What did Akintola Williams do right?
Four years ago, when the doyen of the Accounting profession in Nigeria, Mr Akintola Williams, reached the ripe old age of 100 years I wrote a column on him. Now he is dead at age 104. That column which was a dissection of the life of the humble old man remains valid even today. I am pleased to reproduce it here as a tribute to him.
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 10:00 or 11:00pm 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 symbolised 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?