Celebrating Dafinone at 85 By Henry Ebireri
Born on March 12, 1927 in Sapele, Delta State, going to school was not quite early for the consummate chartered accountant, politician and nationalist as he had to wait and meet the physical requirement that prescribed the ability to touch ones other ear with his hand thrown across his head. But as soon as he started, there was no stopping him.
Dafinone became a pupil at Government School, Benin, from 1934 to 1938 and Edo College, Benin, from 1939 to 1942. Between 1943 and 1945, the young Dafinone moved to Abeokuta Grammar school where he remained until completing his secondary education and emerging as the overall best candidate in Mathematics in the Cambridge School Certificate Examination in West Africa for that year. The feat automatically won him a scholarship from the then Lt. Governor of Northern Nigeria, L. H. Gobble, to further his studies overseas.
During his days at Abeokuta Grammar School, Dafinone imbibed the motto of the school that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. Being a brilliant, quiet and obedient pupil, he escaped being caned by the principal throughout the years he stayed in the school. However, on his last day as a pupil at Abeokuta Grammar School in December 1945, the principal of the school, Rev. I. O. Ransome-Kuti wondered why Dafinone was not a familiar face to him. The principal drew 18 year old Dafinone close to himself and rubbed his ears continuously for several minutes resulting in a swollen face – with a message: If you went through this school free, you will think the world that is waiting for you outside there is without any difficulties. Painfully and in tears, Dafinone responded, “Thank you, Principal” as was the tradition with Rev. I. O. Ransome-Kuti’s pupils.
He joined the civil service on August 28, 1946 in the lower cadre as a third class clerk in the Registration and Records Department and worked closely under the supervision of Mr. E. Ejueyitchie who was the administrative officer in the Finance Department. In 1948 when Mr. Ejueyitchie was transferred to the Zaria Training Institute, Dafinone was appointed Acting Administrative officer in the Finance Department.
At 21, Dafinone was saddled with the responsibility of preparing the native treasury estimates for the entire Northern Nigeria. The task entailed the entire paper work on revenue and expenditures of the entire 92 native treasury in Northern Nigeria. Whenever the estimates were prepared, they were taken before a special Finance Committee appointed by the colonial administration for approval before they eventually received the Governor’s consent. The membership of that committee consisted of five notable Nigerians, who today would be regarded as the founding fathers of Nigeria- Ahmadu Bello, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Alhaji Muhammadu Ribadu, Alhaji Aliyu Makaman Bida and Alhaji Yahaya Madawakin Ilorin.
So pleased with Dafinone’s job as Acting Administrative Officer in the Finance Department as well as Assistant Secretary to the Special Finance Committee of the Big Five, they recommended Dafinone for the First Devonshire Course in Public Administration at the University of Exeter in August 1951.
He spent two years at Exeter University where he obtained a Diploma in Public Administration. On completion of the course, Dafinone was advised by the then Governor-General of Nigeria, Sir Arthur Richards, who had much knowledge of his performance in Kaduna to read for a university degree if he must come home to cope with the challenges of development in Sub-Saharan Africa. He thus enrolled for a degree in Economics (with specialization in accounting) in 1953 at the University of Hull. He transferred to the University of London as an external student in 1956 where he graduated in 1958. He immediately enrolled for his professional examinations with the institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.
In the same year, he joined J.A. Miles and company, a firm of chartered accountants as an articled clerk. He served his term for three years with the firm and having passed his professional examinations, he was admitted as a member of the Institute of chartered Accountants in England and Wales in November 1963.
Dafinone who qualified as a Chartered Accountant in Nigeria in 1970, returned to Nigeria in 1963 and joined Delloites, Haskins and Sells, a firm of Chartered Accountants as an audit manager. With the heavy load of work he carried out at Delloites, he maintained a warm relationship with many of his old contacts and cultivated new ones in the public sector. He made acquaintance with several Federal Ministers of the First Republic. Thus after office hours, he stops in the house of Chief Festus Okotie Eboh. Sometimes, he went to Sir Balewa’s house. He offered his views in note forms and oral discourses on technical financial issues before such were eventually typed and formally coded. He also on several occasions assisted the Prime Minister in drafting some of his short questions and answers in the parliament.
On August 18, 1966, he founded a firm of chartered accountants registered in the Federal Republic of Nigeria under the registration of Business Names Act of 1961. He named the firm after himself; D. O. Dafinone & CO. (now Horwath Dafinone).
1n 1967, the then Head of State General Yakubu Gowon appointed him into a three man commission to investigate the assets of public officers in the then Mid-West State of Nigeria. He worked for several months on the commission, but at the end of the day had to make independent, minority recommendations because he found some aspects of the initial report not agreeable with his personal convictions.
In 1969, the Gowon Administration again appointed Dafinone a Commissioner under the Ports Amendment Decree of 1969 to serve as the Federal Government Arbitrator with Justice Fatiyi Williams as Chairman to take over the Port of Warri and Calabar from the United African Company Limited. From 1964 to 1970, he sat on various Commissions as Administrator and member for the Apapa Road Project tribunal together with Justice Adefarasin as Chairman. In 1971, he was appointed Sole Commissioner by the Ministry of internal Affairs to investigate the affairs of the Nigeria Pools Company Limited.
Impressed with much of Dafinone’s service to the country especially during the war years, General Gowon in 1971 appointed him a non-executive Director of the nation’s apex bank, the Central Bank of Nigeria. He served in several capacities at the CBN and was at different times, the Chairman of the Monetary and Banking Policy Committee and the Recruitment Committee.
In September 1978, when the administration of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo lifted the ban on partisan politics, he joined the National Party of Nigeria (NPN).
Along with the likes of Alhaji Adamu Ciroma; Dr. Ibrahim Tahir and others, they wrote the manifesto of the new party – NPN – inside his office on Broad Street, Lagos.
Dafinone’s going into politics was not predicated on personal ambition to lead the people. He was called upon by his people who had seen and could attest to his level of commitment to the welfare of the people, transparency and incorruptible nature, to go into politics.
He was elected as a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 1979, representing former Bendel South (now Delta Central in Delta State) senatorial zone.
He soon leveraged on this election and repositioned the Urhobo ethnic group which had been marred with factional fighting among various interest groups. He started the Urhobo Development Association (UDA) with other prominent sons of Urhobo which provided purposeful leadership for the people in the 80s.
In the senate, he served as Chairman, Senate Committee on Commerce, Industries, National Planning and Steel Development between 1979 and 1983. He was re-elected for a second term in 1983.
He consistently supported the creation of new state as a means of ensuring good governance. As the NPN caucus leader in the senate, he had a working arrangement with the other parties. Thus on several issues of national interest, he was able to muster his colleagues for the Alhaji Shehu Shagari Administration. He showed an unflinching commitment to the promotion of high standards in the practice of the accountancy profession in Nigeria.
After the sack of the Second Republic by the Military, Dafinone returned to the private sector, and his performance in previous assignments further facilitated his appointment in 1987 as consultant to carry out a detailed organizational, financial, technical and management review of the country’s steel mills with a view to providing information for their partial privatization and commercialization. As a man with a strategy for settlement of disputes, he was also appointed to Arbitrate the dispute between the Nigeria Security Printing and Minting Company Limited and Thomas de la Rue limited of the United Kingdom in 1990.
Between 1990 and 1991, Senator Dafinone was appointed as a consultant to the Federal Government to source funds for the completion of the Lagos Third Mainland Bridge Project, while serving as a committee member to review the administration of indirect Taxation in Nigeria.
Following the fall of Abacha regime in June 1998 and the announcement by General Abdulsalami Abubakar of a transition to civil rule, Dafinone set his mind to play a prominent role in the dispensation that was to emerge at the end of the transition. He became one of the founding fathers of what soon came to be known as the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP).
He decided this time to seek the highest office in the land so as to serve the country. His calculation was dead right. He had figured that the annulled June 12 1993 election and its far-reaching socio-political and economic consequences would make a president of the southern extraction imperative.
He soon embarked on wide consultations and got several approvals across the country. That done, he mobilized much materials and financial resources to begin the Dafinone for President campaign.
But as the saying goes, man proposes, God disposes. In mid-September of 1998, he suddenly took ill. It was so severe that he could hardly talk or stand on his feet. What was thought to be common malaria simply defied all prescriptions.
He was flown abroad and after four months he recovered fully. By January of 1999 when he returned, political activities had gone too far to be reversed in his favour.
Dafinone later joined the National Democratic Party(NDP). His desire to fly the party’s flag in 2003 was not successful. Senator Ike Nwachukwu emerged as the party’s presidential flag bearer.
He amassed whooping 1,219 votes. Reverend Chris Okotie, pastor of Household of God Church, Lagos, trailed him in the second position with 253 votes. Dafinone, and former Finance Minister Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu finished in the third and fourth positions with 114 and 91 votes respectively.
Senator Dafinone stands out as a personification of the need for justice and equity in the Niger Delta. A nationalist of note and one of the driving forces of The Patriots, a group of eminent Nigerians committed to the restructuring of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He is President, Union of Niger Delta, a non-governmental organization whose objectives are the sustainable development of the Niger Delta.
The Second Republic Senator has in the past forty five years mounted a strong campaign for the emancipation of the people of Niger Delta and the equitable distribution of the resources of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
He also went into Joint Venture Industries with multinationals in the establishment of two industries in roofing materials and rubber processing plant in Sapele Local Government of Delta State.
His humanitarian service manifest in various forms, particularly his pivotal role in the construction of the Orodje of Okpe’s palace, a project since completed in 1997. He has also been functioning as Chairman and Patron of sundry bodies in Okpe Kingdom.
Moved by the plight of the less privileged in the society, Senator Dafinone became the Chairman of Beth Torrey memorial Trust, to provide succour to mentally handicapped children. He personally sponsored the education of several indigenes of Urhobo land. He also sponsored other scholarships through the Dafinone Foundation. His actions towards his people transcended mere political tokenism. He was largely concerned with issues and strategies of sustainable human and material development.
Dafinone established business in Abuja by constructing a multi- purpose building named Ceddi Towers in the Central District Area of the Federal Capital City, thereby offering employment to hundreds of Nigerians through various businesses that he presides over. Over ten years ago when he was honoured as a distinguished alumnus of Abeokuta Grammar School, he was presented to the audience as “. . . an internationally accomplished Chartered Accountant, a resourceful facilitator, a passionate motivator, a most distinguished entrepreneur, a role model and a most worthy ambassador of his alma mate, Okpe Kingdom and Africa.
As a versatile player, Senator Dafinone is a member of various international organizations. He is a member of the Urban Land Institute of America, an organization with an asset value of $93 trillion, since 1992 and was elected to the Public Private Partnership Council of the same body in November 1994. He was elected a fellow of the National Geographical Society of Great Britain in 1990.
In recognition of his immense and selfless contributions to the socio-economic and political development of Okpe Kingdom, he was honoured in 1997 with the traditional title of Owhere 1 of Okpe Kingdom by the Orodje of Okpe. An award of Certificate of Excellence for professional practice by the Delta State Government was also given to Senator Dafinone in September 1997. In 2001, he was awarded the ICAN Certificate of Merit for Outstanding contributions to the Accounting profession by the institute of Chartered Accountant of Nigeria. And in 2003, the Federal Government conferred on him the National Honour of the Officer of the Federal Republic, OFR.
On August 1, 2000, Guinness World Records recognized Senator Dafinone as the patriarch of the Family with the highest number of Chartered Accountants (who are members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England Wales) in one nuclear family – a recognition that has received resounding ovations from far and wide. In 2006, he received a ‘definite entry’ in the Cambridge Blue Book for an outstanding contribution in the field of Accountancy.
At 85, the renowned accountant leads an active life that would defeat the average forty year old and speaks on issues close to his heart, with the passion of a zealot. Dafinone thinks that the problem with Nigeria is not just leadership. He holds that the nation is yet to define in concrete terms where it wants to be, how and when it wants to be there.
In Okpe kingdom, the renowned accountant is doing everything possible to protect the area. According to him, the Sapele Okpe Community Land Trust Association owes no duty to any person or group of persons who dispute Okpe claims to the ownership of lands in Sapele.
Dafinone’s humility is profound. His utterances both in formal discussions and prepared lectures reveal the high quality of his mind. Last year, Dafinone urged President Goodluck Jonathan to shelve the removal of subsidy on petroleum products because it would further impoverish the masses and could lead to social unrest in the country.
He is married to Chief Cynthia Watson Dafinone. He met her while studying at the University of London. She was also a student reading for her degree in Nursing. He had gone to the school’s ballroom one evening when he saw her.
The union has been fantastically blessed. Three sons, all born in the month of April and two girls. Interestingly, all of them are qualified and chartered accountants. They all had degrees in Economics. They are all, today working for the same firm, Horwath Dafinone.
And as Nigerians at home and abroad celebrate this highly polished gentleman, the renowned accountant wants Nigerians to eschew greed, envy, corruption, hatred and intolerance .
‘The past is history and the future is ‘hope’ unknown. Let every Nigerian genuinely show dedication to duty; passion for Nigeria; courage to do what is right in the affairs of the Nation; commitment to the cause of Nation building; show spirit of understanding and excellence to governance, without these, our vision of hope cannot be achieved’
Henry Ovie Ebireri is the Secretary General of Okpe Union Worldwide