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Life and times of first lady of accounting, Olutoyin Olakunri

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Olutoyin Olakunri

Her name rang a bell for four decades, not only in Nigeria, but globally. She paid her dues by dint of hardwork, integrity and honesty.

She lived a fulfilled life and joined an octogenarian club in a clime, where life expectancy is between 50-60 years.

She’s a renowned accountant, seasoned administrator, foremost educationist, quintessential mother, symbol of womanhood and amazon of her time.

One thing very outstanding in her lifetime was that she was a woman of many firsts, even in the male-dominated fields.

Born in Lagos on November 4, 1937 to the family of Papa Akinola Adio Adesigbin and Madam Esther Ibidunni Adesigbin (née Doherty), Mrs. Olutoyin Olusola Olakunri left for the United Kingdom, when she was barely 13 years old, to complete her post-primary education at Hawthorne School, Frinton-On-Sea.

Thereafter, she had her tertiary education at Bournemouth College of Commerce and the University of Birmingham.

She qualified as a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England & Wales in February 1963, the first woman from Africa to achieve that feat.

Thereafter, she was employed as a Chartered Accountant in Nigeria at the firm of Messrs Peat, Marwick, Casselton Elliot & Co (now part of KPMG) until 1965.

She was a foundation member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) in 1965 and became its first female president in its 1994/1995 year.

Until her death, she was a Council Member and Chairman of the Body of Past Presidents of ICAN.

In 1978, the female members of ICAN established the Society of Women Accountants in Nigeria (SWAN). She was Chairman of SWAN and a Life Patron for over a decade.

Over the years, SWAN has extended to various African countries, and in 1997, in Paris, SWAN launched the World Body for Women Accountants.

In 2018, she launched and chaired the Akintola Williams Foundation, in honour of Chief Akintola Williams, OFR, CBE, the first African to qualify as a Chartered Accountant.

Olakunri enrolled as a Fellow of the Institute of Directors (IOD) UK in 1969 and became a foundation member of IOD Nigeria in 1983.
Again, she was IOD Nigeria’s first female president, Doyen of Past Presidents, a member of its Governing Council and Chairman of its Elders Committee.

She worked at the Nigeria Industrial Development Bank (NIDB), now Bank of Industry (BOI), for seven years, leaving in 1972 as its managing director.

She became a director at Chase Bank and, at different times, was Executive Director, ICON Stockbrokers and Managing Director, CTB Stockbrokers.

She was the first female member of the Board of the Nigeria Stock Exchange and a Council Member for five years.

As an entrepreneur, she was managing director of Diamond Plastics, a business she owned for close to 20 years until 1994, and during that time, was a member of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) where she served too as National Treasurer of the Chemical and Non-Metallic Employers Federation.

She was also a major shareholder of Famad Plc (formerly Bata Nigeria), where she was Chairman for over 20 years until 2013.

Until her death, she was Chairman, Optimum Trust Insurance Brokers, Vice-Chairman, James Insurance of West Africa and a Non-Executive Director of Premium Health.

She was an active patriot, who served Nigeria in various capacities during her lifetime, particularly during the second phase of her working life.

She contributed immensely to oversight and deliberations for different national and state institutions, including, at different times, as Chairman of the Lagos State Transport Company, Chairman of the Lagos State Ferry Service and the Education Trust Fund (ETF), now Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), where she was Chairman for two terms.

She was also a pioneer director of Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG), where she served for eight years. In addition, she was a member of various national committees, including the Constituent Assembly in 1977 (responsible for drafting the 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria), the Nigeria Consultative Process, Nigerian Vision Foundation and Nigeria’s Vision 2020 Committee.

In 2007, she joined a 22-person Electoral Reform Committee, on the invitation of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.

Olakunri held a number of chieftaincy titles, including Bobaseye of Ijebuland, Adegorike of Ijebu-Owo, Ondo State, Otunba Omoba Ola-Efon, Owu-Ijebu, Otunba Mooge of Gbagura, Abeokuta and Iyalode of Ijero Ekiti.

In 1988, she was recognised as a Distinguished Citizen of Ogun State by the Ogun State government, and in 2002, President Olusegun Obasanjo awarded her the national honour of the Order of the Federal Republic, OFR.

She was awarded honorary doctorate degrees by several Nigerian universities including University of Ado Ekiti (2004), Lagos State University (2007) and University of Nigeria, Nsukka (2008).

In 1988, she was honoured by the Yaba College of Technology for distinguished and meritorious service to the nation on the occasion of the College’s 40th anniversary.

In 2005, she became a Fellow of the Oyo State College of Education and a Fellow of the Lagos State Polytechnic.

A strong advocate for women during her lifetime, Olakunri was involved with several organisations concerned with women’s professional development and social welfare.

She was, at one time, President of the International Women’s Society (IWS) Nigeria. And until her death, she was the Chairperson of the West Africa Women Association (WAWA).

She also chaired the Bloom Cancer Care and Support Centre for over 15 years.

She also spent time working on behalf of children and young people.

Mrs Olakunri served on the Governing Councils of Federal University of Ado-Ekiti, Redeemer’s University, Bells University of Technology and Achievers’ University, Owo.

She was Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Grange School and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Brainy Kid Education Foundation.

As a devout Christian, she worshipped at St. Paul’s Church, Breadfruit, Lagos, where she was a member of the Lady Workers League and a matron of various societies.

She also served in the Parish Council and in the St. Paul’s Property Development Co.

A very humble woman, until her death, she led the Altar Guild, which saw to the cleanliness and beautification of the church, its surroundings and the church linens.

Within the Anglican denomination, she also served in the Cathedral in Abuja, and was a member of the Diocesan Board for Ekiti West.

No wonder even in her death, she remains phenomenal as the media celebrated her giant strides as a woman of substance, who came, saw and conquered.

From East to West, North to South, the testimonies of her personality have been eloquent and elegant.

In one of her interviews with the media, she was asked why she chose Accountancy in the first place, She said: “Actually, the idea came from my father.

For a long time, I was an only child. And in a time when it might have been easier for him to dial back his expectations of his first child on account of my being female, his approach to career counsel was instead very pragmatic.

He wanted me to excel, but he also wanted me to choose a path that would allow me to be a wife and mother.

Working in practice, my time would be more flexible. I would not be beholden to the expectations of an employer.

“Today, that kind of flexibility extends across many fields that were not available at the time.

Freelancing and virtual working for example are established modes of work, even among professionals.

One of my grand-daughters at 16 has just chosen her A-levels and will be at university before long. She wants to be an engineer. I am quite excited for her. 

“The way in which she will work will be a lot more flexible than if she had made a similar decision in my time.

She will be a professional, and she will enjoy the prestige, learn the skills and capabilities and benefit from the discipline that come along with that, but she will have the latitude to craft a way of working that is optimal for her own peculiar situation, whatever that may be.

She will not have to make many of the sacrifices that I did.

There has probably never been a more conducive moment in time to encourage our daughters and grand-daughters to take up the challenge of professionalism.”

On her view about today’s women, she said: “The dynamics of the world of work today create opportunities that have been unprecedented before now.

Work life looks very different today compared to when I first qualified as a professional. 

For starters, significantly fewer women today are choosing to stay at home because they no longer have to.

I am pleased to see that there are proportionately more of us women out there in the field today.

While we do not yet all have full agency in our work choices, particularly in Africa, I am pleased to see that we are getting there.

“Nowadays, work and personal lives also tend to be much more fluid–‘jobs for life’, where you would join an organisation and retire 30 years later from the same organisation, are no longer the norm.

Today, the trend is towards work environments that value individualism, personal fulfillment and ‘work-life balance’.

Individual needs and objectives are just as important as those of the organisation. It is much easier to be a working mother, for example, than it has ever been. But we cannot stop there.

The challenge before you women now, is to keep pushing. Push and push until you have carved an even better model for work. One that addresses all of the links that continue to exist in the system.

“In my case, I firmly believe that a lot of the success I have enjoyed in my career is rooted firstly in the fact that I chose a professional career. Being a professional, specifically a chartered accountant, forced me to be organised and disciplined.

It also gave me a distinct peer group against which I could judge my own accomplishments.

In my quest to run faster and harder, I think it helped that I had an eye on how fast and how hard my professional colleagues– male or female – were running.”

Rain Of Tributes For The Foremost Accountant

In his condolence, President Muhammadu Buhari praised the deceased for dedicating her life to the service of God and humanity.

Buhari lauded her leading role in encouraging women to study and acquire skills, pursue professional careers and start generational businesses that can support their families, employ others and further strengthen the society at large.

Similarly, Ogun State Governor Ibikunle Amosun described her as an accomplished professional.

In a statement by the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Chief Adedayo Adeneye, the governor said: “Olakunri made her mark as an accomplished professional accountant, being the first woman chartered accountant in Sub-Saharan Africa as well a founding member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and chief promoter of the Society of Women Accountants of Nigeria (SWAN).

“She demonstrated her versatility as an administrator and captain of industry in her capacity as the first woman president of the Institute of Directors (IoD) Nigeria, former member of the National Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Policy Commission, Vision 20:2020 Committee and Council of the Nigerian Stock Exchange.”

Similar eulogies came from the Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode who praised her doggedness and commitment charting a distinguished career path for womenfolk.

The accolades by family friends and associates heaped on her during the night of tributes reflected her life well lived and worthy of emulation by everyone.

Highlights of the night of tributes included prayer sessions, bible readings, praise and worship songs in English and Yoruba dialects by Fountain of Life choristers, and renditions of highlife music including her most cherished song track from Fela Anikulapo Kuti (Lady) as well as Jazz musical sessions by MUSON band.

One of the grandsons of the deceased; Master Momore read the most touching bible verse; Psalm 90 which warned on the futility of life, to the admiration of the gathering.

In a message, the Senior Pastor, Trinity House, Ituah Ighodalo who spoke in an emotion-laced voice recalled that the late Mrs. Olakunrin lived a life of a patriot and served Nigeria in various capacities in her lifetime contributing to state and national issues with the motive to improve living standard of Nigerians.

He advised the gathering to impact people positively while alive, as the world is a temporary space for humans.

Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun was represented by the Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Otunba Bimbo Ashiru described the deceased as a woman full of energy and absolutely committed to the wellbeing of the family, the nation and her profession.

According to him, her contributions to the growth of education and the accounting profession in Nigeria were exceptional.

“She was passionate about accountancy, loved to mentor the young ones and loved by her families and professional colleagues. We will definitely miss her”

The founder and chairman of Honeywell Group, Oba Otudeko said: “The burgeoning number and particularly the leadership role of the female gender in the accounting profession in Nigeria today is a testimony to the audacity of her demystifying and pioneering role. She came, saw and conquered.”

A close friend of late Mrs. Olakunri and former managing director of defunct Oceanic Bank, Cecilia Ibru recalled that she was a woman of many parts, always giving positive suggestions to solve life’s nagging challenges and always hardworking.

“She spoke English with a perfect diction, a woman of style and class. She always treated me as aburo with a lot of care and consideration,” Mrs Ibru said.

To the first female Nigerian professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Nigeria, Prof. Bomi Ogedengbe, the deceased was a woman so full of life with a keen sense of adventure, sophisticated, simple yet fashionable and most of all extremely loving and brilliant.

“I am so proud of her achievements more so in combination with a genuine humility. I used every opportunity to tell people that she was my adopted sister.”

Speaking on Mrs. Olakurin’s professional life in an interview with The Guardian, the 54th president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN); Alhaji Rasaq Jaiyeola noted that it would be difficult to fill the gap, which she has left behind in the profession.

According to him, as a member of the governing council of ICAN, her inputs are always unique and intelligent. He prays that God console the entire ICAN and her immediate family for the great loss.

Also speaking, an industrialist, Chief Jonathan Olopade who is a close family friend of the Olakunris said she left behind a legacy of humility, diligence and professionalism. He urged young professionals to imbibe the virtues, to go far in Life.

For Mrs. Olusola Adeyeye, one of the daughters of late Mrs. Olakunri, said the family would miss her unconditional love and how she imparted the children with the values of integrity and responsibility.

She said, “She is a kind of woman who believed that women must work hard and be resource enough to sustain themselves.

She taught us so many things with values to guide us in life, set us on the right path to face both the challenges and the joyful times people often come by in life.

Her life and indeed her numerous noble deeds serve as a shining example and an awesome inspiration to us all.

She had solution to every problem which she always termed not a problem but a challenge with a solution or solutions.”

On her part, another daughter, Mrs. Oghogho Olakunri said mama was a simple woman but more importantly, a nice woman.

She said; “My mother paid attention to detail and managed to remember tiny, little pieces of information about other people that never failed to surprise them.

She was warm and welcoming to everyone: high and low and generous to all with time, energy and resources.”

In his remarks, one of her sons, Dotun Olakunri recalled that one of the unforgettable things about her was how she managed to be so close to all her seven children, thousands of friends, their children and friends who had great relationship with her.

He said, “She combined all that with managing her career with many achievements, and being a wife.

I must go on as you taught me and move forward and be strong. But I miss her more than everybody else.”

In her tribute, Funke Adekoya (SAN) said: “Olakunri’s view was that to be successful as a woman, you had to carefully balance work and home; as she put it, you will have a family and friends after work only if you don’t ignore the family and friend while at work.

Up till last November when we met in church, she chastised me for long absences from church and society events, urging me to slow down.”


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