How my child challenged me to start business – Subomi Balogun

Otunba Subomi Balogun


Chief Subomi Balogun, entrepreneur and Chairman, First City Monument Bank, said that though he trained as a lawyer in London School of Economics, UK, his foray into investment and banking was divinely inspired

You were born on March 9, 1934 and will turn 86 on Monday, how would you describe the journey so far?

Let me start by saying that I am a child of God and the good Lord has been so kind to me. Whatever you see in me now is a divine gift. The good Lord appears to have acknowledged me as a son.

What are childhood memories that still linger on your mind up till now?

I remember that because I had educated parents, my education was uppermost in my life and I had the unique privilege of going to some of the best institutions. I am an Igbobian. I left Igbobi Grammar School in 1952 and had Grade 1. When the Nigerian government decided to create an institution for Nigerians to be doing higher school certificate or GCE advanced level, I was one of the pioneers that were admitted to the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology at Ibadan.

In those days, the Ministry of Education just gathered all the people who had Grade 1 for Cambridge School Certificate, so we had a lot of distinguished Nigerians (there). Some of them have even passed on. I considered myself a privileged child of God because I have always been involved in pioneering. I was in the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology and I think that was when my character was being formed.

How did you fare at the NCAST?

I was one of the students that passed three subjects in the advanced level. Most people passed two or even one. My colleague and a very good friend, Emeritus Professor Ayo Banjo, who was twice the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, also passed three subjects. It was unique.

Then providence also put it in my mind that I should read law. And I went around making enquiries as to where was best for me to read law. Somehow, my attention was drawn to London School of Economics (in the UK), where I went for a course between 1956 and 1959.

After your law degree in 1959, you returned home and became a parliamentary draftsman, how did that happen?

Just before I finished, the government of the then Western Region of Nigeria had picked me to be the first Nigerian to be trained as a parliamentary draftsman. I was one of the people who drafted law in the legislature. By sheer coincidence, the Nigerian Independence Act was being passed and I was in the official box to distinguish luminaries of the Nigerian stock and international stock. Dr Taslim Elias, who ultimately became first the Attorney General and Chief Justice of Nigeria, was the chairman of the panel that selected me.

I was suddenly informed by my professor that the government of the Western Region had decided to train me as a parliamentary draftsman, the first Nigerian to be so trained. All these mystified me. I felt, ‘Why am I so lucky?’ This is one of the reasons why I just fell that the good Lord has been so kind to me and I should spend my life appreciating Him.

You are always showing reverence for God. At what point did that turnaround come?

It started with my education. I went to some of the best secondary schools. Yes, my parents were educated. My mother in particular was very concerned that I should get the best education and I made her and my father happy by having Grade 1. Then I just suddenly decided I wanted to read law because my father, with the late Chief (Adeola) Odutola of the Ijebu and Nigerian fame, were classmates and they served the then colonial government as court clerks.

They were virtually not just registrars; they were more or less administrative officers who were sent to different parts of Ijebu. My father worked in Ijebu Ode as what we call Akowe court. He was very well known and very illustrious. He worked in Ijebu Ode and Shagamu (it was and still part of Ijebu Remo). He worked in Ijebu waterside, now known as Ogun waterside, and because of the good Lord’s divine support, I always find myself succeeding. Succeeding there is a blanket expression and at times I ask myself, why me? The only conclusion I could have is that I am a son of the good Lord – the omnipotent.

In 1961, after my degree, I was sent to the British Parliament for one year and after that, I spent some time in London learning how to draft agreements. I came back to the country and was appointed as crown counsel in the then Western Region and quite a lot of people were enamoured by my legal draftsmanship. After me, about five students from the Western Region were trained but in the Solicitor’s Office, not in the parliament as I was trained.

The government of Eastern Region at that time sent another person who was the second person to come and train as a legal draftsman but I was the numero uno.

Were people envious of your achievements as a legal draftsman?

I came into the country with much adulation; everybody was wondering: ‘What has this young man got that I haven’t got?’ And I said I would try and prove that I appreciated, not only what the government of Western region did for me, but what my God did for me.

I was just working and many people just liked me because of my age and my perceived brilliance. Then there was a crisis in the Western Region. I was sitting in my office as a crown counsel when a young man in suit, one Richard, walked into my room and asked if I was Mr Balogun. I said yes. He said the Federal Attorney General wanted to see me in the Office of the Chairman of the Public Service. Well, I was familiar with Elias. So, I took my suit and trotted to the Public Service Office – a separate building in the Western Nigeria Secretariat.

As I was going, I saw Elias descending the stairs with one Chief Ojo. Elias asked, “Young man, would you want to come to Lagos to work?” And I said, yes sir. The whole thing was miraculous to me. It had been divinely ordered. Elias interviewed me. The Federal administrator was there. Then, I did not have any complaints as a civil servant and I was being offered a top position. So, I allowed them to do what was necessary –speaking to the government of Western Region. By November 1962, at the age of 28, I was offered a job as an Assistant Parliamentary Counsel for the Federal Ministry of Justice, working in both the ministry and the Nigerian Parliament. That was how everybody started hearing of me.

The fellow sent by the Eastern Region at that time was Mr Okagbue, who later became Justice Okagbue in the Court of Appeal in the Eastern Region. The two of us were judiciary staff members but I was very young. Going beyond that, they provided me, a bachelor, at 28, with one of the most prestigious residences on Glover Road, Lagos. I started wondering that this my God must be so kind and wonderful to me. I just feel that my good Lord is guiding me because I am a favoured child of God. That is one of the reasons why you keep hearing ‘God, God, God’ from me. It is not Pharisaical. It is the outstanding luck I have had with my maker. Things were just building up for me. I worked in the Federal Ministry of Justice; I enjoyed it for about four years. I was called the Federal Ministry of Justice Assistant Parliamentary Counsel for the federation. My boss was an expatriate. I thank God again that it did not get into my head.

How did you get into the Nigerian Industrial Development Bank?

All of a sudden, the Federal Government was planning to set up the Nigerian Industrial Development Bank. Someone asked me whether I would be interested to work there. I was there as the legal adviser from the Federal Ministry of Justice. It was miraculous. After some interview sessions, led by some of the topmost commercial lawyers in the country, I was made the first Permanent Secretary and Principal Counsel for the NIDB. It was a development bank created by the World Bank with international financial houses. That was the pedestal that helped me become what I am today.

I went to a development bank as a lawyer. While there, the good Lord opened my eyes to see what was happening in finance, stockbroking, stock exchange, selling shares and so on, and I suddenly found myself being redeployed to a stockbroking company owned by my employers – ICON Securities. From law, I went into finance. I was there to compete with accountants and others. Suddenly and divinely, I was made the head of stockbroking and capital issues at the subsidiary of NIDB, ICON Limited. I was the chief executive. I was amazed. I was sent to do some courses in the World Bank and other places.

What were the things you learnt from the courses you did at the World Bank and other places?

I recommended to my employers that we should set up an investment bank to be known as ICON Limited Merchant Bank. Then, I started seeing battles. My boss at the time, who was an economist, heard about it and said, “Look, Mr Balogun, you have been telling people that you are going to be the head of ICON, you are only a lawyer, I will make sure you are seconded elsewhere.”

So, we had a struggle. Eventually, I decided to resign.

Why did you take the decision to resign?

I resigned because a 32-year-old man, an American, who had only graduated three years earlier, was being asked to be my boss just because I didn’t study finance. I was 42 at the time and I had lots of experience. Privately, I was learning bookkeeping and accounts. So, I resigned.

One day, my second son, Babajide, told my wife, “I pity dad, why can’t he go and set up his own business instead of wanting to work for people?” I felt it was the voice of God. That was how I set up my institution.

So, you could say your son challenged you to start your business?

Yes, it was divine and miraculous; it was as if the good Lord took me somewhere where I initially thought I did not belong and when I had problems, I didn’t want to dramatise it. People wanted to frustrate me so I went to church and saw the then Vice President, Alex Ekwueme. I asked the VP why I had not been given a licence. He approved my licence and I became the first Nigerian to singlehandedly set up a merchant bank.

As a billionaire, anytime you wish to buy anything, what factors determine what you want to buy – price, class, need or otherwise?

I don’t know about being a billionaire; I am only grateful to my God that at every stage, He provides me with the wherewithal to achieve it.

You are a man with numerous chieftaincy titles and awards. How many chieftaincy titles and awards have you received?

I can’t say. They are numerous. That is contained in my book.  I am a miracle of divine source. What I am, I did not foresee it and I did not know why. The good Lord just picked me out and made me what I am.

You came from a Muslim background and embraced Christianity, what was the encounter like?

I was involved in chapel service and my teacher didn’t know I came from a Muslim background. At a point, I decided I had had enough of living a double life. I went to my teacher, who ultimately became Bishop Segun and confided in him that I was still a Muslim and would want to be converted. That was when I was about 13 or 14 years old.

I ultimately became the head of the Christians in my place. You see, I am a child of divine miracle; I just don’t know how I can thank my God, hence I call the name of God everywhere – it is not Pharisaical.  Everywhere you see me, you see me with a crucifix. I worship my God and in my own, I have always shown a strong desire to continue to give thanks to the divine source.

Why do you always use white things?

It is because of its closeness to God – purity. I decided on it many years ago when I was still in my early 30s. I wear coloured suits, but whenever I am wearing Nigerian attire, I prefer white because of its closeness to purity.

What is the secret of your longevity?

It is God. That is why whenever I am celebrating my birthday, I go before my God and say, ‘Thank you, Lord.’ It is the making of my God; I am a lucky child of God.




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