What is it to be a professional? Discipline. A disciplined pursuit of an objective based on boundaries of ethical consideration and powered by knowledge and desire for respect of peers and standards in a global community. There is little doubt that the trouble with Nigeria comes from low levels of professionalism in many areas, yet Nigeria has produced many quintessential professionals such as Mr. Akintola Williams in accountancy, Dr. Michael Onolayola and Felix Ohiwerei in management. The CVL has celebrated or will celebrate all the men this year. If they abound why does failure of professionalism seem to define our national character so? Let us use Mr. Williams to reflect on this.
He is the grand pioneer and quintessential Professional. In many ways professionalism is about doing work with discipline, based on tried and test principles, and an ethic laced with integrity. Many consider Mr. Akintola Williams, pioneer accountant and pathfinder in the indigenous professional practice sector, a prime example of the breed.
The firm that would bear his name, Akintola Williams and company, now part of Deloitte, in response to globalization, which has affected professional practice, from Law, to Accountancy, and even Public Relations and Advertising, would also pioneer internationalization, especially with services offered to the African Development Bank, and outposts in Botswana and elsewhere.
In many ways Mr. Akintola Williams who is remembered as much for his professional work as he is for Corporate Social Responsibility and support of worthy causes is the ultimate role model. The icon as benchmark comes true with the number of outstanding people who use as measure of their self – worth how well they stack up behind Mr. Williams.
Even I use as the ultimate measure of providence being generous to me, the quiet whisper from Professor Yemi Osibajo on the day the Convention on Business Integrity, (CBI),celebrated a select few enterprise leaders for the first time in more than two decades of keeping watch on how enterprises operate with integrity. Among those honoured were two post humously and Mr. Akintola Williams, Dr. Michael Omolayole, Dr. Christopher Kolade and for some strange reason, myself. Speaking beneath his breathe Prof. Osibajo said to me’’ Pato, You keep good company. Only trouble is everybody else on the list is at least a quarter of century older than you’ I had to confess that my bones sometimes feel their age, so when on his 95th birthday Mr. Williams said to me “How would you like to be 95 and walk with the aid of a walking stick’ I had to resist joking that the mental age feel of my bones would be 120 years at that time. Jokes apart, it was the ultimate tribute to be counted in that company, makes a national honour of the Grand Commander type pace in value.
We all seem to measure by how we position relative to this icon of our times. But what has his sense of professionalism thought us about organizational integrity and corporate performance. Our panel at the CVL Leader without Title tribute colloquium to honour Mr. Williams, which is made up of Dotun Suleiman, Emmanuel, Ijewere, Marvi Isibor, Lateef Owoyemi and Uche Erobu will explore the challenges to professionalism in Nigeria.
This is a subject that has been the theme of the annual conferences of poise, the finishing school founded by Mrs. Isibor and at which I have been keynote speaker, No doubt the current crisis of governance in Nigeria, including how to align things in the face of collapsed oil price is a reminder that we need professionalism in the way we do things.
These discussion underline the three fold purpose of the LWT Tribute Colloquium series at the Centre for Values in leadership. The first is to honor and learn, the second is Think, Talk and lay the foundations for a Think Tank and the third is capture knowledge, inspire and help build institutions that shape the future, as worthy legacy.
On the first score we carefully choose Nigerians who made a difference to a world in their sector of human endeavor without care for title, more or less living Robin Sharma’s ideal of the Leader who had no title. They have to be 70 years or more in age and are clearly worth celebrating for the value they have created. In a century where we have missed the plot with our National honors list. It is hoped that we restore high value to those whose contributions are beyond dispute and whose values justify honor as values shape human progress by bringing them to this exclusive club of CVL LWT honorees. As Mahatma Ghandi reminds History remarks diligently those who do their duty. These men have done their duties exceptionally without looking for titles.
Lessons from the life of service of those honored, we hoped, will be gleaned from the roast and enable the up and coming identify enduring values to shape their own ascent.
The second goal of the series takes notice of the fact that one of the big challenges of Nigeria is the almost total absence of Think Tanks in our Policy Space. About a decade ago, Britain’s Department for International Development. DFID, commissioned me to research and produce a paper on the subject of Think Tanks and development in Nigeria. Capacity of Think Tanks, their lack, that is, has not only become a scandal for shaping policy in our development experience. It can be seen as partly responsible for the many challenges all around us.
So we look at the career of those we honor and extract a theme deserving exploring and raise an appropriate panel to engage on that theme. The discussion becomes feedstock for further research and advocacy to shape policy, and the policy process, especially around making markets work. In making a television series out of the LWT tribute colloquia it is our hope that the citizenry can become more enlightened and advocacy for policy with optimum outcomes, will be advanced.
Our hope is that from these will emerge a CVL Institution for Applied Economics of such global standing as The Brookings Institution and the Hoover institution in the United States.
On the third point we are confident to that these series can contribute to institution building which is key to sustainable development.
But the critical objective for now has to do we rekindle a strong sense of professionalism in Nigeria. A lot has to be said for what professional bodies do and how they hold their members accountable for the code of professional conduct and the nature of training which should instil a certain level of discipline, ethic and dignity that makes them feel above certain practices. As I said in a speech to the Eastern Zone of ICAN at Asaba a few years ago, accountants should feel a certain sense of shame from the broaden stealing of politicians from state government funds because they could not be done without the collaboration or acquiescence of accountants in government. I was glad the Accountant General of the west state agreed with me that day.
The bottom line is that to save a troubled Nigeria, we need more professionalism and institutions for making professionals more accountable.
Pat Utomi, Political Economist and Professor of Entrepreneurship is Founder of the Center for Values in Leadership.