Olu­toyin Olakun­rin


Ex­cep­tion­ally bril­liant is a mod­est way to de­scribe the oc­to­ge­nar­ian, Olu­toyin Olakun­rin. She is a dis­tin­guished wo­man of many caps with an ex­cep­tion­ally bril­liant ca­reer many would envy! An ac­coun­tant and a found­ing mem­ber/Pres­i­dent of the pres­ti­gious In­sti­tute of Char­tered Ac­coun­tants of Nige­ria. So pas­sion­ate about her job as an ac­coun­tant was she that with some help of some other fe­males in her field, they formed So­ci­ety of Women Ac­coun­tants in Nige­ria. Olakun­rin en­cour­aged women to re­al­ize their po­ten­tials in the field of ac­coun­tancy, math­e­mat­ics and other nu­mer­acy dis­ci­plines. She didn’t only pur­sue a ca­reer in ac­count­ing, she also delved into the man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try, own­ing and man­ag­ing in­dus­trial units. She also ran a stock broking firm and was on the coun­cil of the Nige­ria Stock Ex­change. In Cor­po­rate Man­age­ment, she was the first fe­male Pres­i­dent of the In­sti­tute of Di­rec­tors (Nige­ria), an arm of the pres­ti­gious In­sti­tute of Di­rec­tors UK – a body that sets stan­dards and mon­i­tors the prac­tice of cor­po­rate man­age­ment world­wide. In the Ed­u­ca­tional sec­tor, she par­tic­i­pated in the mon­i­tor­ing of the La­gos State Univer­sity, she has been a Coun­cil mem­ber of the Univer­sity of Ado Ek­iti, and in the last eight years, has been Chair­man of the Ed­u­ca­tion Trust Fund, a Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment Fund set up to uti­lize a 2% levy on all com­pa­nies in Nige­ria to el­e­vate the qual­ity and struc­ture of the sec­tor cov­er­ing all Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment ar­eas and all lev­els of ed­u­ca­tion.

FUNKE BABS-KUFEJI spent a riv­et­ing af­ter­noon with this ama­zon, who spoke to her about her ca­reer, life ex­pe­ri­ences and turn­ing 80!

For an 80 years old wo­man, you look ab­so­lutely fab­u­lous, is there a se­cret to your look­ing this good?

I thank god for the way I look I thank god for my life. The se­cret to my look­ing this good is the grace of god. I have good health and good fam­ily. life does not stress me, so that is why I look this good.

As a trained Char­tered Ac­coun­tant and a found­ing mem­ber of (ICAN), how were you able to garner re­spect in a male dom­i­nated pro­fes­sion as far back as 1965?

I qual­i­fied as a Char­tered ac­coun­tant of eng­land and wales in 1963, af­ter which I came straight home and we founded ICan in 1965. I be­longed to the ac­count­ing body from 1963 and that was the body that cov­ered all dif­fer­ent ac­count­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tions. It was in 1965 that the more pro­fes­sional bod­ies were re­moved and put into ICan. I was the only fe­male in that body. I thank god that both the pro­fes­sions and busi­ness com­mu­nity ac­cepted me on my ar­rival be­cause I was much younger than most of them and by stature I was very small, so maybe it was an el­e­ment of sym­pa­thy for me. But I never de­manded any form of sym­pa­thy and I acted pro­fes­sion­ally. as a yoruba girl, I re­spected my el­ders. I re­mem­ber there was an as­sign­ment I was sent to per­form as I had been au­dit­ing that client’s books. It was about 10 work­ing days in­side a cold room, be­cause the client had de­manded a phys­i­cal count. we all came out every ten min­utes to breathe fresh air and went back in. My friends sug­gested I turn down the job, but I did not see it that way.

Did you at any point feel like you needed to prove your­self a lot more than your male counter parts to be re­spected and did you ever think of giv­ing up?

I never thought of giv­ing up. Did I have to work harder to prove my­self? yes, I think I did. There were oc­ca­sions, when ar­riv­ing at a client’s place, they would as­sume I was a sec­re­tary and were usu­ally sur­prised to see that I was lead­ing the team. I never al­lowed any­body to carry my books for me, as that would be an in­di­ca­tion of weak­ness-the weaker gen­der. I put in as much into the work and more so as to prove that I was equal to my con­tem­po­raries.

You were the first Chair­man of So­ci­ety of Women Ac­coun­tants and a pro­moter of the or­ga­ni­za­tion for over 10 years. In your own opin­ion, has the or­ga­ni­za­tion achieved what it is set out to do and how would you say it has helped fe­male Ac­coun­tants in Nige­ria?

yes I would say that the or­ga­ni­za­tion has been a very suc­cess­ful, more suc­cess­ful than we even hoped for. we set out to draw more girls into the pro­fes­sion. There is a feel­ing that a wo­man who is very math­e­mat­i­cal won’t get a hus­band, but we have shown that that doesn’t ap­ply. of course we talked to the women at the mar­ket and girls in schools, en­cour­ag­ing them to see us as mod­els to look up to. some of our mem­bers held lessons at their homes for ladies liv­ing in their lo­cal­ity. we were able to give sup­port to women to at­tend classes in ac­coun­tancy, hith­erto, their hus­bands had been re­luc­tant to let them go, but here were we mother hens, ready to pro­tect them. we found out that women in other pro­fes­sions could not break the glass ceil­ings to get to the high­est lev­els in their pro­fes­sions be­cause of lack of ac­count­ing knowl­edge. so we ran cour­ses for them called ac­coun­tancy for non-ac­coun­tants and we ran it at the in­sti­tute’s head quar­ters. Through this, we en­cour­aged the fe­males in other pro­fes­sions to form their own bod­ies too. The so­ci­ety of women ac­coun­tants in nige­ria and all the fe­male ac­coun­tants are a big united force to be reck­oned with in ICan.

There is a gen­eral be­lief that ac­coun­tants who au­dit pri­vate and pub­lic com­pany ac­counts con­trib­ute to cor­rup­tion in the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors. As a fore­most ac­coun­tant how will you re­spond to this?

we do not live in a bub­ble, we are es­sen­tially part of the nige­rian pub­lic and so de­spite all the pres­sures put by ICan and our lead­ers, we are not im­mune from the canker­worm in the nige­rian sit­u­a­tion. ICan tries des­per­ately to give them the kind of sup­port they need, but whilst our motto is “ac­cu­racy and In­tegrity” they need to get em­ploy­ment and re­tain em­ploy­ment, to be able to feed them­selves and their fam­i­lies and when they err, it is be­cause of we nige­ri­ans who em­ploy them and who live in a cor­rupt world. ICan tries to in­still this dis­ci­pline by threat­en­ing them with dis­ci­pline and to en­cour­age them in all ways to up­hold their in­tegrity.

You also served as the first Fe­male Pres­i­dent of the In­sti­tute of Di­rec­tors (Nige­ria) an arm of the pres­ti­gious In­sti­tute of Di­rec­tors UK – a body that sets stan­dards and mon­i­tors the prac­tice of cor­po­rate man­age­ment world­wide. What will you say your great­est achieve­ment was head­ing this group?

I was a mem­ber of the UK branch and found the in­ter­ac­tion with other di­rec­tors very use­ful and re­ward­ing. so when Chief guoba­dia de­cided to set up a branch in nige­ria, I was one of the foun­da­tion mem­bers. There were very few mem­bers at the startup, and we used a col­league’s small of­fice off Iko­rodu road. we were try­ing to build up mem­ber­ship but still de­pen­dent on the UK. when Chief guoba­dia handed over the in­sti­tute to me. I had a look at the UK of­fice and de­cided we should do some­thing sim­i­lar, so with great faith and a lot of hard work, we were able to move to a flat in Vic­to­ria Is­land. It was a lot more ap­pro­pri­ate for an in­sti­tute of di­rec­tors; we in­vited the UK to com­mis­sion. we, the few found­ing mem­bers do­nated books and other items to make it look slightly pres­ti­gious. we started to hold pro­grams and started re­cruit­ing. we even estab­lished a re­la­tion­ship with the pres­i­dency to con­sider us as one of the in­sti­tu­tions that they would con­sult on cor­po­rate man­age­ment is­sues. But now of course, IoD has grown tremen­dously. we are no longer a branch of lon­don, we stand on our own. we have thou­sands of mem­bers and we are mak­ing a big im­pact. we are in­deed a force to be reck­oned with.

A wo­man of many caps you’ve worked as an ac­coun­tant, delved into man­u­fac­tur­ing and worked in the pub­lic sec­tor on the Ed­u­ca­tion Trust fund and more. Which one of th­ese many jobs gave you the most ful­fill­ment and why?

on that it will be the ed­u­ca­tion trust fund, be­cause we took it up from in­fancy and built it into an or­ga­ni­za­tion that iden­ti­fies the needs in ed­u­ca­tion at all lev­els and es­tab­lishes sup­port. Dur­ing the time we were there, we worked with the FIrs to en­cour­age

there were oc­ca­sions, when ar­riv­ing at a client’s place, they would as­sume i was a sec­re­tary and were usu­ally sur­prised to see that i was lead­ing the team. i never al­lowed any­body to carry my books for me, as that would be an in­di­ca­tion of weak­ness-the weaker gen­der. i put in as much into the work and more so as to prove that i was equal to my con­tem­po­raries.

the pri­vate sec­tor to build up ed­u­ca­tion tax. we did this by study­ing every ed­u­ca­tion tax­payer year af­ter year. I also had six trustees work­ing with me rep­re­sent­ing the six zones. They ef­fec­tively stud­ied their zones be­cause they had been in ed­u­ca­tion all their lives. even with pick­ing the board, we had one per­son rep­re­sent­ing the univer­si­ties, sec­ondary, pri­mary and other ter­tiaries. we were able to get the al­ma­jiris and their mal­lams to rec­og­nize that study­ing the qu­ran alone was not enough. we estab­lished dis­cus­sions. we were part of the feed­ing of schools pro­gram and had achieved great suc­cess in Kano state (not funded by us), be­cause it was pri­vate sec­tor driven and the ul­ti­mate aim was to pro­duce ed­u­ca­tion fit for par­tic­i­pa­tion in the pri­vate sec­tor. we tried to run it on a pri­vate sec­tor sys­tem and we worked to have not more than 100 per­son­nel. To­day it has be­come more of a pub­lic sec­tor agency. It caters for only ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions and has ex­panded to 500 em­ploy­ees. It is now called TetFund.

As chair­man of Ed­u­ca­tion Trust Fund will you say com­pa­nies have been co­op­er­at­ing in re­mit­ting their con­tri­bu­tion to the funds and how has the fund as­sisted in im­prov­ing in­fra­struc­ture in the ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion par­tic­u­larly in univer­si­ties?

I was chair­man of eTF 1999-2007, at that time the big com­pa­nies were co­op­er­at­ing, and just be­fore we left, Ifueko omoigui- okauru took over at the in­land rev­enue and taxes im­proved tremen­dously for that year. Dur­ing our time, there were two years when gov­ern­ment did not pro­vide cap­i­tal fund­ing to the univer­si­ties and the lit­tle amount we could pro­vide was all they had. TetFund doesn’t cater for pri­mary and sec­ondary lev­els, just ter­tiary. Presently, the taxes have im­proved tremen­dously, so the univer­si­ties are bet­ter funded now.

What is your gen­eral view on the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem in Nige­ria and what is­sues do you think should be ad­dressed so as to im­prove it?

I see so many peo­ple who have grad­u­ated from sec­ondary school and who are not ed­u­cated. In many states, Pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion is still car­ried out in the mother lan­guage. when do they con­vert to the english lan­guage that is com­mon through­out the coun­try and will help them out­side the coun­try? Many teach­ers who are work­ing now have missed ed­u­ca­tion and are not qual­i­fied to teach the younger ones. we have a craze for go­ing into the univer­si­ties rather than for teach­ing and tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion. Many leave univer­sity with­out un­der­stand­ing the pur­pose for which they have grad­u­ated. In fact, many grad­u­ates pay their way through, es­pe­cially the girls, through cash or in kind. we should do more to pro­duce qual­ity teach­ers, we should do more to pro­duce tech­ni­cal skills to build up the coun­try, it ap­pears that what we se­ri­ously need is for gov­ern­ment to re-ex­am­ine the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and de­sign it to­wards achiev­ing the vi­sion for where nige­ria is sup­posed to be head­ing.

Look­ing back, would you have done any­thing dif­fer­ently?

yes. look­ing back hon­estly, any one my age would re­al­ize that there are some life ob­jec­tives one would have achieved bet­ter, but I am not go­ing into that now.

What ad­vice do you have for women who as­pire to take up lead­er­ship roles in male dom­i­nated fields to ex­cel?

They are male dom­i­nated be­cause there are few women there, so my first sugges­tion would be to get more women into that field. how­ever, there are some pro­fes­sional ac­tiv­i­ties that are not suit­able for women. women tend to be multi-tasked as na­ture in­tended them to be. If they are mar­ried, they have to at­tend to their hus­bands and if they have chil­dren, care for them and that is a full time task. some­times women feel it is the sys­tem that doesn’t al­low them to achieve the same level as men, but it is ac­tu­ally the var­i­ous dis­trac­tions they are in­volved in. whereas men can be pi­geon eyed fo­cused on their work.

sec­ondly, women are built dif­fer­ently from men, and whilst they might have dif­fi­cul­ties in car­ry­ing out var­i­ous func­tions, men, sim­i­larly, have dif­fi­cul­ties in ar­eas that women are ap­pro­pri­ately built for. I think women are too both­ered about want­ing to be equal to men. They should con­cen­trate on do­ing what they are de­signed for and ex­ceed the men, that way the men will envy us. There is hardly any ca­reer line to­day where we do not have both women and men. I can­not think of any. ev­ery­body should make their in­di­vid­ual choices and not be both­ered by com­pe­ti­tion from men.

It’s rare to find one still work­ing at your age and be­ing on boards of com­pa­nies. Any sign of re­tir­ing soon?

I think my 80th birth­day is a wa­ter­shed and I will be tail­ing off on the few things I’m still do­ing. at 80 no mater how fab­u­lous one looks, some of the func­tions of the body are not like be­fore. your legs don’t carry you as fast as they should, your mem­ory is re­tir­ing, you’re no longer up to date with hap­pen­ings in the com­mu­nity (mostly be­cause you don’t want to), but we thank god for be­ing able to be ac­tive till now.

On a lighter note how does it feel to be 80 and what legacy do you hope to leave be­hind?

In the last two months, I have asked that ques­tion at least twice ev­ery­day. re­ally they say age is but a num­ber, I now un­der­stand what they mean. 80 does not come up on my raider at all, ex­cept when I’m think­ing about the par­ties planned. There are no rules for be­ing 80, per­haps I should read a book on what it should be, turn­ing 80.

as to what legacy I hope to leave be­hind, what­ever I have achieved so far. I do not in­tend to start any­thing new at this stage, so you must take me as you see me.

And now that you have more time to your­self what do en­joy do­ing?

I catch up on lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional news on TV. I was never an ath­letic per­son, so my ac­tiv­i­ties are more sta­tion­ary than all over the place. I read, I pray, I re­flect on my past, I write, though not much. Th­ese are the things that I do.

Do you have any pet Peeves?

I find it dif­fi­cult to ac­cept young peo­ple not be­ing well man­nered. Dur­ing our time, it was tough, but we had to fol­low the rules. as yoruba’s we were sent to live with other rel­a­tives who would train us in the tra­di­tions of our cul­ture if our par­ents were be­ing too ac­com­mo­dat­ing.

I do not like to see bla­tant and shame­less steal­ing and cor­rup­tion. There are many other ac­tiv­i­ties that I can­not tol­er­ate, but I try to tell my­self that this is the 21st cen­tury, and I should try to ac­com­mo­date. My

time was in the 20th cen­tury.

At 80 you have seen it and heard it all, what is your def­i­ni­tion of a com­plete wo­man?

she is a wo­man who has sat­is­fac­tion at be­ing a wo­man. she has en­joyed be­ing a wo­man and not a man. she has rec­og­nized the priv­i­leges of be­ing a wo­man and has made the most of this with no re­grets. she stands tall as a wo­man.

We should do more to pro­duce qual­ity teach­ers, we should do more to pro­duce tech­ni­cal skills to build up the coun­try, it ap­pears that what we se­ri­ously need is for gov­ern­ment to re­ex­am­ine the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and de­sign it to­wards achiev­ing the vi­sion for where Nige­ria is sup­posed to be head­ing.

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