Inside NigeriaLeadership

Akintola Williams @100: The Indelible Marks of Africa’s 1st Chartered Accountant

By Taiwo Farotimi

He is a special gift to Nigeria, an icon that ICAN [Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria] could not domesticate. Though if accountants try to own him alone, they have every reason to do so. He is the doyen of his profession in Nigeria, and a model not just in Africa but also in the world. He takes the credit today for the training opportunity available locally for every accountant in Nigeria. Akintola Williams, first chartered accountant in Africa holds the record as the first president of ICAN.

But he is too big for the accounting world to monopolise. For his strides and relevance, the business community would not let accountants to own all of him. Reason is that in the business world, Williams also stands as a pillar; the selfless patriot who worked with others to “move the cheese” for Nigeria to join the league in the business world.  He stood to be counted when the need arose for the security and exchange commission to berth in Nigeria in 1960. Akintola Williams remains the only surviving signatory to the Memorandum of Understanding setting up the Nigeria Stock Exchange, then as Lagos Stock Exchange.  He has been honoured beyond Africa for his contribution, not just to the development of accounting but also that of democracy. It is therefore not surprising that as he marked his centenary this month, the family that celebrates with him transcends the Williams. For while members of the family of accountants fall over themselves toasting the father of the industry and political leaders line up to be counted, those in the music world and even the conservationists celebrated the icon.

Williams qualified as a chartered accountant at the age of 30, worked for two years with the Inland Revenue [now Federal Inland Revenue Service], a government agency before setting up his firm, Akintola Williams and Co. It was the first indigenous chartered accounting firm in Nigeria, and in Africa. He did not take that bold step because he wanted to be on record as the proprietor of the first accounting firm, but because he wanted to establish an outfit that will provide training for upcoming accountants. That dream came out of his experience in the United Kingdom when he almost did not get a firm to provide him an opportunity for training. It was the same consideration for those coming after him in the profession that led Williams to collaborate with others to start the Association of Accountants in Nigeria in 1960. He was the first president of the association. He was to also be the first to captain ICAN. Again, the history of firsts is not alien to his family. It is on record that Frederick Rotimi Alade Williams, popularly called FRA Williams or Timi The Law, his younger brother was also a juggernaut in the law profession. He was the first Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, the highest honour in law practice in Nigeria. That was after he had been honoured with QC, the Queen’s Counsel, being the award of excellence in law practice bestowed on lawyers by the British government. It was also extended to those practicing in countries under the British before independence.

Beginning from its establishment in 1952, Akintola Williams and Co did not just rival foreign chartered accounting firms within the Nigerian space, it started a gradual development of a firm with global standard practice that was to become an African pride capable of holding its own anywhere. Thus, by the time Pa Akintola Williams retired in 1983 the company he started with only two-years-experience had become a giant in the continent, in fact an institution known the world over. That brainchild of the man who is being celebrated now was to seal merger arrangement with two other notable companies across continents, first to become Akintola Williams Deloitte and later to be known as Deloitte and Touche. With that transformation, by 2012, the company had been cited as the largest professional services firm in Nigeria, parading a staff of over 600.

It did not jump to stardom overnight. Because the founder of that company wants the best for accountants coming after him, he decided to open the company up to development and international best practices early in the day. So, within five years after he set it up, he decided to welcome a partner in the person of Charles Sankey. Were the founder concerned only about profit instead of expanding for reasons of training, there would not have been the need to enter into partnership with anyone, because the company was doing well. It got business with the West African Pilot, published by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, independent Nigeria’s premier head of government. The company also handled the businesses of K.O. Mbadiwe’s African Insurance, the notable Fawehinmi Furniture, Ojukwu Transport Company, owned by the father of late Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu; Western Nigeria Development Company; Nigeria Railway Corporation; the Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA and the Electricity Company of Nigeria, ECN, a precursor of defunct National Electric Power Authority, NEPA and Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN.  But because the dream of its founder was to train and provide opportunities to as many people as possible, he continued to embrace new ideas and new partners. This openness became a strong policy of the company that even after the retirement of its founder the new drivers of the dream remain guided by it to the advantage of the company and its stakeholders.

A second partner, Mr. Njoh Litumbe, a Cameroonian was later brought into the fold. With the involvement of the two partners Akintola Williams and Co soon opened offices in Port Harcourt and Enugu, both in Nigeria. That was to be complemented with a branch in Cameroun in 1964. The step offshore soon got extended to Cote d’Ivoire and Swaziland, with affiliates in Ghana, Kenya and Egypt. The fulfilment of the dream to train accountants must have been so rewarding that more partners were admitted into the company as it grew. Thus, by March 1992 Akintola Williams & Co had had 19 partners and 535 staff.

The strides of the man Akintola Williams has not gone unnoticed. In the course of his practice and even in retirement he continued to attract awards and honours, in Nigeria and overseas. In 1982, he was conferred with the Officer of Federal Republic, OFR. It is the highest honour given to a private citizen. The Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, GCFR and Grand Commander of Nigeria, GCON are given only to the president and vice president respectively, while the president of the Senate and Speaker are also given the GCON along with the vice president. The only two Nigerians who have enjoyed those awards without occupying the offices are Moshood Abiola, winner of the 1993 presidential election and Babagana Kingibe, his running mate at the election. Abiola got his post humous. In 1997, though in retirement, the British government gave him Commander of the Most Excellent Order of British Empire. It was in recognition of his services in accounting profession and music through the Musical Society of Nigeria. Then in 2011 the Nigeria-Britain Association honoured him along with John Kufuor, former president of Ghana for their contribution to democracy and development in Africa. Should you have learnt about the Akintola Williams Arboretum at the Nigeria Conservation Foundation headquarters in Lagos, it is named in his honour by the Foundation of which he is a founding member.

Born on August 9, 1919 into the family of Thomas Williams, Akintola had his elementary education at the Olowogbowo Primary School, Lagos and his secondary education at the CMS Grammar School, Lagos. He attended Yaba Higher College, where he got a diploma in commerce. In 1944 he went to the University of London and graduated from there in 1946 with a degree in commerce. He went on to study accounting and in 1949 he became a chartered accountant. With that he made a record of becoming the first African to become a chartered accountant.

Though he worked in the public sector for just two years, his knowledge and experience became so irresistible for the political class not to tap from. So, at different times he served on government agencies and boards. He was a former chairman of the Federal Income Tax Appeal Commissioners between 1958 and 1968; he served as a former chairman of the Lagos State Revenue Collection Panel, was a member of the Coker Commission of inquiry into the statutory corporations of the defunct Western Region government in Nigeria.

His marriage to late Efuntiloye Mabel produced two children, Tokunbo and Seni. He could not celebrate his 90th birthday in 2009 due to the demise of his wife the same year. No doubt, relatives, friends, beneficiaries and admirers alike made it up for him this year.

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