By Eric Elezuo
Only few persons are known to have come from rich and influential families, and still managed to carve a niche for themselves, made their own names and stood apart from the crowd. One of such persons is the indefatigable and ever committed accounting guru, arguably the best the country ever produced, Chief Akintola Williams.
Chief Williams was born on August 9, 1919 to the Ekundayo Williams family. His father was a lawyer and farmer while his grandfather, Z. A. Williams, was a prolific businessman from Abeokuta. His background really set the stage for the young Akintola to take the world by storm, rise above mediocrity and start an all new hegemony devoid of entrepreneurship, law and farming that his forebears were known for. He created a new vista, a new environment and subdued the field of accountancy. He became the first African to qualify as a chartered accountant.
Akintola took off on the journey of life when he began his education at Olowogbowo Methodist Primary School, Bankole street, Apongbon, Lagos Island, Lagos, in the early 1930s. This was the same primary school his late younger half-brother, Chief Rotimi Williams, attended.
After his primary education, he proceeded to the CMS Grammar School, also in Lagos and made one of the best results, which took him to the only higher institution of learning at the time, Yaba Higher College, now Yaba College of Technology. His education at the institution was sponsored by a UAC scholarship as a result of his brilliance. He obtained a Diploma in Commerce on graduation.
In 1944, he was admitted to the University of London, England, to study Banking and Finance, and in 1946, he graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce. He did not stop there, but continued steadfastly in his studies, qualifying as a chartered accountant in England in 1949.
After qualifying as a chartered accountant, Williams professionally started his career when he took up paid employment with the Colonial office in London. He was thereafter posted to Nigeria, and he returned home in 1950 to take the post of Inspector of Taxes, working with John Selby, whose advice laid his path to considering accountancy as a course.
In 1952 therefore, he left the job and its huge benefits to set up his own firm, Akintola Williams and Co in Lagos. It became the first indigenous chartered accounting firm in Africa. It would be recalled that 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.
With master touches of professionalism, his firm later grew ‘organically and through mergers’ to become the largest professional services firm in Nigeria by 2004. Williams participated in founding the Nigerian Stock Exchange and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria. During a long career, he has received many honours.
With his deft moves and diplomatic connections, he 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.
By 1964, the expansion of his firm has started as a branch was opened in the Cameroons. This was 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. This obviously attested to the hard work the seasoned accountant has put into his work.
With the advent of the Companies Act of 1968, demand for his services increased. This act 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, and Williams was responsive to all challenges.
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, the largest professional services firm in Nigeria with a staff of over 600.
Among many of his achievements, Williams played a leading role in establishing the Association of Accountants in Nigeria in 1960 with the goal of training accountants. He was also the first President of the association as well as the founding member and first president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria. He was very good at creating new things. He was also involved in establishing the Nigerian Stock Exchange. Akintola Williams remained actively involved with these organisations into his old age.
With an eye on due process, he called on operators to protect the stock exchange 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. He made himself available even as a retiree.
Some of the public sector positions he held are enormous and they 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.
In 1982, Williams’ efforts were recognized and he was honoured by the Nigerian Government with the O.F. R. award
Following retirement in 1983, Williams sought to diversify and keep himself busy. That prompted an all new project aimed at establishing a music centre and concert hall for the Music Society of Nigeria.
In April 1997, he was appointed a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for services to the accountancy profession and for promotion of arts, culture and music through the Musical Society of Nigeria. The Akintola Williams Arboretum at the Nigerian Conservation Foundation headquarters in Lagos is named in his honour.
As the expansion keeps becoming a recurring decimal, the firm adopted the business name “Akintola Williams Deloitte” on July 30, 2004. It has remained the oldest indigenous firm in Nigeria.
On the 8th of May, 2011, the Nigeria-Britain Association presented awards to John Kufuor, past President of Ghana, and to Akintola Williams, for their contributions to democracy and development in Africa.
A nonagenarian of no mean repute, Akintola Williams clocked 99 healthy and productive years on August 9, 2018, drawing accolades from reputable individuals including President Muhammadu Buhari, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu among many others.
Sir, for your achievements which are innumerable and the many lives you have touched in your 99 years on earth, and since 1952 when you took the bull by the horn to float your own firm, tou are our boss of the week. Congrats and happy birthday sir!