When I “met” Peter on LinkedIn and I was impressed with his humility inspite of all his achievements. To be a Chartered Accountant at 19 requires some kind of focus and I decided to have a chat with him to see what we could learn from this brilliant young man.
Hello Peter tell us a little about yourself
I’m Peter Justin Akpan, an indigene of AkwaIbom State, Nigeria. I’m the fourth born of five children. My father is a retired medical laboratory scientist and my mum studied law but took to business later in life. I was born in the year, 2000 in the city of Calabar, Cross River State. I’ve been in Calabar my entire life up to the age of 20 when I got an internship offer with KPMG – Lagos, two weeks ago.
Why did you decide to become an accountant?
At age 7, I overheard the word “Accountant” in a discussion with my mum and elder sister. Getting to hear the word for the first time, I asked my mum for the meaning and she told me an Accountant is someone who pays salaries in an organization. At that age, I was thrilled at the meaning of an Accountant my mum told me. From that day, I decided to become an Accountant because I had the thought that for an Accountant to pay others salaries, definitely he would pay himself very well first.
You started secondary school quite early, what was it like
Well my mother believed I was intelligent enough to handle secondary school at age 9 and decided I should proceed to Secondary. I quietly obeyed but I went through a lot of mental trauma because of that decision. I got into secondary school still carrying the vision of becoming an Accountant. Probably because of the mindset of becoming an Accountant, I didn’t find science – related subjects interesting throughout junior secondary school while I really loved finance related subjects like Business studies. Still, I didn’t allow my “hate” for science-related subjects deter my performance. I had managed to struggle with those subjects and always came out top of my class. When I got into SS1, I was happy to finally have the opportunity of focusing on finance – related subjects only. But then, Biology was compulsory and I didn’t like Biology at all. As God would have it, when I got into SS2, the Federal ministry of education made Biology optional for non-science students. I was very happy and dropped it immediately.
I was the best in my class in commercial subjects, but I had two challenges with the perception of the society while still in secondary school. First, people perceive only the science students as intelligent and hardworking and see the Art and Commercial students as people who are “dumb” and lazy. We were indirectly and constantly reminded by our science counterparts that we chose our field because we are not strong to handle science. I was really down by this perception. I didn’t want people to see me as lazy because of my chosen field. Thank God I didn’t switch to science to prove myself. I still stayed on my finance track. Second, you remember the drastic decision my mum took when I was 9? Yeah, that one. It made me cry and feel bad so many times throughout secondary school. Some of my friends and the senior people in my neighbourhood kept mocking me and laughing at me that I was too small to be in the class I was. They also said the university would not accept me because of my age and I would have to wait for at least, two years before getting into the university. I cried several times and wondered why my mum had made that decision for me – every other child from my family completed their primary education but me. I didn’t let my parents know about all these. I just kept them to myself. Despite all that because of my good grades and conduct I was well respected by students and teachers and was made a School Prefect
Why didn’t you let our parents know about the bullying and how did you deal with it?
What would they have done? Nothing! Some things are better left for God. I cried a few times and prayed to God about it. I believed that was okay. This question is quite funny because I didn’t have a choice, really. Not like I would have switched to sciences just to prove myself to anyone. Like I said earlier, I had expectations to meet. So, my friends teasing me didn’t stand a chance on deterring my determination to excel in my chosen field.
You became a Chartered accountant at 19! Tell us about your ICAN Journey
So I graduated from High school with great results and got admitted into the University of Calabar to study Accounting.
While at Secondary School I had heard about writing the professional exams of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and becoming a Chartered Accountant but I had assumed it would only happen when I graduate from the university. On getting into the university, an ICAN tuition center visited my class and told us that we could become Chartered Accountants through the Accounting Technician Scheme West Africa (ATSWA) but would take us 5 stages with the minimum duration of 2.5 years instead of 2 stages with a minimum duration of 1 year for a B.Sc holder. They also told us that starting the ICAN journey would help us in school since its Accounting related. I was super interested but afraid to tell my parents because of the cost implication. I managed to summon courage to tell them and I was amazed at their response – they agreed. My parents are average income earners with lots of people to cater for but one thing they always work so hard for is making sure their children get to the very top of their academic pursuit. My mum sells provisions from morning to late in the night just to make enough money for our needs. Even if it would involve borrowing to pay our fees, they would gladly do it. God bless them so much.
So, I started the ICAN journey at the age of 16. I figured if I pass all the 5 stages without skipping any exams and not failing any paper, I would qualify as a Chartered Accountant at the age of 18. It sounded surreal then and prayed to God about it but I was uncertain of its actualization because of the finance limitation. As God would have it, I scaled through the entire 5 stages without skipping/failing any paper and became a Chartered Accountant at the age of 18 in my 300 level in school with two awards from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria at two different stages of the exams. Guess what?! This was the time I was MOST GRATEFUL to my mum for the drastic decision she took for me at the age of 9. Of course, I sacrificed a whole lot to become a Chartered Accountant. I literally had zero social life. My life was just in a square- school, ICAN tuition center, home and church. For the first 3 years of my stay at the university, I literally left home by 7am to school and came home by 9pm everyday as a result of my classes in the university and ICAN tuition which were in the evenings.
In 2019, after getting Chartered, I started teaching in my ICAN tuition center. I was in my 400 level then. At the end of my 400 level in school, at the age of 19, I and a close friend became the first students to graduate with a First Class, in the history of the department since its inception in the late 90s.
What are the things that you encountered growing up that made you be determined despite being teased by your classmates?
Well, I would say I have the natural competitive drive of getting to the top in whatsoever I do. That has really helped me a lot. Also, over the years, there have been great expectations of me from people – my parents, teachers, neighbours, friends, etc. I’ve always tried as much as possible not to let these people down. Failing to meet the expectations of these people (especially my parents) would make me feel terrible. I try as much as possible to avoid that. So far, so good. Plus like I said earlier, I had expectations to meet. So, my friends teasing me didn’t stand a chance on deterring my determination to excel in my chosen field.
I like the part of your mum doing so much to help the family. What kind of support did her and your Father give you, especially during exams.
Every good parent wants to see their children become very successful. It’s the joy of parents. I believe its that same joy that drives her to make sure to make sure we get quality education.
Finance, moral support and good prayers. My parents made sure I didn’t miss any of the papers due to the limitation of finance. I remember in my second stage; the exams registration deadline was fast approaching. I was afraid I wouldn’t write the exams after so much preparation. My parents had to borrow money to pay the exams fees. Moral support – they encouraged me with good words and always told me I would pass the exams because I’m not just intelligent, but we serve the Living God. Their confidence in me always boosted my determination not to fail them. Good prayers – my parents always pray. Those prayers have really been helpful over the years.
University is full of distractions. What helped you focus?
University is full of distractions for those who want to be distracted. I knew what I wanted on getting into the university – nothing but excellent grades. My mind had already been made up and never to go back. As a result, I didn’t even see distractions talk more of giving in to them. Also, I was blessed with excellent and focused friends. Iron sharpens iron.
In what way do you think your upbringing shaped you as an individual?
Right from a kid, my father had always admonished me on the key importance of quality education. He had always taught me the benefits of doing very well academically. He had also monitored my studying progress and made sure I studied regularly. As a child, my parents made me feel education was the most important ‘thing’ on earth. Education is their biggest legacy. I grew up loving school and always eager to excel academically. So, even when I hear people say, “School is a scam”, it never moved me or made me think twice about studies as my parents had already inculcated in me the great belief in quality education.
Congrats on your internship with KPMG. What are your plans for the future?
Man proposes but God disposes. If my life was meant to be the way I planned it, I wouldn’t be a Chartered Accountant today nor get to where I am today. What do I mean? The reality of my life today is way higher than what I planned/imagined it to be. I always pray for the will of God to be done in my life as I strongly believe His will for my life is way higher than my plans. However, we all have wishes for ourselves. In the next one or two years, I intend building great experience in Financial Advisory and completing my Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exams, then proceed to the UK for my Masters and if possible, Ph.D program after which I will be back to the corporate world.
You practically had a zero social life to achieve this feat. Any regrets?
Regrets? Not at all. I’m naturally an introvert – I enjoy my personal company and don’t get too attached to other people. I had two close friends who were brilliant and focused. They really impacted my life positively. Rather than make friends ‘anyhow’, I build quality relationships with people with similar interest and goal in life. Besides, my busy schedules in school didn’t give me much opportunity to be so social. I became course representative a few times in the university. I knew and made acquaintances with my classmates but didn’t get so attached to them.