. You never gave details. Can you share with our readers?
I am a very appreciative person when you do any good to me, and I was happy to give that testimony publicly, am doing the same thing with Alex Ekwueme. What I did that time was something impossible in this country, for one individual, single handedly to say he wants to create a bank. In those days they want you to go and bring a white man, a foreign, technical partner. Beyond that, in the history of Nigerian Banking industry, there was only one person who started something he named a bank , it was Agbomagbe bank started by the late Chief Okugbe.
He was doing what was called money lenders enterprise, it’s a system which enables someone to lend money and nothing more. But to say that you want to set up a bank providing financial services, you want to set up a bank and have branches all over the place without foreign technical partners had never been found in this country, but I was inspired by my God through the mouth of my 9 year old son, Ladi. We were praying and he went to his mother and said while we were praying I pity daddy, why can’t he go and start his own bank instead of wanting to be the chief executive of somebody else’s bank.
When my wife told me, I thought she was becoming faithless, that we are praying to God and so we should leave everything in the hands of God and then I told my wife that was the voice of God speaking through a 9 year old boy. The young man is 47 years old now and going to be 50 soon. He was just a young person and saying let the good Lord make daddy the managing director of his own bank, not somebody else’s bank.
It was a partly government bank but when he suggested it I told my wife that was the voice of God speaking through a 9 year old boy then I made up my mind to do it. Naturally human beings feel nothing is impossible with God in control so all I was doing was praying but God will not come personally back again to human life, he will use other people so it was Alhaji Otiti and the former vice president Alex Ekueme that were used directly by God to assist me in doing what many people thought was impossible, what many people did not see yet in Nigeria. In the case of Otiti, he was a deputy governor and someone in the central bank just mentioned to me that we cannot give you license because you do not have a technical partner and I told the person that God is my partner and in the fullness of time. Having said it I knew some people in the Central Bank, Ola Vincent, Alhaji Otiti and a few others .and so something just happened to me and I told my driver to drive me to Otiti’s house.
I got to his house and his house help told me that Otiti had gone to the governor’s home to break his fast they were both Muslims. So I told my driver to go to the governor’s house and we got there. By the time we arrived there, I was emotional and shedding tears so I got to his gate and said I must see Alhaja Otiti that I gathered he is with the Governor.
I think those young people seeing a big man crying, they said they have to help out so Otiti and the Governor rushed out and I said big brother, these people want to scuttle my ambition, they said because I don’t have foreign technical partner I can’t be given a license to run a bank, I also said some emotional things that I have done there and some other things, Otiti calmly said, Subomi don’t. worry, the Governor and I would arrange something provisionally which will enable you to run that bank and later on you can look for foreign technical partner. I didn’t think it was possible when another bank official said no way, you are on your own. Otiti was the first person to put my mind at rest but Otiti and the central bank at that time were not given the license. I had a friend Alex Ekueme, we had been friends before the war and he came back and I had been a good friend so in the church at the Cathedral, I and my wife planned that when Alex is being led out that I will grab the dress of Alex and my wife will grab his wife’s dress.
When we did that, his security people thought there was something wrong with us and then Alex looked back and said, Subomi what happened and I told him, Mr. Vice president why are you not giving me license and my wife said to his wife that her husband wants something and only your husband can give him. So Alex said we should come out and he said I should come and see him and he assured me that the following Thursday I would get my license. By 3pm of that Thursday, a minister called me and he said Egbon(big brother) congratulations the vice president said that your license has been approved.
That was how the floodgate of Nigerians phoenix bank and others started. When I had my license people were amazed. Some people even said if you have a license you will either be a multibillionaire or their father will go to jail but I am a person always grateful to my God and appreciative of whatever you’ve done for me. If you give me just tea to drink I will thank you. It’s my way of life. What Otiti did for me was to give me hope but Alex rounded it up and gave me the license.
Sir, you painted a good story about Alex. The name Alex I believe is from Alexandra and is a great person, Ekwueme which is an Igbo word means Talk And Do and that is what he has done in your life. But we lost this man some months ago, what is the word for Nigerians about him?
I am sure my institution will be doing something at the funeral, I personally, I am in talks with the family.I will say you should be patient until when we are burying Alex. I gave the whole story, and what I did to him , he didn’t forget, I can tell you, during the war, when many of our friends from the East abandoned everything they had and went away, the war was so hot that many people didn’t think there was any hope staying in Lagos. I had a house, the first house I built in my life, in Apapa.
Alex had number six while I had number 4, as soon as the war started, some people started using the houses for playing pools, they will be there till 12 midnight sometimes in the morning, I wanted to protect my own house, I didn’t want people to jump into my house and rob me or burgle my house, so the first thing I did was that I arranged for the police to evacuate them, to protect myself, haven done that, I didn’t want to leave the place, so I renovated Alex’s house and rented it out to someone else who came from the east, a lady called Uloma Nnwachukwu and I was collecting rent. When the war ended, Alex returned to Lagos, he came to see me, I went back into my room and brought out a big envelope.
In those days we don’t use cheque much, so I gave him the envelope and told him I renovated his house and rented it out, and that was the rent we collected, and Alex looked at me. A number of our friends from the east lost their house, some so called friends took over their houses and claimed that they were given, for someone who was not really familiar with him to take care of his house, rented it out and handover the money to him, he could not believe it, all he kept on saying was just Mike, thank you, am grateful, and that was how the friendship started. The next thing he did was that he said to me, let us do something to help the returnees from the war zone. He said we should be selling building materials to rebuild the war torn areas all is in my book.
So we started a company and we were selling all sorts of building materials, Alex’s brother Lawrence was the sales man and we were making money. Every week, we will do our balancing of account and every Sunday after service I will go and give Alex his share of the profit. Not knowing that God was going to use him to do something good and unique in my life or in the life of Nigerians. That friendship was so close that when I first went to Okoh, his home , the people gathered and broke kolanut, everyone thanking me, and I made sure I established a branch of the bank in his home town, on a property owned by him. It was a Christian and Godly relationship, God used Alex for me and used me for Alex, it’s a lesson for Nigeria.
All your children are male, do you miss not having a female child?
All my children are male, yes, but I do have six grand daughters, I have ten grandsons, I think it is in my gene, but the wives of my children are playing the role of daughters to me and I have been greatly blessed.