The Doyen at 91

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On Monday, August 9, Mr. Akintola Williams, CBE, CFR, B. Com., FCA, the doyen of accountancy profession in Nigeria, turned 91 and the President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, Major-General Sebastian Owuama, led a team comprising the Registrar/Chief Executive, Mr. Olutoyin Adepate, and top management staff of the Institute to pay him a surprise visit to congratulate and wish him well.

Due to the demise of his wife last year, the doyen could not be persuaded to celebrate his 90th birthday. Thus, last Monday, the ICAN President presented him with a bouquet of flowers and a birthday card signed by him (ICAN President) and the Registrar/Chief Executive as he turned 91. The celebrant, who was in high spirits, was pleasantly surprised and full of gratitude for the honour done him by his colleagues and members of the Institute he helped to bring into existence 45 years ago.

Williams is Nigeria‘s first, if not the first black African Chartered Accountant. He is a distinguished, shrewd and experienced professional accountant who, as the pioneer of the accountancy profession in Nigeria, has made outstanding contributions both to the profession and the nation‘s economy.

Born in Lagos on August 9, 1919, Williams started his formal education in 1928 at the Baptist Academy, Lagos. The successful completion of his secondary education at the CMS Grammar School in 1938 paved the way for his entry, the following year, into the only tertiary institution in the country – Yaba Higher College.

He chose to study Commerce at the college. Originally, he had planned to study surveying, since his best subjects at school were English, Physics and Mathematics.

But he later changed his mind when he found out that the course was not yet available at the College. Akintola carried to Higher College, Yaba, the diligence and academic brilliance that had characterised his CMS Grammar School days. This yielded a handsome reward in the form of a scholarship by the United Africa Company.

He left the shores of Nigeria in 1944 to pursue Accountancy in London. It probably did not occur to him that he might be the first black African to embark upon such a venture. But for his courage and determination, he would probably have given up the pursuit completely, not because of lack of ability, but because of his colour; and Nigeria (indeed black Africa) would have been the worse for it. It was a Herculean task for him to find a firm willing to accept him for articleship, because he was black, and without serving articleship with a firm of chartered accountants for a certain period, he could not qualify as a chartered accountant. However, with the help of one Mr. Bankes, he was offered the opportunity of serving his articleship in Mr. Hamlyn‘s firm.

In 1946, he obtained his degree in B.Com from the University of London where he was a part-time student. Three years later, precisely in 1949, he again sat for and passed the finals of the professional accountancy examinations of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and thus distinguished himself as the first Nigerian, if not the first black African, to qualify as a chartered accountant in the United Kingdom. Thus, within five years of arriving in London, he had bagged the B.Com (London.) degree and the ACA qualifications.

Motivation, determination, self-discipline, hard work and diligence stand out among his personal attributes that accounted for his achievements up to this time and in his subsequent endeavors.

Following the difficulty he experienced in London in getting a firm to accept him as an articled clerk, he had resolved, even before he qualified, to set up a practice of his own on returning to Nigeria, in his own words, ”to get our people trained locally and to have our own institutions‘ accountancy qualification”. This resolve made him to prefer contract employment on his return to Nigeria in 1950 as an Assessment Officer in the Inland Revenue Department in order to have the option to renew or terminate at the end of each contract.

Therefore, in March 1952, he resigned his appointment with the civil service in preparation for the establishment of Akintola Williams & Co. as the first indigenous firm of Chartered Accountants in Nigeria. The firm later opened offices in Swaziland, Ivory Coast and Cameroon.

The other ambition was to form a local professional accountancy body. His efforts, in collaboration with other professional accountants in the country, led to the founding of the Association of Accountants in Nigeria. This body, the immediate predecessor of the present Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, was incorporated in 1960. Williams became the founding President of the Association.

The Association developed its own official journal called ”The Nigerian Accountant”, which is still being published today.

Akintola‘s other contributions to the development of the nation in both the private and the public sectors of the economy are no less significant than what he has done to the accounting profession. For instance, he was one of the founders of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (formerly Lagos Stock Exchange). He had also served at various times on the Boards of a number of quoted public limited liability companies which among others included BEWAC Limited, Nigerian Tobacco Company Plc, John Holt Investment Limited, Dunlop (Nigeria) Industries Limited and Van Leer (Nigeria) Limited.

His public sector contributions included the following national assignments: Chairman of the Federal Income Tax Appeal Commissioners, 1958-1968; Member, Coker Commissions of Inquiry into the Statutory Corporations of the former Western Region of Nigeria, 1962; Nigerian Trustees on the board of Trustees of the Commonwealth Foundation, 1966-1975; Member of the Gill Committee, which carried out job evaluation and regarding exercise in the Posts and Telegraphs Department, 197-1972; Chairman, Lagos State Government Revenue Collection Panel, 1973; and Chairman of the Public Service Review Panel to correct the anomalies in the Udoji Salary Review Commission, 1975.

There are some other contributions which cut across both the private and public sectors, including community service. He has, for instance, been Chairman of Williams Street Trustees; Chairman of Investment Committee of UBA Trustees Limited; Director and Chairman of the Finance and Investment Committee of Universe Re-insurance Company; President of the Metropolitan Club in Victoria Island, Lagos; Founder and Council member of the Nigerian Conservation Foundation; and Founder, and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON).

Williams‘ retirement in 1983 from the firm he founded over three decades earlier was historic in many respects. First, he retired before the age stipulated in the Partnership Agreement. Secondly, he also became the first Nigerian Chartered Accountant to retire from the firm he founded, with the original name of the firm remaining intact. Finally, by the time he retired, he did not only make a name for himself nationally and internationally, but had also guided the firm, with the cooperation of committed and dedicated partners and staff, to expand the area of operations beyond the shores of Nigeria. His retirement thus became both a national and an international event.

Williams‘ interest is not limited to Accountancy. His interest in classical music can be traced to his student days in the United Kingdom. Although he is not a professional musician, he has good ears for music. It was his dream then to establish in Nigeria a Music Academy as a way of enhancing the cultural life of the country. It took time to identify like-minded Nigerians who shared his interest in classical music. He finally found them, and together, they founded MUSON, a non-profit making organisation.

Williams has been honoured a good number of times by various bodies and organisations. Most notably is the honour by the Federal Government of Nigeria who conferred on him, the honour of Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFR). He was also awarded the Honorary Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE), 1997 - for services to the accountancy profession, the promotion of art and music through The Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON) and encouraging friendly relationship between Nigeria and Britain.

Not only that, he is Knight of the Order of Rio Branco of the Federative Republic of Brazil; First Gold Medallist, Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, 1988; and was honoured by the Harvard Business School Association of Nigeria as The Business Statesman for 1992.

He has served as chairman or member on a number of public concerns in Nigeria such as: International Lions Club District 404 - Founding Member of the Club in Nigeria and its Doyen; the Metropolitan Club (Member); and President, (1988 to 1993); Business Club, Ikeja (Honorary Member); Ikoyi Club 1933 (Member); Patron, Nigeria-Britain Association; Patron, Lagos Business School; Patron, Nigerian National Committee of United World Colleges.

One cannot talk about Mr. Akintola Williams without talking about his late wife Mrs. Oye Williams, who knew how to build her home like the wise woman of the Bible. The late Oye Williams was the first secretary of his firm, Akintola Williams & Co. She worked late into the night to ensure that reports and accounts were typed and bound up in the way that became the firm‘s house style. She would always be remembered for her great contribution to the growth of the firm.

She was the strong support he had from the day he decided not to renew his contract with the civil service and established the firm Akintola Williams & Co, and MUSON up to the time of her death in 2009.

Mr. Akintola Williams retired in March 1983 as Managing Partner of Akintola Williams & Co., a member firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu International.

Dayo Ajigbotosho, Senior Manager, Corporate Affairs, ICAN, writes via daajigbotosho@ican.org.ng

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