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Otunba Subomi Balogun, the octogenarian banking legend

Posted by on August 1st, 2020


Almost two decades after retiring from active banking, 86-year old Subomi Balogun is still wielding much influence in Nigeria’s banking sector. Some even argue that he has as much influence after his retirement, as he did while he was still Chairman and CEO of the first wholly-owned Nigerian Merchant bank – FCMB.

In 2004, when the Central Bank of Nigeria declared a new minimum share capital of N25 billion, Balogun came out of retirement to lead the campaign. With his influence and drive, the company’s issued shares were oversubscribed, even as FCMB ended up acquiring six other banks that were unable to meet the requirements.

Who is Olasubomi Balogun?

Olasubomi Olaotan Olaonipekun Balogun was born on 9 March 1934 in Ijebu-Ode in present-day Ogun State. He is a direct descendant of the Awujale (king of Ijebuland). He spent his early years there before moving to Lagos state for his education and eventually became quite comfortable with being called Subomi.

He had his secondary education at Igbobi College, Yaba, Lagos, then wrote and passed the Cambridge School Certificate in Grade One in 1952, and later the General Certificate Examination (GCE) Advanced Level.

Afterwards, Subomi taught in a secondary school for a while before heading to the London School of Economics (LSE) in 1956 to read Law. After graduating in June 1959, he was called to the English Bar in December 1959.

He was later sponsored by the Western Regional Government to receive special training in Legal Drafting in Whitehall and the City of London, with a particular specialisation in financial legislation, instruments, and agreements.

Upon completion, he served as a Crown Counsel in both the Ministry of Justice of the then Western Nigeria and then, as Assistant Parliamentary Counsel in the Federal Ministry of Justice in Lagos.

From principal counsel to investment banker

Subomi served for 9 years (between 1966 and 1975) as Principal Counsel and Company Secretary to the Nigerian Industrial Development Bank (NIDB). That was partly how he developed an interest in banking. Subsequently, he received training at the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), also known as the World Bank, and its private sector affiliate, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), both in Washington DC. He went further to learn from leading stockbrokers, investment banks, and merchant banks in London and New York.

By 1973, Subomi Balogun was already showing a great level of expertise, even as he became the Director in charge of the operations of Icon Securities Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of NIDB. He was later part of the team that converted Icon Securities into a merchant bank.

He later headed Icon Stockbrokers Limited, a foremost stockbroking firm that he was instrumental in establishing. He was subsequently seconded to Icon Limited (Merchant Bankers), as an Executive Director and was there till 1977 when he left to set up his company.

He recalled that his eventual departure was born out of pain over being cheated. He had put forward the idea of a merchant bank after his return from a course in the US, and despite being the most qualified to head the new institution as Chief Executive, he was passed over.

When it came to selecting the Chief Executive, I was told that in spite of all entreaties, that I could not be the Chief Executive because I happened to have a basic training in law. I was 42 and they brought a young man with little or no experience, from America, at 32, to take my place,” he recounted.

He recalled that when he prayed about it at home. But then an awakening came when his son asked why he was praying to head another person’s bank rather than pray to own a bank. This question from a 9-year old became an inspiration for the 43-year old to launch out on his own, even without a partner.

Establishing the first Nigerian Merchant bank

In December 1977, Subomi Balogun set up City Securities Limited, the first institution in Nigeria to ever combine an issuing house and stockbroking business under one name. This was only a first step to establishing the merchant bank which he wanted. From there, he set up the first wholly Nigerian owned merchant bank – First City Merchant Bank Limited.

Starting the bank was no smooth ride, as he had to deal with a lot of opposition before he got his license. Due to his vibrancy and deep involvement in the political space, some feared that he was going to use the bank to support a political group.

“People thought it was impossible. Someone said I would either end up as a multi-billionaire or go to jail,” he said later.

He also recalled that it took the intervention of Dr Alex Ekwueme, who had just been elected as Vice President under the second republic. “But for him, FCMB would have remained a dream,”Balogun said. Within a week, he received a call from Chief Yomi Akintola, the Finance Minister, that his license had been granted.

Singlehandedly starting a bank is no mean feat, and it is one credit that Balogun has earned among bank founders. He led the bank for the first two decades, doubling as Chairman and Chief Executive, and successfully pushed the bank beyond the local to the international scene. The bank’s paid-up share capital grew from N2 million at inception in 1979 to N1.5 billion, while total shareholders fund rose to N2.65 billion as at December 2002.

In 2001, the name of the bank was changed from First City Merchant Bank to First City Monument Bank, after it became a universal bank.

Three years later, on 15 July 2004, FCMB changed its status from a private limited liability company to a public limited liability company and was listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) on 21 December, 2004.

Man of many pursuits

Balogun is a philanthropist and carries out much of his activities through the Otunba Tunwase Foundation. He has built healthcare institutions particularly targeted at children, including the Ijebu-Ode General Hospital, a newly-built and fully-equipped air-conditioned 40-bed Children’s Centre which he donated in 1989. It was named after his mother – Iye Subomi’s Child Care Centre.

On his 60th birthday, he started building the Otunba Tunwase National Paediatric Centre (OTNPC) as a gift to Nigeria. The OTNPC is a referral institution taking care of child healthcare and welfare, and also providing an avenue for specialised studies and academic researches into all manners of children diseases and ailments.

He has received the American Biographical Institute Inc’s Distinguished Leadership Award for outstanding contributions to the development of Investment Banking, and the University of Ibadan’s Degree of Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa) in recognition of his outstanding achievements both in the field of Law and his contributions to the socio-economic development of Nigeria.

He is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN) and a council member of a number of multi-national Chambers of Commerce.

He holds several traditional titles among the Ijebu people and has received many awards and commendations.

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Gunning for a century

Celebrating his 86th birthday in March 2020, Balogun revealed in an interview that he exercised and swam regularly even in his eighties.

“A friend of mine once visited and asked why I still use a staircase when there is an elevator. I said I still want to be walking like a sprinter. By the time I am 90, I would be praying to be 100 and I would still want to be articulate and maintain my cerebral gifts,” he stated.

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