Home / Business / Lesson To Learn In Life: Special Interview With High Chief Simeon Olusola Oguntimehin OON, ‘Lisa Of Ondo Kingdom’

Lesson To Learn In Life: Special Interview With High Chief Simeon Olusola Oguntimehin OON, ‘Lisa Of Ondo Kingdom’

The Brits thought I used juju to become the first Black to qualify from Oxford – Sir High Chief Simeon Olusola Oguntimehin OON “Lisa of Ondo Kingdom”
Ex-ICAN President, member of ICPC Board.
Q:Did you choose accounting profession or the profession chose you?
A:I will say it’s an act of destiny. I was born on September 12, 1935 in Ondo town. I started schooling at the age of six. After my primary education, I attended the famous Ondo Boys High School for my secondary school education. In 1954, I left the secondary school and then took my Cambridge school certificate. After my exams, I went to Lagos and by December 30 of that same year, I got employed to start work immediately. But before I left secondary school, a cousin of mine had hinted me about the accounting profession, when I went to his place for my holiday. Before then, the professions we knew were law and the likes. I would have read law. When I was in secondary school, all we knew was law. That was the common thing then. So, by the time I went back to start work, he asked me what I still felt about the accounting profession. But a lot now depended on if my result came out good. I was working in the Survey Department until July 1965 by which time I had made up my mind that I would study accountancy. But the regulation was that my work must be accounting related. With my result released, I moved to the accountant general’s department. Festus Okotie-Eboh was then our minister (of Finance) in Lagos then. By 1956, I did the preliminary examination because the result I had in my school certificate did not measure up to the standard. I passed that in 1966. I remember that was the first time my name was published in The West African Pilot. Now, having been accepted as doing accounting work, I had made up my mind that I would pursue a career in accounting. However, the challenge was how to go about it. It was virtually mission impossible to get Articleship or training in UK. But as God would have it, in 1957, I had the opportunity to go to Oxford. In fact, I was the first black man to be articled. The training period was five years in which period you were expected to pass the exams or you get repatriated. There was a period of six months probation, which I survived, luckily. I also passed the other three stages of exams–preliminary, intermediate and final. After I qualified, I returned to Nigeria and I started working as an accountant in 1961. I grew to the pinnacle of my career by rising to become the president of the ICAN in 1995/96. Before then, for 10 years running, I was the treasurer of the association from 1983 to 1993.
Q: What were some of those challenges that you faced maybe during the training or even in your practice?
A: Even training in UK to become an accountant was a challenge. I left with the trust of God. As I told you, I was the first black man to qualify in Oxford. In fact by the time I qualified, they called a press conference to tell people how I made it. They asked if I used black juju to pass. So, from day one, I faced challenges. The first challenge was getting someone to article me, which I surmounted. Later, I was faced with passing the examinations. And you know with the exams in those days, if you fail in one subject, you fail in all. Another challenge was in getting British passport. In those days, we were under the British Colony, to get a passport was like seeking to go to the moon. They had to set up a committee to look into people going and the Nigerian government said anybody going must deposit 350 pounds. That was my gross salary for two years. Where did they expect me to get that kind of money? It was mission impossible. But by the grace of God, without me having any money to deposit, my passport came out.
Q: You said the school authority called a press conference and they were asking you if you used black juju.
A: Truly, that was what happened.
Q: Really? With due respects sir, it sounds a bit exaggerated.
A: Nope. That was what happened.
Q: Okay, what would you attribute your success to?
A: I was concentrating. I was in Oxford and before you find a black man there, it was rare. So, there was high level of concentration from me. I studied hard knowing I was given a rare opportunity to get there. Added to that, I was extremely lucky in that the same house I lived with my landlady and her husband was where I lived till I returned to Nigeria. I didn’t have accommodation problems like many Nigerians did. It was the room that I put my luggage that I stayed all through, and I was well taken care off.
Q: All through your profession, did you ever feel you were in the wrong profession?
A: Never! I never felt like that. Rather, I felt this is a destined career for me. From day one, having succeeded in getting the most curtail aspect, which is the articleship, I knew I had to devote everything to it. And by His grace, I succeeded. It wasn’t my own making. I cannot downplay the God factor in my success. In fact, it would be foolish for any successful person to downplay the God factor, no matter how brilliant the person might think he is. God is the author of wisdom and, indeed, all great things. He alone makes things happen at their seasons.
Q: What would you consider as your greatest achievement so far?
A: That I succeeded in making the impact in my profession. When I was in practice, it exposed me a lot. I remember in 1962, I was Benin/Warri area when they announced the state of emergency. I have travelled far and wide. And I think it was in appreciation of my contributions to the accounting world and financial sector at large in Nigeria that the Nigerian government gave me national honours in 2001(of Officer of the Order of the Niger, OON). So, I feel fulfilled and I thank God I did not go into a wrong profession. Luckily, one or two of my children are also into the accounting profession.
Q: You preempted me sir. I was actually going to ask if any of your children is taking after your profession…
A:Yes, two of them are accountants already. One is a chartered accountant but, incidentally, he has gone into publishing and public speaking.
Q: What were some of those low moments you had in life?
A: I don’t think I have had any low moments so far. As I said, I arrived Nigeria in 1961 and went into the profession as an employee and straight after as a partner in a firm. The only low moment I may say I’ve had was when my other partner retired his partnership in 1978. I was shocked because it was just two of us. I wasn’t happy but by October of that year, I got a third partner. So, by the time he was leaving, I had another partner. And by the time I was leaving, I left about 13 partners there.
Q: People say accountants are stingy. Are you stingy?
A: (Laughs). I am not stingy. You see, why people say that about the accountant is that before he spends a kobo, he must make sure it is desirable and he doesn’t just throw money around anyhow because he knows he works very hard to get it. Well, people also say that accountants are proud.
Q: Oh, are accountants not proud?
A: I don’t think so either. I think they are reserved. They keep to themselves a lot. But on stinginess, I don’t think so. At least, I am not stingy.
Q: What lessons would you say life has thought you?
A: I will say life has thought me to work hard. I lost my father before I was 10 years old in 1943. I was six years old and I was still in standard one. But by the grace of God, I was able to survive the challenges.
Q: How did you cope without a father at that tender age?
A: Well, my poor mother of blessed memory ensured I stayed in school. Then, they were still paying; it was not like the days of Awolowo when they had free education. My mother did all sorts to ensure she paid my way through school. She devoted her time to us, her children. I was able to secure scholarships into secondary school by the Ondo native administration.
Q: During those times that your mother was struggling to keep you in school, in what way or ways did you support her?
A: Yes, I did support her. By Friday, I ran back to the farm, returning home on Sunday to resume school on Monday.
Q: You were talking about life’s lessons…
A: Like I said, you have to work hard and not only that, in whatever one does, you have to be honest. I hate people telling lies. I also do not joke with integrity. It is part of my calling as a chartered accountant. That is why the government, about five years ago, after I had left service, invited me to be a member of ICPC. I was short-listed and screened by the senate. I cherish integrity and anything that goes the way of corruption, I detest it. I don’t go near it. I don’t have the patience to bribe anybody neither do I like anybody to bribe me. When I left the survey department to treasury, I just got there and told them I wanted to work. I didn’t have to bribe anybody. It was there and then I applied and I submitted my application. That was how I got into the treasury. I told you of how I also got my passport without bribing anybody. So, where do I now have cause to be corrupt or to ask anybody to bribe me? This is just my life.
Q: It’s ironic that the situation of Nigeria has changed now. Everywhere you turn, there is one form of bribery story or the other. How did we get to this junction, in your own opinion?
A: It’s sad the way things have changed for the worse. How we got to this place is that in those days, transparency, accountability was supreme. Now, that is lacking. What you find now is that people apply for loan to buy cars or build houses and they would divert it. They won’t even move near the project they applied for the loan for. Integrity has developed wings. It has gone out of Nigeria. In our days, we were not used to that kind of thing. We never heard of it. What happened was that our problem started with the discovery of oil, when oil came just before independence. Before then, people were relying on agriculture–cocoa in the West; palm kernel was in the east and groundnut was in the north. In fact, when I was in Malaysia about two years ago, I was told that it was from Nigeria that they took the oil palm seeds that they used to start their oil palm plantations. Now, they not only export oil, they are also the number 1 or 2 exporter in the world. I think Indonesia is number 1.
Q: Is that not a big shame to Nigeria?
A: It’s a shame. When oil came, everybody forgot about farming. It got worse when soldiers took over government and cheapened governance and institutionalized corruption. They issued import license to people and they were not importing anything. It’s still happening even now. The English man would say there is a limit to a man’s need, but there is no limit to one’s greed. You can’t ride three cars at once. You can’t sleep on three beds at the same time. But when greed came into it, people who didn’t know how to work went into politics and the next is to acquire what they really don’t need. Values have been lost.
Q: So, what is the way out?
A: It is our leadership that we have to address. A place like Singapore and Malaysia, we were all grouped together as third world countries at a point in time. But today, they are no longer third world countries. The major problem we have is oil money, which has made the government and the people to lose and replace our core values with corruption, greed and so on. When Obasanjo got into power 1999, the first bill he sent to the parliament was the ICPC bill. And it’s the first Act of the parliament that emerged. Before Obasanjo came up with that bill, we were adjudged the second most corrupt country in the world. After the ICPC, when it was clear that some of the allocations that were being given to the governors were being misappropriated and they were prosecuted, the ranking improved. I read somewhere, last week, that it is like we are back as number three. When I was leaving ICPC, we were 135 out of 180 on Transparency International’s corruption index. So, you can see that it’s getting worse. The answer to this problem is good leadership. If we have good leadership and they have the political will to fight corruption, we will get out of it. But if it is being done by the word of mouth and they continue to give stipends to the agencies to fight corruption, then, we have not started. You discover that what is being given to the agency to fight corruption is not even up to what a minister or a House member takes home as allowances. The law is not being followed to the latter either. You find a situation where one person is prosecuted and given the stipulated court sentence, someone would just get up and release the person after six months. That is not the best way to fight corruption. If the law says 10 years jail term, no matter who the person is, let him or her spend 10 years behind bars. The whole thing is very unfortunate. We have a whole lot of opportunities here but with all this greed everywhere, we are still lagging behind. Unless we get a leader that is committed to fighting the national scourge (corruption) to a standstill, we will not get out of the corruption web. And I’m yet to see that leader. Also, not only the government, every one of us, as Nigerians, must take it as a point of duty to fight corruption. Don’t give bribe and don’t receive. Mind you, it’s not poverty that breeds corruption because the rich and the super rich are the most culpable.
Q: During your days in ICPC, did you have anybody offer you bribe?
A: No, they won’t dare because they know my background. I told you I was ICAN treasurer for 10 years, uninterrupted. You know what that means? They know that I am integrity personified and they wouldn’t dare bring it near me.
Q: Did you have any threat-to-life experience because of your stance?
A: No.
Q: If you had the opportunity to undo something that you did in your past, what would that be?
A: I can’t remember anything that I want changed. Not to the best of my knowledge.
Q: Do you have any regrets in life?
A: Surprisingly and luckily, I don’t have. Life has been good to me.
Q: What would you say is your happiest moments so far?
A: My happiest moment was when my first daughter was born August 29, 1963; a year plus one after my wedding.
Q: Any specific reason?
A: Because I married in August of 1962, and I didn’t have her until a year plus one day after. In those days, people always insisted that the girl must be pregnant before you marry her; but I didn’t do that. People were talking and I insisted I was not going to get her pregnant and that since neither of our parents was barren, we would not be. It also took three months after our wedding but when it finally came, we were happier for it.
Q: How did you meet your wife?
A: Incidentally, we lived in the same vicinity. I was in the secondary school and she was in primary school. We were boyfriend and girlfriend for 10 years, 1952-1962. And within those 10 years, I left for England to study and she waited for me. I had made up my mind and when I returned, we got married.
Q: Fifty years after the wedding, what are some of those challenges that you’ve had to overcome together?
A: Well, in life, there are challenges that must be overcome. But as God would like it, our challenges were minimized. Because as at when we were raising those children, five of them, our two mothers were alive. It is the car that takes my mother home three months after delivery that would bring my mother-in-law. During the first one year, they were interchanging. We had no problem raising the children. And unlike these days, we had maids with us. So, we had no problem in raising our children. By the way, in 1977, when she turned 40, I made her stop her banking job so she could concentrate on raising the children. She stopped and today we have graduates of different disciplines and they are doing well. I was travelling a lot, so, if she were not around, raising the children properly would have been difficult. These days, you find marriages break up barely few years into it.
Q: What do you think the youths are doing wrong?
A: It’s basically because of incompatibility. Compatibility is one of the grounds for marriage. You can’t patch it. If you are not compactable, it would fail. You have to watch the person well too. There are some things that would be obvious from when you are courting. If you don’t resolve it before going into marriage, that may be the sore point in the marriage. I have no regrets marrying my wife.
Q: What is your advice to young ones on how to choose life partners to make their marriage successful?
A: You have to be patient. Don’t be greedy. Don’t jump from one person to another. Stick to your partner. I can confirm to you that no other man has ever seen my wife’s nakedness. Also don’t compare your partner to another person’s. You’ll be amazed at what would get to hear about others if you listen well. Be content with what you have.
(Source from :THE SUN October 1, 2012.
Reporter By :Tope David-Adegboye).

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