We do not yet have the full story of why Mr. Akintola Williams, the Doyen of Accountancy in Africa has lived very long in a country where most people die very quickly. He must be doing what most people are not doing or he may not be doing what most people are doing. Either way this means he has been living properly. I have read the ThisDay Style interview published in the August 25, 2019 issue of the magazine in which Mr. Akintola’s son, Seni, lifts a veil on the centenarian’s life. Mr. Williams two brothers Soji and Kehinde had died some years ago. His other famous brother from a different mother Chief Rotimi Williams aka Timi the Law had also left a few years ago leaving the Accountant to take charge of the Williams’ legacy. Some of the eminent friends of Mr. Williams such as foremost industrialist, Chief Chris Ogunbanjo are inching towards their centenary too. Ogunbanjo is now 96. Chief Olu Akinkugbe is 91 while the sprightly Structural Engineer, Mr. Femi Olapade who always turns out in well-cut suits like Williams has clocked 93. In a country where the longevity age is put at fifty something it means that these old men have imbibed the wellness doctrine which has allowed them to live to ripe old age. All of these eminent men and many others in their class are rich which can be a reason why they are able to take good care of themselves medically and to stay healthy in the process. However, being wealthy can lead to over-indulgence in some excesses that can be an antidote to good health but these notable elders have not yielded to the kind of passions that can damage their health and reduce their longevity.
In the ThisDay Style interview Akintola’s son, Seni who is obviously an old man himself told us that his father who studied Banking and Finance in the United Kingdom qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1949, the first man in Africa to be so qualified. Since then he has been building a formidable accounting portfolio in Nigeria and other countries until 1983 when he retired at age 64. Over the years he has also shown that he is a well-respected patron of the arts, culture and music. This love of the performing arts found expression in his establishment of a music and concert halls for the Music Society of Nigeria which is popularly called MUSON Centre. That centre has established a reputation for itself as the gathering forum for music and performing arts aficionados in Nigeria.
Mr. Seni Akintola Williams has given us in the interview earlier referred to his father’s longevity potion. He says that the old man does not eat any cooked food for breakfast and that he eats four or five different kinds of fruits daily. The fruits include pawpaw, pineapple, oranges, apples and pears. Then he has a small lunch at 3pm and eats a bigger dinner in the evening. Seni says: “he eats very well, more than I do. At the restaurant the other day he ate five courses.” This is not an indication that he overeats. It may just mean that he nibbles at several different food items. His stomach does not have a pot in front of it. It is still very flat which makes his well-cut suits to sit very elegantly on him. According to his son, he goes to bed at about 10 or 11pm everyday and wakes up at 12noon. That indicates that he sleeps very well or he simply lingers in bed and reads the day’s newspapers and takes in the turbulence in Nigeria and the world. Nigerians are obsessed with their cell phones. They make and receive phone calls at odd hours of the day, very early in the morning and very late at night. They make and receive phone calls in churches and mosques, in their cars while driving, at night clubs and bars, at funerals and weddings. No time or place is considered unsuitable for making or receiving phone calls. Mr. Akintola Williams has exempted himself from such indulgence in the last few years. He has found other ways of sending and receiving messages thus giving his ears a well-deserved breather.
As a London trained accountant he dresses well, in lovely suits and ties and he hardly wears Nigeria’s native attires. Most accountants, even those trained in Nigeria, dress in suits and ties which seem to be the adopted uniform of the Accounting profession. Such a respectable mode of dressing appears to generate confidence and trust in the wearer and in the onlooker. It seems to say to the public: “Trust me. Your money is safe with me.”
Mr. Williams has demonstrated beyond the symbolism of a suit and tie that he should be trusted. I have heard of no financial scandal involving his company or his person in his many years of practice. Those who know him closely say he is a bastion of integrity, simplicity and modesty and that the respect he commands is not merely on account of his age but principally because he has acquitted himself creditably in those departments. The story is told of how Mr. Williams made a phone call to an executive of one of the international oil companies (IOCs) a few years ago asking for an appointment. During the phone call Williams simply introduced himself as Akintola Williams. The oil executive asked whether the voice was that of Chief Akintola Williams, the Doyen of Accountancy in Nigeria. Williams, according to the story, told him that he was simply Akintola Williams, not a doyen. He also told the oil company executive that he wanted to come and see him in his office. The oil executive refused the request but rather told him he would come and meet the old man wherever he was which the old man reluctantly accepted. I had a similar incident a few days ago with Mr. Sam Amuka aka Uncle Sam, publisher of Vanguard newspaper. Mr. Amuka has been a member of General Abdulsalami Abubakar’s National Peace Committee. I informed him that I was writing a chapter for a book that is to be published on the former Head of State soon and I needed to come and do a brief interview with him. Mr. Amuka said I should send him my address and he would come to me within an hour. I was not ready for the embarrassment of a much respected senior in my profession coming to see me on a matter for which I needed his help. I refused to give him my address which is the reason he relented. Mr. Amuka and Mr. Williams are like two peas in the same pod. Both of them are men of integrity, men of modesty and men of simplicity. They don’t make them like this anymore, at least not in this part of the world. Our space is largely occupied by people who exhibit insufferable arrogance and haughtiness. But these two men have proven that the advancement in their age is not a licence for them to recede from the virtues of integrity, modesty and simplicity. A man’s age does command respect but it is not age alone that is the harbinger of respect. Personal virtues are important for the attainment of that pinnacle of respect and reverence by people who have been blessed with the gift of longevity.
Mr. Williams has seen the names of many of his friends, family and contemporaries scrubbed off the page of life while the ravages of age symbolized by a receding hairline, a bent back and a wrinkled face are the defining features of his own life. No one can defy the ravages of life as you pass through the immutable trajectory of life. You graduate from being passionate in the morning of your life to becoming gradually compassionate about everything in the evening of your life. This evolutionary process is a product of experience, of the moderating influence that comes from the hard knocks of life and the need to become a better human being for the rest of your days in the world. Mr. Williams’ modesty which verges on self-effacedness teaches the simplicity of true greatness, and the meekness of real strength. That is why his name and fame have always gone ahead of him.
By the way, where has Accountancy been in the scheme of things in Nigeria? Has Accountancy made the Nigerian world more beautiful or simply made it coldly imperfect? Or has Accountancy been weighed down so heavily by the pressures of politics, corruption and conformity that it has failed to contribute significantly to making Nigeria a better country?