Olasubomi Balogun: An Embodiment of Philanthropy

Kunle Aderinokun

Gamaliel Bailey, the late American journalist, editor and publisher, was indeed right when he said: “Never respect men merely for their riches, but rather for their philanthropy; we do not value the sun for its height, but for its use.” For wealth may fade away, but the seed of kindness sown in the heart of a fellow human being never dies; rather it germinates, matures and bears fruit in multiple-folds.

The story of Otunba Michael Olasubomi Balogun, Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON), the Founder of First City Group, who turns 82 today, is the story of a man who understood early in life that the true essence of wealth is achieved only when it is deployed to the service of humanity, especially the less privileged. A man of proven immense wealth, who is highly regarded, respected and honoured in the society, the honour bestowed on Otunba Balogun does not, however, stem from the immensity of his wealth, but from the good use to which he has put this wealth for the service of humanity.

A born lover of humanity and an embodiment of philanthropy whose milk of human kindness, like an inestimable fountain, has endlessly flowed to wet parched throats and soothe frayed nerves across the land, Otunba Balogun’s philanthropic activities cut across many spheres of the society and transcends ethnic, social and religious boundaries. For space constraints, just a few examples will suffice.

In the education sector, when in 1987 Otunba Balogun, through First City Merchant Bank Limited, endowed a professorial chair for Capital Market Studies in the Department of Economics and Finance of the University of Ibadan, he was the first in Nigeria to do so. But he was not yet done. He followed it up by also endowing a Research Fellowship in the Legal Department of the University of Lagos. He has equally donated to several altruistic causes in a number of institutions, including Olabisi Onabanjo University (formerly Ogun State University), Yaba College of Technology and the African Leadership Forum, among others.

Otunba Balogun’s scholarship fund, which has benefitted numerous people, goes back in time. In an interview some years ago, he said of the scholarship fund: “I was just about 36 when I set up some scholarship funds to train students in some schools in Ijebu. I gather that at the last count there are not less than 300 university graduates that have benefitted from my scholarships. One of the scholarships is in honour of my father, another in honour of my mother.” The scholarship endowment in honour of his mother is known as “Iye Subomi Scholarship”, while the one in honour of his father is endowed to the best students in Muslim College, Ijebu-Ode.
Furthermore, Otunba Balogun set up endowments for the Nigerian School for the Blind at Oshodi, and he has also instituted, through FCMB, an Annual National Marathon Championship for Disabled Athletes.

In the religious sphere, Otunba Balogun, a man who does not hide his personal closeness to God, is very well known to have supported many religious bodies, both Christian and Muslim, with substantial funds in their development programmes. He is known to have singlehandedly endowed churches or even the establishment of dioceses in some Christian denominations in Nigeria.

In the area of community development, he has actively provided financial assistance to community projects and has sometimes taken full responsibility for other projects. Prominently, he built and donated a police post at Imoru in Ijebu-Ode District, built a civic centre named “Otunba Tunwase Civic Centre” for the Ijebu-Ode Club, provided street lighting for “Tunwase Drive”, a street named after his ancestor, Oba Adesimbo, Tunwase I, among others. Much talked about recently is Oba Adesimbo Tunwase Museum of History built by Otunba Subomi Balogun, which has since started operation at Ijebu-Ode. The word has gone out to all Ijebu indigenes that historical activities, academic conferences, presentation of papers including submission of reliable, tested and verified oral or documentary evidence are now gathered at the museum centre. Appointed as curator is the distinguished Professor, Bankole Okuwa, a renowned political historian.

But it is perhaps in the area of health care, particularly the care of children, that Otunba’s magnanimity has been most pronounced. Speaking about his particular interest in children, he narrated that, “many years ago, the management of the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, saw the dilapidated condition of their equipment and the whole environment and started inviting some distinguished Nigerians to the hospital to see what they could do in form of assistance. I was also invited. We were being taken round the hospital and a cousin of mine, a physician, Professor Olumade Adeuja, said I should come to the children’s ward. I followed him. When I got there, a drip stand was being passed from one bed to the other and before it could get to the other bed, the child who was to receive the drip died. Tears rolled down my eyes and from that day, I swore that I would spend most of the rest of my life seeing to the welfare, survival and healthcare of children. So, I adopted the children emergency ward at the UCH. I built a ramp to facilitate the ingress and evacuation of patients. I refurbished the whole place, changed the linen, put air conditioners in the place. To date, it is one of the best maintained wards at UCH. To my surprise, I had a letter from the CMD that their council and the then Minister of Health, Professor Olikoye Ransome Kuti, had agreed that the wing should be named after me. It is now Otunba Tunwase Children’s Emergency Ward. I endowed it in perpetuity and I give regular support.”

As it is said, the reward for a job well done is more work. And so, the donation attracted so much attention that the people of Ijebu Ode, Otunba’s hometown, asked him to do the same in Ijebu land. He did not say no. “I asked for land and I was asked to pick my choice at the Ijebu Ode General Hospital. So, I built a 40-bed air-conditioned children’s hospital which I named after my mother, the Iye Subomi Child Care Centre. It was fitted with incubators for premature babies.” It did not end there. The hospital needed an outpatient section and approached Otunba. As always, he simply asked for land and as usual, they gave him a piece of land and he built the outpatient section for them.

But the most interesting of all is the story of the creation of the Otunba Tunwase National Paediatric Centre in Ijebu Ode, Ogun state. The West African College of Physicians had invited him to receive an honour for what he had done for children. At the event, Prof Olikoye Ransome Kuti, then Minister of Health, walked up to him and said, ‘Otunba, what this country needs is a prototype of the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London which would cater for children’s health, teaching and referral.’ Otunba asked for the cost and Prof Ransome-Kuti said about N50 million would build a 50-bed hospital. The seed had been sown.

To properly coordinate all his philanthropic endeavours and services to humanity, Otunba established the Otunba Tunwase Foundation. Through the foundation, on his 60th birthday he gave N10 million for commencement of work on the project. He continued to fund the project and also got his wife and children to donate. When in August 2000 he presented his memoirs, ‘The Cross, The Triumph and The Crown’, he specifically directed that all proceeds from the sale of the book be channelled to the completion of the project. On his 70th birthday, the project was commissioned – including a 90-room hostel, a 1,000-capacity auditorium, lecture rooms with projectors, a dome for the clinical section, among other facilities.

For the first few years, Otunba funded the payment of salaries and other expenditure at the centre, amounting to N10 million monthly. However, in order to maintain the standard, in December 2011, he handed over the Otunba Tunwase National Paediatric Centre to the University of Ibadan. And on June 7, 2013, he wholly donated the centre, valued modestly at N3.7 billion, to the university at a signing of a Deed of Total Gift ceremony. His only condition was that they retain the name of the centre.

It is not for nothing, therefore, that Otunba Michael Olusubomi Balogun has been conferred with several traditional titles over the years. He is the Otunba Tunwase, the Olori Omo-Oba of Ijebu, the Asiwaju of Ijebu Christians, the Baba Oba of Ijebu-Ife, the Asalu-Oba of Ijebu Imushin, Olori Ebi Fasengbuwa, among others. This is in addition to numerous honours and awards within and outside the country – all testimonials to the large-heartedness of Otunba Balogun, a man who has devoted a substantial part of his private resources towards the care and service of not just the less privileged in society but also to humanity as a whole.