I kid you not. Being in the presence of The Pope is an awesome experience. The aura is truly beyond description. My first encounter with the Holy Father was in 1952 when at the insistence of my aged grandmother Maria, all the children in our household trooped to the Race Course (now known as Tafawa Balewa Square) Lagos to meet Pope Pius XII.
The entire field was like a Roman Garden festooned with the faithful carrying their Bibles and rosaries. We all wore the special green uniform with white spots and stripes - thanks to the generosity of the Catholic Church and the British Colonial Government.
These days, government wants us to pay for everything including what it does not provide. It was overwhelming. For days afterwards, the song "Ave Maria" which Grandma Maria took to heart immediately was on radio virtually every hour. There was only one radio station (Rediffusion) then.
At any rate, here we are in Rome sixty-years afterwards, several Popes have since gone to Heaven but the legend remains intact. As we approach Basilica of Saint Mary Mayor/Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Chapel Sforza, we are confronted with the sight of seventy people who are huddled together on a cold October afternoon.
They have disguised themselves as monks but their faces look familiar. Alas, it turns out they are Chartered Accountants who are on hunger strike -- living on bread and water on the steps of the Basilica.
Their grouse is that the four largest accountancy firms have cornered 99 per cent of the market -leaving only 1 per cent for the rest. Clearly, somebody has been cooking the books!!
The protesters look fiercely determined to put matters right - but no violence. Just prayers and fasting. Al Jazeera has its camera on the protesters whose gripe is that with Christmas and New Year only a matter of weeks away, they would rather pine away in Rome than return to their various countries where certain death and humiliation await them. No pension, no gratuity.
The cars and golf bags have long been gone. Their homes have been re-possessed. As if that was not bad enough, hurricane Sandy has wrecked colossal damage in New York and New Jersey in the United States of America - with indigent chartered accountants as the single most affected professional group.
They are the practitioners categorized as "Sole Practitioners" who toil day and night to keep body and soul together. It's certainly a tough life with uncertainty as the staple diet. It is self-evident that these masters of the art of debit and credit are an endangered species.
There is no point in asking how long they have been fasting. If care is not taken or relief provided instantly, they will be spending Christmas in Heaven or hell.
I am tempted to join them, but I am suddenly reminded of the Biblical injunction: "Temptation, go away."
Fortunately, help is not far away. The voice is clearly that of the Pontiff, Pope John Paul II. The Holy Father orders the popmobile to halt and addresses the distressed Chartered Accountants:
"Draw near in faith. You must never give up. You must see yourselves as pilgrims on a special mission. You must remain steadfast and faithful to Almighty God and the tenets as well as ethics of your chosen profession - to serve humanity with honestly and integrity.
Your reward on earth may be modest but what awaits you in heaven are abundant blessings. You are the conscience of the nation and the custodian of public trust. To whom even only a little is given, much is expected."
I could not but notice that the Chartered Accountants are seventy in number and each of them attained the age of seventy this year. The Holy Father has brought them joyful blessings - all is not lost.
The parting words of the Pope were:
"When you have attained the Biblical age of six scores and ten (70 years), remember to number your days..........."
At the worst, Chartered Accountants should be able to count.
As the chartered accountants join the Holy Father at the Chapel Sforza, we are enthralled by its splendour and magnificence. High up on the ceiling is the masterpiece which Michelangelo painted five hundred years ago.
It turns out he was an artist, sculptor philosopher and chartered accountant. He spent four years on his back painting - all for the sake of art and accountability.
On CNN, "African Voices" has been repeating the clip showing Dr. Joseph Oni Okpaku, President and Publisher of Third Press Publishers, Chief Mobolaji St. Mathew-Daniel, Chairman of ABB and my humble self exiting from Hotel Quirinale, Via Nazionale no. 7. Rome.
Lo and behold, guess who turns up. It is Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. He greeted us warmly and courteously (you do not expect anything different from an Old Boy of King's College and Harman's House to boot!!). Lamido saved his warmest embrace for Chief Mathew-Daniel who immediately declared:
"What a wonderful co-incidence! We are all friends of your late father, the Ciroma of Kano. If he was still alive, he would have been very proud of what you are doing for Nigeria. Gross Domestic Product is growing by 7.4 per cent annually; exchange rate volatility has been curtailed and inflation is at a manageable 12 per cent per annum.
Just a few minutes ago, I was showing Joe and JK the album of the party I hosted for you in London. What you may not know is that when General Murtala Mohammed became the Head of State in 1975, it was your father (Ciroma of Kano) he nominated as the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, but the Ministry of Finance thought he meant Mallam Adamu Ciroma, who was promptly announced as the Governor!! But for that communication error, your father would have preceeded you as Governor"
What a small world. It turns out Lamido was staying with Murtala Mohammed's family at Second Avenue, Ikoyi when he was a student at King's College, Lagos. His father and the General were first cousins, from Kano.
Till today, Lamido is very much part of the Murtala Mohammed family as his widow, Madam Ajoke would readily testify. Indeed, when the General was assassinated on Friday 13th February 1976 during the abortive Colonel Bukar Dimka coup d'état, I was with him on the previous evening and we had arranged to meet again on the following day. The General's uncle Alhaji Aminu Wada was there too.
Then Major- General T.Y Danjuma Chief of Army Staff and late Chief M.K.O. Abiola were also there. Incidentally, Murtala's wife was out of the country when she heard the terrible news. May General Murtala Mohammed and Chief M.K.O. Abiola rest in peace.
Bashorun J.K. Randle is Chairman & Chief Executive JK Randle Professional Services Chartered Accountants