By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU
Chief Akintola Williams is one of a few Nigerian who Francis Bacon, the English philosopher described as ‘ having greatness thrust upon them’. This leading management figure of finance and business clocked 100 years last week. In this wise, he has enjoyed prosperity, success and professional accomplishments and the blessing of God to have stayed this long on this side of the planet.
Tributes have poured in from President Muhammadu Buhari to other eminent Nigerians for this doyen of accounting profession, who, like a colossus, has been for more than 60 years straddled his world in such eminence that is electrifying and spurring to younger generations of accounting buffs.
Williams was one of the founders of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, which he co-founded with Dr. Oni Akerele as President and the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo as Secretary, in London.
After studies in the United Kingdom, he returned to Nigeria in 1950, and served with the Inland Revenue as an assessment officer until March 1952, when he left the civil service and founded Akintola Williams & Co. in Lagos. The company was the first indigenous chartered accounting firm in Africa.
At the time, the accountancy business was dominated by five large foreign firms. Although there were a few small local firms, they were certified rather than chartered accountants. Williams gained business from indigenous companies including Nnamdi Azikiwe’s West African Pilot, K. O. Mbadiwe’s African Insurance Company, Fawehinmi Furniture and Ojukwu Transport.
He also provided services to the new state-owned corporations including the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria, the Western Nigeria Development Corporation, the Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation, the Nigerian Railway Corporation and the Nigerian Ports Authority.
The first partner in the firm, Charles S. Sankey, was appointed in 1957, followed by the Cameroonian Mr. Njoh Litumbe. Litumbe opened branch offices in Port Harcourt and Enugu, and later spearheaded overseas expansion. In 1964, a branch was opened in the Cameroons, followed by branches in Côte d’Ivoire and Swaziland, and affiliates in Ghana, Egypt and Kenya. By March 1992, the company had 19 partners and 535 staff.
Demand grew as a result of the Companies Act of 1968, which required that companies operating in Nigeria formed locally incorporated subsidiaries and published audited annual accounts. The drive in the early 1970s to encourage indigenous ownership of businesses also increased demand.
In 1973, AW Consultant Ltd, a management consultancy headed by Chief Arthur Mbanefo, was spun off. The company acquired a computer service company and a secretarial service, and in 1977, the company entered into an agreement with Touche Ross International based on profit sharing. Williams was also a board member and major shareholder in a number of other companies. He retired in 1983.
Between April 1999 and May 2004, Akintola Williams & Co. merged with two other accounting firms to create Akintola Williams Deloitte (now known as Deloitte & Touche), the largest professional services firm in Nigeria with a staff of over 600.
Williams played a leading role in establishing the Association of Accountants in Nigeria in 1960 with the goal of training accountants. He was the first President of the association. He was founding member and first president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria. He was also involved in establishing the Nigerian Stock Exchange.
He remained actively involved with these organisations into his old age. At a stock exchange ceremony in May 2011, he called on operators to protect the market and ensure there was no scandal. He said that, if needed, market operators should not hesitate to seek his advice on resolving any problem.
Public sector positions held by him include Chairman of the Federal Income Tax Appeal Commissioners (1958–68), member of the Coker Commission of Inquiry into the Statutory Corporations of the former Western Region of Nigeria (1962), member of the board of Trustees of the Commonwealth Foundation (1966–1975), Chairman of the 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).
Other positions include 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 centre.
However, in spite of this rich pedigree and intimidating presence in global accounting practice, there is a blot in Williams’ escutcheon, which by hindsight, tend to deem the luminous light of his illustrious accounting career: the Cadbury book cooking scandal.
The scandal only came to light when Schweppes retained PricewaterhouseCoopers to review the accounts. Cadbury Nigeria’s previous auditors were Akintola Williams Deloitte (AWD), who incidentally also failed to discover financial improprieties at Nigeria’s Afribank. This is a big mix of corporate failure, ethical negligence, auditing and accounting scandal. Later investigations into the Cadbury corporate fraud indicted Akintola Williams.
Mr. Williams was born in Lagos in 1919 to the family of Thomas Ekundayo Williams. He attended CMS Grammar School, Lagos – the first and the best secondary school in Nigeria – after his primary school education at Olowogbowo Methodist Primary School, Lagos.
As a brilliant student, Williams completed his secondary school education at CMS Grammar School in 1938 and thereafter attended the Yaba Higher College, Lagos, where he obtained a Diploma in Commerce. In 1944, he proceeded to the University of London, England where he obtained a Bachelor of Commerce Degree (majoring in Banking and Finance) in 1946.
As a man of focus, he continued his studies and qualified as a chartered accountant in England in 1949. Indeed, with this feat, Williams became the first African to qualify as a chartered accountant and became a Member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales in 1949.
As an entrepreneur and financial expert, his firm became the first indigenous chartered accounting firm in Africa. Truly, Williams has distinguished himself in many areas and has touched, transformed and empowered many lives not only in the field of accountancy but also in many areas of human endeavours.
For instance, he is a former board member of several companies in Nigeria including the Nigerian Tobacco Company Limited now the British-American Tobacco Company, BEWAC Limited, Bentworth Finance Limited, John Holt Investment Limited, G. Cappa Plc, Shell Trustees (Nigeria) Limited, Universe Re-Insurance Company Limited, United Nigerian Textiles Plc, and Mandilas Limited.
In recognition and appreciation of his commitment to the advancement of accountancy and enormous contributions to the economic development of Nigeria, Williams has been honoured by many organisations and institutions within and outside Nigeria. These include: Honorary Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to the accountancy profession and promotion of arts, culture and music through the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON) and encouraging amicable relationships between Nigeria and Britain.
Also Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (OFR) in 1982, for services to the accountancy profession and Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFR) in 2001; Life Achievement Award (LAA) by the Old Grammarians’ Society (OGS) Lagos; the Akintola Williams Arboretum at the Nigerian Conservation Foundation headquarters in Lagos is named in his honour; and Knight of the Order of Rio Branco of the Federative Republic of Brazil and First Gold Medalist, Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN).
It is imperative to state the high level of professionalism exhibited by Williams over the years and the record of achievements and legacies have made him the ‘Father of the Accountancy profession’ in Nigeria in particular and Africa in general. Also, his pragmatic and exemplary leadership qualities, mentorship and insightful solutions to the plight of the masses continue to stand him out.
Indeed, he is a catalyst for economic development, a visionary leader, an agent of positive change and a rare gem whose life is celebrated today as a role model in Africa. He was for over 60 years married to Mabel Efuntiloye Williams until her death in 2009. He has two children, Tokunbo Williams, and Seni Williams.