I stil jump, swim, dance at 80 – Subomi Balogun

By IAfrica
In Nigeria
Mar 7th, 2014
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The Otunba Tunwase Court residence of Otunba Subomi Balogun sits magnificently on an expansive land on Obalende Street in the ancient town of Ijebu-Ode. Balogun, the Chairman of First City Monument Bank, no doubt intended the palatial home to serve more purposes than just a residential building from the outset. And that much came to fore at the occasion of his annual prayer and thanksgiving service held late January, this year.

Although the ceremony was intended to be a low-key religious activity in which clerics from various denominations would conduct prayers and thanksgiving sessions for the host, it later turned into a carnival of sorts, featuring scores of eminent persons, including the Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Adetona, who graced the event with many of his high chiefs.

To a man whose professional calling has attracted men and women of high calibre, seeing so many eminent persons at the event could not have come as a surprise to many. In a chat he had with media men at the occasion, Balogun spoke on a wide range of issues, including his plans for his 80th birthday celebration, which comes up in Lagos tomorrow (The Ijebu-Ode version will hold next Friday). The occasion, according to him, will feature the launch of a museum that centres on royalty and history of Ijebuland.

The Otunba Tunwase Annual Prayer and Thanksgiving Service has grown from just a parlour gathering of family and friends to a big show that now draws the who is who in Ijebuland without leaving out the ordinary people of the town. Initiated by Otunba Balogun as a family affair nearly 30 years ago, it later became his own way of giving thanks to God for His mercies.

He said: “It is my own little way of thanking the Alpha and the Omega for all He has done for me, my community, my people and the nation. It is also designed to start the year on a religious note, asking God to be our guide and guardian.

“It is an annual event which I started just before I was made the Asiwaju of Ijebu-Ode. Since then, it has been a very big event and a platform for giving thanks to the Almighty for His mercies in the past year and also praying that He would be with us continuously, particularly in the New Year.”

Although he is an octogenarian, he is aging gracefully with good looks and excellent sight. With his gaits still straight, the founder of First City Monument Bank danced to the podium in a manner that reminded one of the biblical King David, as he made to deliver his welcome speech after pastors had taken turns to deliver sermons and offer prayers for the Otunba and his family.

At an age when many of his contemporaries are battling with senility and other age-related ailments, Otunba Balogun remains cerebral as depicted by the clarity of his thoughts and articulate expressions. “With sight still very good, arms and hands still firm and I’m still able to lift well, isn’t that something enough for an 80-year-old to thank God for?” he asked.

For his 80th birthday celebration, he has already completed a monument built to commemorate the landmark event.

He said: “Among the other things I’m doing to mark this important landmark of my life is to show my appreciation to my God and also put a sense of history. I look round and ask what can I do? Yes, God has endowed me with the wherewithal to do certain things in the house of God, but I still felt that we should leave a legacy that will be unique, permanent and useful to future generations; an embodiment of the ethos and all that we stand for in the community.

“The large Fusegbuwa Ruling House, with me as the Olori Ebi (head of clan), would like to be having meetings. I just felt that my royal pavillion would be too small for that, and I didn’t just want to build mortar and brick, I wanted a sense of history. So, I asked for the location where some of the legendary Awujales were buried; if there were matters of history that have been preserved; if there were ways of authenticating the correctness of what we claim to be; if there was an opportunity of leaving a legacy of genuineness.

“So, I spoke to His Royal Majesty, Oba Sikiru Adetona, that I was not just going to build a meeting hall where there would only be an event centre; I wanted a museum where we could keep all the archives of royalty; where we could have an authentic history of royalty in Ijebuland; where we can talk about the people around the time this royalty was reigning and up till today.

“So, I chose the name of the Awujale through whose lineage I was made Otunba Tunwase. He was known as Oba Adesimbo Tunwase. He reigned between 1886 and 1895. He was the Awujale who fought the war against the British, and later invited the British to his palace, and signed the treaty of protectorate. And in return, he agreed that Christianity could be preached.

“Before then, some people had come from Lagos and Abeokuta, trying to smuggle Christianity into Ijebuland. But this was the first instance an Oba said ‘come and preach,’ and even got some of his children converted.

“He also went further by giving a land on which the first church was built. The same Awujale also gave the land on which the Muslims built their first central mosque. And for that reason, the Ojude Oba event started for him, and Muslims could go to him.

“The museum is part of the heritage of Ijebuland. It will also take care of all the gray areas about Ijebu history, like who belonged to whom.”

Knowing the enormity of the task involved in building a museum, the Otunba has enlisted some professors of History to be part of the project. They would serve as both curators as well as historians digging out the authentic story.

“I do think that if we do this, it will be the first of its kind and it could lay to rest any doubts about our history. As a symbol of that, I went to the royal family and they gave me all the places I wanted, including the final resting place of the legendary Awujale, Oba Adesimbo.

“So, we have it and it is very big; much bigger than this Otunba Tunwase Court. The final resting place of Oba Adesimbo will be specially marked with a glass screen so that people can view the place where the king was laid. The other places will just have marble tablets. The place will also be a meeting point.

“To maintain it, a particular section can be used as an event centre. It will also be a students’ meeting place for the history of Ijebuland, headed by university professors. I have named it The Oba Adesimbo Tunwase Museum of History and Hall. It is a project I want to complete and commission in commemoration of my birthday in March. That can ginger everybody to be interested in authentic true story and not oral tradition of ‘my father or my mother told me this.’ Let there be records. It is part of my ways of giving back to people and to God.”

Reflecting on the past 80 years, Otunba Subomi believes the high point of his life was when he asked God to “let me do something that is original; what other people had not done, relying mainly on God to achieve it. And that is the creation of a financial institution which, in those days, even government could only do with the support of foreigners. I went to my God, prayed in my chapel, and from the chapel I started, singing: ‘Hallelujah, I cannot fail, I cannot fail. Because of Jesus, I cannot fail.’

“It is the most endearing part of my life, the can-do attitude; the acceptance that ‘with God, nothing is impossible’ worked for me. Like the Yoruba would say, Oluwa ni n sola (only God makes one excel). I totally submitted myself to the hands of my God and my Maker and God made possible what we thought an individual could not do.

“I had the courage and faith to do what other people thought was impossible. Apart from building the FCMB brand, the good health I am enjoying is also a high point. I still swim, I still jump, I still dance. The only thing is that I am not looking for women again.”

The Otunba admitted that he “confronted many obstacles, but with faith in God, we broke through. The FCMB foundation was laid with God actively involved in every stage. As such, nothing would have made it fail. Yes, you don’t succeed without having to climb a hill. I have gone through crucibles and I have emerged with a smile at the end of the tunnel.”

32 years of FCMB

This year marks the 32nd anniversary of FCMB. Prodded to make known what he expects from the bank in the coming years, he said: “FCMB has about 300 branches and 27 others are being added in Lagos, while many more are being added nationwide. I’m expecting that FCMB will be the safest bank for all to keep their money. FCMB will be the first place for all of you to go and ask for financial assistance. It will be the best place for all of you to seek to work. It will be the best to carry all the ideals that have taken people where I am.

“FCMB will continue to be a place of God, where all will go there, do godly business and succeed. So quoting our boss, Mr. Ladi Balogun (laughs; one thing is that if your son becomes an Oba today, you will still pay homage to him and address him ‘Kabiyesi’), FCMB will be among the first five.

“But there are certain areas in which the bank will excel and will not be compared to any other bank; that is the culture of excellence. If you see bankers being smart today without a sense of arrogance, I was the first who introduced complete suit and smartness. Being distinctive in the culture of excellence, that is FCMB.

“When FCMB staff show up in any gathering, people would say ‘I’m quite sure you are from FCMB.’ I want everything about FCMB to elicit confidence and pride in our customers everywhere, so that when any customer carries our card, they will show it off and say, ‘Yes, this is my bank, FCMB.’ We are already on that path and I believe that with God on our side, we are breaking many other grounds.”

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