•Asiwaju ONIGBAGBO Of ijebu Xtians, Otunba SUBOMI BALOGUN
•Reveals How He Got Converted @ 13
•Talks About His Life @ 85
Otunba Subomi Balogun is 85. He turned 85 last Saturday, 9th of March, 2019. He is the Asiwaju Onigbagbo of Ijebu Christians and he decided to celebrate this year’s birthday with friends, families and few business associates in his Ikoyi home on a low key because of the elections. The event was moved to Sunday, the 10th. a day after the Governorship/House of Assembly elections. Otunba Subomi Balogun reflects on life at 85, his many challenges, why he is always thankful, and why he set up FCMB among other things. He spoke to BUNMI MUSTAPHA.
Looking back, how would you access your journey so far in life?
I think assessments is in the hands of the divine authority and God, all I will say is that, I am extremely grateful to my maker for making me still very agile, still very meticulous, articulate, still behaving like someone of about sixty years old.
I want to thank my maker in His awesome benevolence to me, humble me, so the whole essence of my celebration is to give thanks to my maker and I would ask Him to endow me with the wherewith all to continue to be appreciative for all that He has done for me in my life, so in all humility and everyone who knows me, knows it comes from my heart, I am giving this opportunity to you, to let you know how appreciative I am for what the good Lord as done for me.
At your age, one of the things that cannot be taken away from you is the ability to recall, and the mental strength that you have. Even at this age, and physically you don’t look 85, what do you think is responsible for all these?
I’m at peace with my God, I marvel at every occasion, why has He been so kind to me? I don’t carry airs, I am myself, simple Subomi, and it is the amazing grace of God even at the climax of everything I might have achieved, I attribute everything to the awesomeness of God, His love for little me.
I spend most of my time talking of God, it’s a measure of my appreciation and attributing anything that has happened to me to the amazing grace of the Almighty God, that is what is responsible. I am just humbled by the awesomeness of the Almighty God for thinking of me a small human being to be what I am.
I do see my contemporaries, I do see people who have achieved before I was born, I do see people who I regard as my mentors, but at every given occasion, I am amazed, why has my God been so kind to me. So, I will spend the rest of my life just thanking God.
Did anything from your background prepare you for what you are today?
I am a creation of the Almighty God. Like any young boy, I was born in Ijebu Ode. Well, I can’t hide that I come from a notable family in Ijebu, what people know about my surname is that, in Ijebu, the Balogun family used to be three in Ijebu, there was kuku, Odunuga, and Saromi or Aroyewun.
In those days you don’t just bring out a horse and start riding and be acknowledged, there must be some history behind that. I am from the illustrious Borogun family, but beyond that I happened to be a primrose among royalties, I am a direct descendant of the Awujale who had the honour of receiving in 1892 representatives of the British queen, and he allowed them to preach Christianity, which was a hard thing to do before then.
If you do so before 1892, they would pursue you with oro, but my own progenitor allowed that to be done. He even allowed some of his children to be Christians then. He gave them a site on which the first church in Ijebu land was built, but he was not partial. He also gave the Muslims a site on which the first mosque was built.
It was in commemoration of going to thank the Awujale that the idea of Ojude Oba started. They were all going to the Oba’s palace to show appreciation for what he has done. Now these are things of the past, did does not immediately make me whatever I am today. But maybe my parents had the opportunity of putting me on the right track, I had good education, I went to one of the most illustrious secondary school in Nigeria, Igbobi College, and I came out with grade 1.
Then I went to Britain and studied law. In those days, you are either a lawyer, or a doctor or engineer, but I qualified as a lawyer at a very young age, I qualified at 25 plus, about one of the youngest lawyers in my own part of the western region. Then I try to be very close to my God, always seeking His guidance, and it is the answer to such prayers that brought me to where I am today.
Many people knew that in 1959, I was called to the English Bar, many people knew that the then government of the Western Region, trained me as the first parliamentary draftsman, when the British were passing the Nigeria Independent Act. I was the first black face to be seen in the official boards. These are the only backgrounds I have, but I can be very precautious.
If I see you doing something good, I will rather emulate you than criticise you. Like I know some people only wear white, at a point in my life I said the purest thing I want to be close to my God is white, and God has continued to enable me to be doing all that, which I think is a privilege.
What does your daily routine look like, and what encounter have you had in life that makes your every speech focus on God?
It’s amazing, I have never hidden the fact that my parents were Muslims, and I recall that when I was young, I wanted to worship their own way, but as soon as I got to my secondary school, I got to know Christ and in a modest way I was happy to be a chapel monitor. Progressively, I became close to my God, I was able to develop a personal and special relationship with my God.
About my daily routine, when I wake up first thing in the morning, my wife and I have a family prayer, I will open up as if I am communicating with my heartily father, I will pour out my mind, I will pray for my wife and I, my children, my members of my families, friends, neighbours and the people who work with me.
I will do the same thing in the evening when I go to bed, except there is something extraordinary, by 9. 30pm and in my bed, after praying, I don’t communicate with anyone, if I feel like returning my missed calls in the morning I will. Talking of humility, I think that is an endowment, which the good Lord gave me, an amazing grace.
I know my parents, even though they were affluent, they had a common touch, we don’t carry anything in the air, if you see the way my domestic staff talk to me you will be wondering why is there so much familiarity. I get involved in their personal life, but that is a gift of God.
Let me also tell you something, about twenty six years ago. We had a tradition in Ijebu, that the Christian folks will select someone they call the head of the Christians. First of all, I was born a Muslim, I only converted at age thirteen, but the only two things I like and I have weakness for are my white dress and my white cars, then I attended churches regularly every Sunday, if I am not in the church I would probably be spending the time having the service somewhere else or worshipping.
So, I was just an ordinary young Christian boy in Ijebu Ode but I am always very appreciative of what the good Lord has done to me. Other people noticed it, I never thought I was doing anything extraordinary. One day I called the provost of my church and I told him I had to return to Lagos, and he told me I couldn’t go yet.
He said all the bishops and heads of churches would want to see me. I thought they were coming to ask for something, I waited till the evening after the service, I came home with my wife. About thirty minutes or one hour later, a telephone call came from the gate and they said they have a crowd of people, bishops, pastors and evangelists waiting.
They came inside and to my surprise, one of them, a big brother of mine, knelt down, and I was wondering what was happening, but remained calm. He knelt down and gave me a letter, someone who was about thirty years older than me and I knew him very well, then some of the pastors and bishops joined him, my hands were shaking.
Then I opened it and they said all the Christians in Ijebu have gathered and have picked me to lead the Christians. I called my wife and I asked them how long have they been thinking about such, instead of answering my question, they said let us pray.
I took my phone and called my royal father, the Awujale of Ijebu, and I told him about the letter I just received, the position I was asked to fill was occupied by the late legend of Ijebu, Baba Odutola, I told Awujale I was asked to succeed him, and the next question he asked was, who signed the letter, I told him and he asked me to accept it, I asked if he was involved.
I was still not myself, so I called a mama we called mother of the Anglican diocese, whose children were my friends and contemporaries, and I said mama, some of your people are here and they asked me to come and succeed Baba Odutola, she said yes, my cousin was Moses you are Joshua.
Another close elderly friend was around in Ijebu, I called him too and told him, he said he was aware, that they said they were going to vote, but we told them they don’t need to vote as I am the obvious person. He said, do you know, that Baba Odutola, the man you are succeeding had the title at 63 years?
So, I was a bit taken aback, in the meantime I managed to sit down with my wife standing by me, I just did not think I was good enough, fit and proper to succeed that legend. He was a mega personality, not only in Ijebu, but the whole of Nigeria. They told me they intend to present me to all the Ijebu Christians during the prayers at Awujale’s palace.
Then some cousins, the Oduntan came to congratulate me, I was still dazed, so when ultimately they presented me at Awujale’s palace, my hands were shaking and I was in tears.
Some people said tears of joy, and I said no, how could me, small me come and replace Odutola the mega legend. That was a measure of not just my amazement, but the humility the Almighty gave me, not knowing that further laurels were still coming my way.
I’m amazed at 85, there are many friends close to me at 85, they have one problem or the other. Yesterday, I went with my wife on my boat, and we went as far as Ilashe , people were wondering how I could still be walking around the boat on slacks, I don’t know what I have done for God to deserve it.
I have a memory of every occurrence in my life, I just wrote a tribute, I know practically when I employed an expatriate staff forty something years ago, I remember all the circumstances. It’s a rear gift from God. I then concluded God has a reason, he wanted to use me for it. In addition to that, when I survey the way God turned a small lawyer into what I am, the awesomeness puzzles me.
When I started FCMB, I wanted it to have a solid character, permanent, respected and assuring, so I went into columns. If you go anywhere, as soon as you see the four columns, you will recognize FCMB. I believe God has reasons for doing things to me and it is marvelous in my sight.
I am humbled for what God has done for me, I have classmates, age mates, I don’t carry my nose in the air, I still wear shorts, I go into the swimming pool. My mom was a Muslim and she headed some part of Muslim women, but whenever we have a function at the church, my mom would sit with me at the chapel.