Lagos & I… Forever In Lust
“I talk about this town as if the whole global thing was here. When Michael Jackson released an album, my generation got it the same day; I was 17 when the Thriller came; Jackson was 18. So, we were following this boy that was our age; the Jacksons Five were boys like us; that’s how we grew up,” he enthused.
“The kinds of parties that we threw were global parties; people came back from the U.K. and had an idea and we simulated the city. You don’t need to throw a party from 10pm at night; you started at 2pm and you went home at 8pm. We created it and I’m still looking for anybody to tell me that it wasn’t us that first did that,” he said.
“I believe that this fun that I had in Lagos growing up led me to feel that this whole culture thing was natural for me. Tunde Kuboye was the kind of Lagos big boy that some of us wanted to be like; he was the one running the Museum Kitchen. He would bring a jazz band from Chicago to perform and he would invite us to come. You can imagine that you are just 22 and somebody is inviting you to such event. Ordinarily, those kinds of things are for big guys.”
“The Italian Cultural Institute would have this choral concert, with all these oyinbo orchestra… I mean, I didn’t know then that we would have a MUSON Centre, and Nigerians would be handling those instruments. In my early 20s, everybody who performed in those kinds of concerts were whites. But I’m happy that MUSON Centre has changed all that; you can invite people from abroad, but you see that Nigerians are doing those things.”
WHAT DOES TOYIN AKINOSHO KNOW ABOUT THE ARTS
“Ki lo ti e ma n se Toyin yin yen na?”
“Why does he think he knows more than everyone?”
“Yes now, he thinks he has liberty to rubbish people’s works.
“Whaaat, is he the only Critic in town? Nonsense”
“What does he know about the Art, sef?
“He’d better go and face his science… a failed geologist who thinks
he can now bring his frustration to rubbish people’s work in the arts…”
“What does Toyin Akinosho know about the Arts?
The failed Soil scientist – dignified “Map Reader,” that he is…
Well, to the culture producer who concocted the lines above and bewildered with suppressed indignation at a public function sometime in 2019, you are the inspiration behind this book. Thanks for being the trigger to go to town and pose the question: WHO IS THIS TOYIN BEHEMOTH, who prances about the art landscape, breaching the peace of the community with his acerbic pen, and ‘ko ba je fun won’ mouth.
Toyin Akinosho , says Osundare, is about 3Es – Education. Enlightenment. Empowerment.
Hope you, the culture producer, patron and observer and enthusiast and, indeed, everyone fortunate to read this book harvest(s) the 3Es about the man hereby christened: THE RENAISSANCE MAN.
Appreciation to all the contributors to this publication that was planned to be a mere commemorative pamphlet, or at best a ‘Booklet of Tributes,’ but has turned out a fat tome of remarkable recollections and impressive reviews of, and commentaries on the many sides of this Elephant, Toyin.
Special thanks to Prof. Niyi Osundare, for the huge sacrifice…
A hearty Appreciation to the Diamond man, ALFRED OLUWATOYIN AKINOSHO for building himself up to such a MONUMENTAL status that is deserving of so much unpacking…
BORN TO DARE
(A Toast to Toyin AKINOSHO at 60)
MY first encounter with Toyin Akinosho’s literary interventions in Nigerian newspapers prodded me into asking the following instinctive questions: ‘which of our English Departments produced this writer; who were his teachers; in what era did he earn his academic feathers?’ That was way back in the 1990’s when Toyin was just beginning to groom his first beard. Even at this stage, his book reviews, author presentations, publication news, and other matters relating to literature and culture were handled with the kind of finesse and impressive elan often found in the writings of seasoned literary scholars.
But I soon learnt that Toyin Akinosho was, in fact, a trained geologist — a professional scientist for whom the literary enterprise is far too important, far too engrossing to be treated as an ordinary hobby. And so, since he roared into our literary-cultural landscape about thirty years ago, Akinosho the geologist cum literary aficionado has pursued his two preoccupations like a perfect polygamist devoutly faithful to his two spouses. He unearths the hidden tropes of art and literature the way a geologist digs up the hidden treasures in the belly of the earth; and humanizes the mathematical, fact-fraught fare of his scientific practice with the magical, sinuous, value-laden imagination of the literary artist. Thus Akinosho strikes us not as the so-called polymath in whom we have the lucky cohabitation of multiple capabilities; his is the organic universe of seamless complementarities and mutual seepages.
Perhaps Akinosho has succeeded in minimizing the centrifugal pull of his multiple capabilities because he has been able to find them a common denominator under the umbrella of a steady political consciousness anchored and fortified by a relentless quest for social justice and sane socio-political order. Thus when he left the certainty of a materially rewarding job at an oil company for the risky venture into scientific journalism attendant upon his new position as publisher of Africa Oil+Gas Report, he relocated himself to the moral/ethical axis of the oil industry where his vital preoccupation is the dissemination of critical, revelatory ideas, frequent rattling of the status quo, and the artist’s propensity for baring in the marketplace those skeletons that the emperor would rather hide in the murky backroom of power. Here again we have Akinosho the complex practitioner bringing to bear on the seemingly neutral mathematics of Science the passionate, tendentious magic of the literary arts. And as he discovered not altogether to his dismay, this social preoccupation comes with its own wahala (trouble, worry) and existential risks. Can we ever forget that threat to his life on March 29, 2015, generally believed to be the consequence of the scathing revelation of corruption in the oil industry, as published in his Africa Oil+Gas Report? Journalism, of whatever colour or character, is high-risk business; the man whose virtues this book of tributes so unstintingly extols has devoted half of the past sixty years to the tremendous sacrifice that risk involves in terms of its collateral damage to material prosperity and personal security.
Behind every thought and every action by Akinosho is the drive to dream and dare; the desire to do it different and do it new; the constant urge to ask ‘Why?’, and follow it up with ‘What’s to be done?’. His is the ceaseless drive for novel ways of getting culture to re-invent itself through creative modulation; to re-invigorate itself through a reiteration that transcends hackneyed repetitiousness. His is the constant irrepressible urge to tap into the boundless pool of culture as a dynamic, self-regenerating and self-editing phenomenon whose modus operandi is both replacive and additive, one that is here because it was there.
These, without doubt, are the cardinal goals of the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA), a socio-cultural and artistic initiative that has surpassed every other culture-advocacy organization in its impact on Nigeria’s contemporary arts and culture, and its ability to influence the terms and trajectory of that culture. Let me elaborate my views here by poaching a few lines from my keynote lecture at the 2017 Lagos Book & Arts Festival (LABAF), itself one of the mass-oriented, literacy-propagating offshoots of the protean CORA:
Founded some 26 years ago “in the courtyard of an apartment block” – to quote Toyin Akinosho, its Secretary-General, CORA has matured into an organization whose socio-cultural activism and intellectual stimulation have relentlessly challenged the philistinism of Nigeria’s political class and indicted our connivance with their disdain for regenerative ideas. In the words of Jahman Anikulapo, CORA’s Festival Programme Curator, 3 E’s — Education, Enlightenment, Empowerment — the “combo of mind development”, have remained the bedrock of the CORA initiative. With the unassailable belief that “the unexamined society cannot contribute significantly to human civilization,” CORA has constantly provided the platform for the interrogation of the Nigerian mind within the framework of our Common Humanity.
And if culture comes, can the book be far behind? The book is Akinosho’s daily bread (or daily yam as the case may be!); the fountain for the thirst of his mind; the compass which guides his way around the Universe of Light; the bond which secures his communion with Universal Humanity. This is why anywhere the book is happening, Akinosho is always there, physically or spiritually, directly or vicariously. His Artsville column has featured in my university classroom a couple of times, and my students and I have always wondered at this trained geologist’s authoritative critical competence, the prodigious literacy which facilitates his familiarity with writers, artists, film notables, and other cultural figures from so many parts of the world; his ability to handle a literary work with the kind of analytical dexterity and comparativist sweep that could make a university professor turn rainbow with envy. A cursory look at his Oil + Gas Report will reveal the astounding prolificity, global reach, and professional versatility of this ‘Business Journalist, Petroleum Geologist, and Arts Enthusiast’ and his diverse ‘journalisms’. I have yet to meet a Nigerian individual in whom so many competencies and such committed cultural activism are so strategically located and so valuably combined.
The tributes in this Book of Honour are a testimony not only to Toyin Akinosho but to the rarity of the initiative and bounty of possibilities that he so remarkably embodies. Artistic creativity dies when it is deprived of regenerative-critical response. Culture congeals, then atrophies when it lacks the push-and-pull that comes with constant appreciation and that interrogative engagement that is its enabling cohort. What Akinosho and the CORA clan (plus all the CORA ‘subsidiaries’) have done in the past 30 years is to keep reminding our philistine nation that culture matters. And that culture matters vitally, urgently – beyond the pretensions of hastily organized ‘national cultural festivals’ and their shoddy but expensive jamborees.
And so, dear Toyin, border-crosser, catalyst, single-minded journalist with multiple feathers, here in appreciative polyphony are the voices of many of those whose lives and works you have touched and honoured in the last many seasons. In honouring you our own way, we are also honouring the best in ourselves.
And step beyond your third score
Let coming moons multiply your years.
May your path continue to be clear.
Niyi Osundare, Nigeria’s foremost Poet laureate, is a Professor of English with the University of New Orleans, USA.
AN ICONIC, INSPIRATIONAL PRESENCE IN THE CULTURAL LIFE OF NIGERIA
Reading about the life of Toyin Akinosho in Poblishaaaa….The Man. His Arts. The Myth. you get the impression of a super-model circumferenced by hordes of portraitists, each parading at the end of their creative exercise different postures of the subject from various angles, but not missing out the essential ‘him’, body, spirit and soul.
By the testaments harvested from 52 witnesses, the essential Toyin is projected in a kaleidoscopic light as a phenomenal arbiter in the cultural life of Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike, a cosmopolitan entity and great influencer in critical and creative enterprises.
Poblishaaaa…. contains crisp, exciting narratives about the one whom one may choose randomly to refer to as ‘the celebrant’ in this piece because of the major objective of this publication, the celebration of the 60th Birthday Anniversary of Toyin Akinosho, aptly described by Olayiwola Adeniji as a ‘restless geo-artist in the daytime, a reporter at night.’ Beyond this telegraphic character delineation by another journalist-oilman, a wide vista is opened by other contributors for the full appreciation of Toyin’s cultural masonry, the re-telling of which would not be necessary within this little space except for piquant digests.
In their reflections, Toyin’s compatriots reminisce on events leading to the formation of the now famous Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) and subsequently the rolling-out of the Arts Stampede, Nigeria’s most celebrated and fanatically attended cultural talk-shop. Readers are also informed about Festac News, a community newspaper established by the celebrant, followed by narratives replete with affectionate outpourings about his altruistic spirit, assiduity and sociability. Along this line Femi Ipaye, Poblisha’s Personal Assistant, confidant and later General Manager of Festac News remarks reverentially: ‘Toyin is a great man.’
Such commendation pops out almost involuntarily one passage after another, within which vivid accounts of the start-up and build-up of the celebrant’s accomplishments are revealed. His portrait is coloured in hues of honour indexed by the rage from his professional colleagues and other acquaintances that trailed an assassination attempt on him in 2015.
Toyin is described serially as a thoroughbred professional with an interdisciplinary reach – a geologist, journalist and popular, standard-bearing member of the Nigerian cultural intelligentsia. No less, his public-spiritedness as a community-builder and mentor of young talents who confess to his virtues of empathy as well as a straight-to-your-face candour in disciplinary matters. Nevertheless, he maintains such openness that peers and mentees alike nose unimpeded into his private affairs. Wale Odewale delivers homely gist about Toyin’s family background, particularly his life as a youngster growing up in Ebute-Meta. Others nibble around the mystique of his bachelorhood and dreams about the prospective ‘Madam’.
Something remarkable in Adewale’s piece, however, is the story about ewa agonyin, told rather innocuously, but plumbing deeply into the nature and person of a Renaissance Man. Odewale reports about his love for the special brand of cooked beans, ewa agonyin , and bringing this typically local delicacy to the office. Clearly, that was a misadventure on his part. According to him, ‘Poblisha had repeatedly warned me to drop my grassroots, miscreant attitude because I had acquired an elite education.’ This experience has some bearing with the social order during the Renaissance in the 14th-16th century. Peter Burke, in the introduction to his book Tradition and Innovation in Renaissance Italy, states that the peasantry who lived in most part in extreme poverty was ‘probably untouched by the Renaissance’. He goes further on a note of finality:
‘So this book, although a study in cultural history, is
Principally concerned with a minority of the populat
ion, the relatively educated.’
A poser is raised by Burke’s position; whether the Poblisha fits attitudinally into the arms-length approach towards the peasantry in this slice of European cultural history or not. One’s response to this poser can be in the affirmative only insofar as the elite provides leadership to society at large in the resurgence of quintessential cultural values, but certainly not in the sense of strict compartmentalisation of the populace in a stratified social order as the above statement seems to imply. From the testimonies in this book and in a society as dynamic as ours, Poblisha is generally seen as someone who would gladly extend a hand of fellowship to a peasant farmer’s child once he is convinced that such a child possesses the aptitude to develop his/her intellectual capacity and add value to society.
Learning is fundamental in the life of the Renaissance Man. But there are social imperatives, too, in our own clime having to do with orientation and mobilisation of the increasing number of up-comers to connect with the high-culture as a matter of responsibility by virtue of their high educational attainment in an age when, ironically, even a Master’s degree-holder with a noble pedigree can go public and declare an illiterate goon as her role-model. This, essentially, is why Akinosho pointed out to his childhood friend the fact that he had climbed the ladder of leadership, even if , in one’s considered opinion, the miscreant-factor is irrelevant.
Akin Adesokan lauds the celebrant with a relay of epithets. He portrays the somewhat self-effacing Toyin in bold relief as a man of learning in his piece titled ‘The Renaissance Man’. He delves into history as many other contributors have done. He draws attention to the celebrant’s hoard of intellectual achievements, his link with local and international cultural icons while quixoting the realms like Alfred (his namesake) Lord Tennyson in ‘Ulysses’, questing for ‘new things’ or, in Poblisha’s peculiar circumstance, newsy things to continue to propel his authoritative publication, Africa Oil+Gas Reports onto the frontiers of global reckoning. His effort as publisher and journalist in this regard is not in vain. The publication won him the CNN/Multichoice Award in 2007. Hitherto, in 2006, Toyin, his intellectual soulmate, Jahman Anikulapo and their team of young technocrats and volunteers won for CORA the Prince Claus Award for Cultural Development. So much is revealed in Adesokan’s tribute that the reader can only wait to appreciate the celebrant whom he glowingly refers to as ‘a first rate intellectual by any standard’.
Throughout the various accounts, the role of the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) in the advancement of arts and culture in Nigeria reverberates. And this is to the extent that it appears like an alternative platform to formal, publicly funded entities, particularly in the record-breaking ability to sustain cultural programming, production and advocacy on a massive and variegated scale for 30 years and still waxing stronger.
Retrogrades hide between the dotted lines of history, but the creative industry stakeholder with intellectual refinement, sublime taste and philosophical commitment to the arts and humanity leaves indelible prints of wisdom in memories. Which is why this book, in spite of the variety of authorial concerns and styles, is shorn of the characteristic fancy-robe of vanity, of the so-called glitz and glamour of popular, but intellectually docile, less-than-average Nigerian ‘celebrity’. Poblishaaaa…. discusses ideas as it is generated by men and women of distinction and as it positively affects the destiny of mankind.
A few pundits comment on Toyin Akinosho’s terse, sometimes unsettling critical remarks in evaluating works of arts across the genres. Of course, discussing a man of high culture without touching on his ‘taste’ amounts to mere fantasy. Poblishaaaa…. is profoundly enriched not only by the lively and enlivening anecdotes, but also by the critical discourse in some of the tributes. Disputation, culminating in the generation of beneficial ideas, is crucial to the efforts of the culture clan to create a ritzy and robust artistic heritage.
Toyin’s role in the mix of what T.S. Eliot refers to as creative and critical labour has been deservedly projected on a high pedestal by discerning minds in Poblishaaaa…. which is an exceptional book in historicity and analysis of the practicality of Nigeria’s cultural development process. And Poblisha? He is iconic, an inspirational presence in the cultural life, not only of Nigerians, but also of Nigeria.
Happy 60th Birthday to a rare, indefatigable breed.
Ben Tomoloju. dramatist, culture communicator is on the governing board of CORA