I had begun to type the words of this article when the news of attacks on Nigerians in South Africa broke yet again. It has become a recurring decimal, but it would seem that the latest attacks are more pervasive and more damaging than the previous incidents. I would rather wait to see what both governments make of the menace before commenting. I hear President Muhammadu Buhari has sent a special envoy to his South African counterpart. I also hear that Nigerians in that country have chosen to take their destiny in their hands, replacing pleas with machetes, and daring their assailants to come at them. I would rather watch for now.
In a country where life expectance is put at 50, an improvement from 47 some years ago, there is everything to write home about in becoming a centenarian as Chief Akintola Williams did recently. I assume that he needs no introduction, though such assumption holds no water for those who do not know that Chief Williams is the doyen of accountancy in Nigeria, and, indeed, Africa. Mr. Akintola Williams, as he would prefer to be addressed, was born on August 9, 1919, to one of Nigeria’s earliest lawyers, Ekundayo Williams, son of a wealthy businessman from Abeokuta, Z.A. Williams. Akintola’s mother was the third wife of his father. He is the half-brother to the late F.R.A. Williams, foremost lawyer and Nigeria’s first Senior Advocate.
Young Akintola started formal education in 1928 at the Baptist Academy, Lagos, and proceeded to CMS Grammar School, Lagos, for his secondary education. In 1939, he was admitted to the only tertiary institution then, Yaba Higher College (now Yaba College of Technology), where he studied Commerce. In 1944, he moved to London, where he studied Accountancy, and passed out in 1949. He passed the finals of the Chartered Institute of Accountants in England and Wales. He thus became the first Nigerian and one of the first black Africans to qualify as a chartered accountant.
Thus began his sustained impact on the profession for which he has become a household name. Pa Akintola, as I would prefer to address him in deference to cultural norms, has defied the vicissitudes of an environment that tends to abhor longevity. In an interview published in Thisday newspaper, his son revealed a few things about him, one of which was that he does not eat cooked food for breakfast. He probably eats fruits for the first meal of the day. The import is that fruits should constitute a major part of our diet. People have come to know the importance of fruits, but hardly have the discipline to make it a habit. Pa Akintola has the discipline to eat enough fruits in the morning to fill him for breakfast. His son also revealed that the doyen of accountancy sleeps well. He goes to bed at 10 or 11pm and gets up at noon. He probably does not sleep for 11 or 12 hours as that timing suggests, but the glaring fact is that the old man sleeps well.
Pa Akintola Williams retired from his firm at 64 as a private business owner, an indication that he understands the value of rest. I once met a lawyer who, at 80, said any move to stop him from practice was the easiest way to send him to his grave. Different folks, as they say, different strokes. But Pa Akintola does not appear like a restless person who would work himself to the bone. He probably understands the value of delegation of duties. His company has soared rather than diminished in his absence, a lesson for those who think their physical presence makes the difference, or that their ingenuity is the oxygen for their endevour.
As I read in the popular book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, by Robert Kiyosaki, the mark of a thriving business is one that does well even in the absence of the founder. Those must be separated from talents or physical sports like football that depend on the player and his age. It is the reason they are paid fabulously well because their active time is limited, and their earnings and investments in active time should sustain them in retirement. Such talent and sports cannot thrive in the absence of the talent-bearer. There have been debates that lawyers fall into that category of people whose physical presence preserves their business, but the argument has been largely debunked by lawyers who have sound juniors who can do as well, or even better their principals. In such ventures, if law practice can be so described, the reputation of the lawyers goes a long way in attracting business.
Pa Akintola’s accountancy firm must have leveraged on his impeccable reputation. Memory does not avail me, or anyone, of scandals involving him or his firm, which is why clients flock the place, knowing that truth would not be stood on its head. He is reputed to abhor waste, even as a man of means. He would, therefore, not constantly look over his shoulders for fear of ghosts from the past.
Another disclosure about the man is that he is endowed with good appetite, which does not translate to eating as a horse. He is modest in all things. There is a tendency to say that his palm kernel has been cracked by the gods, but that is not exactly true. He had a silver spoon by way of rich parents who could afford his fees, but many people in that position have frittered away the opportunity, and would rather enjoy wealth than seek to make anything of their lives. His is a life deserving of deeper study, not just for longevity but also for discipline, industry and integrity.