In the words of Samuel Ullman, “Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.” This quote represents the personality of Chief Akintola Williams, the first chartered accountant in Africa. He has for a century sustain his strength by choosing to stick to his ideals, philosophy and beliefs, which has kept him youthful at heart, even though his body is flooded with wrinkles.
Williams was born in 1919. His father, Thomas Ekundayo Williams, was a clerk in the colonial service that set up a legal practice in Lagos after training in London, England. He was the older brother of Rotimi Williams, who later became a distinguished lawyer, and the late Rev. James Kehinde Williams, a Christian minister.
He had his primary education in the early 1930s at Olowogbowo Methodist Primary School, Lagos. Williams then proceeded to the CMS Grammar School, Lagos. He went on to Yaba Higher College on a UAC scholarship, obtaining a diploma in commerce. In 1944, he moved to England where he studied Banking and Finance at University of London; graduating in 1946 with a Bachelor of Commerce. Desiring for more, he furthered his studies and qualified as a chartered accountant in England in 1949. While in England, Williams was one of the founding members of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa society, which was founded in 1948, with Dr. Oni Akerele as President and Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo as Secretary.
On his return to Nigeria in 1950, Williams served with the Inland Revenue as an assessment officer until March 1952, when he left the civil service and founded Akintola Williams & Co. in Lagos. The company was the first indigenous chartered accounting firm in Africa. 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. Williams 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.
The first partner in the firm, Charles S. Sankey, was appointed in 1957, followed by the Cameroonian Mr. Njoh Litumbe. Litumbe opened branch offices in Port Harcourt and Enugu, and later spearheaded overseas expansion. In 1964, a branch was opened in the Camerouns, 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.
Following the enactment of Companies Act of 1968, which required that companies operating in Nigeria formed locally incorporated subsidiaries and published audited annual accounts, demand grew significantly. The drive in the early 1970s to encourage indigenous ownership of businesses also increased demand. 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 (now known as Deloitte & Touche), the largest professional services firm in Nigeria with a staff of over 600.
Williams played a leading role in establishing the Association of Accountants in Nigeria in 1960 with the goal of training accountants. He was the first President of the association. He was founding member and first president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria. He was also involved in establishing the Nigerian Stock Exchange. He remained actively involved with these organisations into his old age. At a stock exchange ceremony in May 2011, he called on operators to protect the 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.
As a patriot, Williams has also made an imprint in the hands of time in public service. Some of the positions he has held 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 was honoured by the Nigerian Government with the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR). Subsequent to his retirement in 1983, Williams threw himself into a project to establish a music centre and concert hall for the Music Society of Nigeria. In April 1997, Williams 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. On the 8th of May, 2011, the Nigeria-Britain Association presented awards to John Kufuor, past President of Ghana, and to Williams, for their contributions to democracy and development in Africa.
The story of Akintola Williams has become that of a nation’s history. No wonder leaders from different fora gathered at his Ikoyi residence on Friday to pay tribute to the icon of accounting profession in Nigeria.