Living in Poblisha’s planet called Mars House- Chris Paul Otaigbe
My odyssey into the media world actually took on an accelerated pace at Mar’s House in Festac Town, and under the tutelage of Toyin Akinosho, whom we fondly referred to as ‘Poblisha.’ From the 3-bedroom-flat at 22 Road in 2nd Avenue to Mars House on 1st Avenue, from where Festac News, the community newspaper began, the journey into the Akinosho orbit of Journalism, Arts and intellectualism, shaped and defined my confidence in the media today. Unlike many, I never attended any formal school of Journalism or Mass Communication, most of what I know today I learnt under Toyin and, of course, Jahman Anikulapo, his life accomplice. The Festac community newspaper was a fortnightly tabloid that reported life in the vast Festac Town estate at the time. It was published under the Journoblues Publications stable. A small cast of dedicated staff ran that publication and within a short time, we had made the paper a rallying point for the community. There was Femi ‘Diran Ipaiye fondly called ‘GM’ (General Manager), Kingdom (the transport officer to the company/driving assistant to Mr. Akinosho), Stella Obaka (the Secretary/Bookkeeper), me, Babatude (Baboo) Kayode, who happens to be Toyin Akinosho’s cousin, Femi Akinboni and the Publisher, himself. Jahman, who was then the Arts Editor of The Guardian, doubled as the Editor of the paper. Toyin was still working at Chevron at the time, too. While we were still at 22 Road, we felt the paper was too close for comfort to the people of Festac Town because we were right at the center of activities in the community. The popular Agboju (sometimes called 22 Road) market was less than three minutes’ walk from us, and around us were Lock-up shops, human and; vehicular traffic around us was heavy and had become worrisome to Poblisha. We had great fun and, of course, some mild conflicts, tantrums from the Boss, Akinosho, once in a while, here and there… that was to be expected in every relationship. But largely, it was a fun time, for me and all in the House. ‘Diran was more the Admin Manager taking care of the needs of the House and sleeping at the Printing Press in order to oversee the forthnightly production of the publication. We were not always on time or within the frequency of editions we set out for the paper, still, we were there in the face of, and the hearts of the community of Festac residents. I was the man with a ‘million ideas per minute’ as Toyin would describe my many brainwaves to hasten the impact of the paper on Nigeria’s first and most metropolitan urban village. I am grateful to him that he allowed that part of me to thrive for the paper. One of such great ideas was the raising of a drama troupe for Festac Town. It was one of the windows, I wanted to explore, as the Associate Editor, to unify the Town around the platform created by the Festac News. We got children from within the neighborhood and their friends in the community. It was a novel idea in the community. The first play we staged was ‘My Daughter, her boyfriend and I’ written and directed by me. Can’t quite remember how the story went but I recall that from rehearsal to performance, from the young boys and girls who participated in the play to the families who came to watch the show, that was one watershed in the life of that estate. Most of those young boys and girls who took part in the production have grown into ‘big time’ showbiz managers and entertainers. According to some of them, that show was where they cut their teeth in the entertainment industry in Nigeria. The others have grown into influential coordinators in their respective places of work or worship.
A bit of a digression here…
AFTER several invitations to attend the popular Business Men’s Fellowship, I finally accepted to attend one close to where I stayed at Iyana Ipaja. I scanned through the faces in the hall and found no known or familiar face in the audience. The event was characterized by the usual Christian activities but with refreshment towards the end of the programme. I particularly enjoyed myself with the lecture given on that day and was impressed by the event coordinator and eloquent management of the event. To my shock, the event coordinator, at the end of the event while giving his vote-of-thanks said “there is someone here who touched my life while I was growing up… I know he cannot remember now but I thank God he played a big role in getting me to where I am today. Please help me welcome and appreciate Mr. Chris…” Of course, I joined them in the applause looking around for the ‘Mr. Chris’… Lo and behold, he pointed in my direction and said “it is you, sir…” Wow! Can’t tell you how humbling that was for me. I felt bad because I couldn’t recognise the face until he introduced himself to me as Lanre. He was one of the young boys who participated in the drama produced by Festac News for the residents of the community. There are so many like Lanre who are making their marks in the country.
Back to Mars House …
Festac News as shaper of community ethics THE publication had a positive impact on the community and tried to straighten the rough edges in the social life of the Town. One such moment that comes to mind now, was the story of a restaurant serving horrible food. Poblisha had had a horrific encounter eating at the restaurant and complained bitterly. So, we got the idea that myself and GM, Diran, should pay a visit to the place. We went and discovered that not only was the food unpalatable, the service was a disaster. The meals were expensive, taste was terrible; the waiters were rude and; it seems the owner could not be bothered. I can’t recall finishing the food because of all these factors put together. We would later learn that the restaurant was notorious in that neighborhood because the proprietress believed she was an untouchable. We also sought to have a word with her as a media house; she sent her waiters to tell us she had no time for ‘journalists’ After we gave Poblisha same report, we concluded it was time we published a story about the place. I wrote the story. Unknown to us, when the paper came out, the news was all over the place . I think we were still at 22 Road, at the time, in the flat downstairs. In the afternoon of that day, we were told a woman with a big car and some people wanted to see us. It turned out to be the restaurant owner. She stood outside fuming and threatening to take us to court for publishing such a story. In the end, she discovered we were not moved by her name-dropping threats and she became friends with us. Can’t remember her name right now, perhaps GM or Kingdom can recollect. I don’t think we can pull such a stunt in today’s Festac Town and still be alive or in good state to continue the publication because of the state of criminality and lawlessness going on there today. But the impunity actually had its roots in those days when staff of the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) said to be the institutional Landlord of the estate, still ran the town. It had been built in 1975-76 by the Federal Government to accommodate participants coming for the 2nd Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture known as Festac’77, in 1977. That festival defined so much of Nigeria we wish we can do it again.
National Arts Theatre complex and Festac Town Estate are the infrastructural reminders of the great things this country achieved in the past. That estate was built with all the facilities in place in alignment with global best practice since it was hosting the entire world. And so, you had each block given the right amount of space away from the next; recreational spaces and facilities for children and adults recreation, libraries, underground cabling system, a buffer zone through which cables and pipes were laid among others. Festac Town was virtually a paradise compared to anywhere else in the entire country until some rich and influential Nigerians found the place fertile for their land-grabbing greed. So, they would bribe some unscrupulous staff of FHA to open spaces designed to hide service cables and pipes, children playgrounds etc. Naturally, this impunity was bound to take its toll on the estate at some point. And, it did. This got concerned Residents to come together to form Festac Residents Association (FRA) and their main objective was to check indiscriminate buying of land and building of houses on non-residential designated spaces. FRA had been at loggerheads with the FHA over the impunity going on in the community in the area of Lock-up shops and residential buildings springing up everywhere. Leveraging on the ongoing conflicts between the two major bodies to churn out sensational stories, the Editorial Board agreed to play the role of a community development media platform. Working within this paradigm, we were able to mediate the crisis in the Town and ennnded up making the gladiators who were sworn enemies to meet amicably and deliberate over the issues concerning the community. Even when FRA was going to break into two factions, Festac News tried to settle the rift. The drama productions was also one of the ideas we used to bring the Town together to know each other and fraternize together once in a while. In recognition of the good deeds of the paper and also considering the fact that both parties –FRA and FHA — didn’t trust each other, they both considered the idea of asking residents to pay their monthly dues into Festac News account. When I told Poblisha, he was scared. He had not expected the platform would be elevated so quickly to the point where it could become the “Dues Collector” for the estate. All he wanted was to produce and publish a community newspaper. He didn’t have the temperament to enter into the complications and complexities of a near difficult community as Festac Town.
ONE other memorable experience was ‘Kun Faya Kun.’ I am sure this would bring some laughter or smile to the faces of Poblisha and GM. Kun Faya Kun was the Islamic inscription on a house along our First Avenue Mars House after we had moved from 22 Road. It was the home of a certain Yinka. When you stood in front of Mars House, you could see her house not far off, just at the bend to the inner road leading to the buildings facing the stretch canal. So, every morning when myself and GM would come outto stretch our legs and shoot the breeze, my eyes were always fixated on the building waiting for when this young lady would drive out in her Carina 2 car. It was a sight to behold every morning. To cut the long story short, I became friends with Yinka and got to know her parents owned one of the biggest private secondary schools in the community. I seized on that part of our relationship to explore the window of schools to sell my community paper. I requested her to allow me publish names of students who do well in the school’s exam and she gladly obliged me. I tried the idea and it worked like magic. Although, the relationship part didn’t come through between us, that educational experiment became something that continues to live with me till this day. It was also one big idea God gave me through my experience with Toyin Akinosho aka Poblisha because as we speak, that idea is a project now in the works. One other thing, Mars House became home for great artistes and intellectuals and movers in various aspects of the Lagos and indeed, Nigerian society.
My personal gains… OF a truth, Toyin has had a great impact on my life. The last, and first time after almost 20 years, that the vibe and connection I used to feel whenever we were together sharing great ideas and discussing books he was reading or have read, was what came over me when I went to interview him for Kaftan Tv News, my present work place. He is so large hearted; he desperately wants you to be like him and be as intellectually vibrant as he is. He loves life and lives it to its hilt and documenting it while enjoying it. Poblisha is good at documenting his pleasure without pressure. Yes. Africa Oil+Gas Report… I almost forgot that. During the days of Festac News, I would pressure Toyin to please connect his friends in the oil industry to advertise in the community newspaper or we should dedicate some pages to oil and gas reports, so we can expand the scope of the editorial and advertorial thrusts of the paper to maximum advantage, leveraging on his relationship with the petrochemical industry. Sometimes the idea made sense to him, at other times he was indifferent. But I could tell he loved it just that it was not clear in his mind how he could match a hardcore commercial editorial idea with a mere community tabloid, whose readership was largely restricted to a particular demography and geographical location. By the time it finally made sense to him in a way he could piece it all together, I had left to pursue my degree in Theatre Arts at the University of Ibadan. Later he came up with different strands of publication before he finally settled with Africa Oil+ Gas Report journal, a publication that gladdens my heart to no end each time I see it dominating all media platforms reporting the petroleum sector of Nigeria’s (and indeed Africa’s) economy Clearly, journalism comes naturally to Poblisha and that is why his CNN Award was no surprise to him or me because his passion for journalism is Nobel-worthy.
…The ‘Moses Aremu’ escapades I had concluded my thoughts on my years with Poblisha, when I was reminded of ‘those other’ parts of the Mars House Fraternity. Now, this one I am going talk about is for ages above 18, Adult stuff and apologies for graphic descriptions… Please do not tell Toyin I told you… Poblisha loves women and the women love him. Unfortunately, his attention span with them is as short as what I refer to as the ‘pre-DO’ excitement. On the surface, it would appear that the catch for Poblisha is in the chasing or ‘toasting’ part of the romance. This has been a source of concern for him too as he had shared with me severally at those times. But my reading is that he is yet to meet the real woman that would truly engage him intellectually, out-match him socially and still have the maternal capacity to love and care for him… And, paramount of it all, TOLERATE him! Such a woman would require patience plus the ability to RE-INVENT herself every MOMENT she is with Toyin. She must make herself an ENIGMA before him, a seasonal film, Poblisha will continue to watch ceaselessly. She must be the SHOW, Poblisha will always run back to each day of his life. She must ensure there is no dull moment in their relationship or matrimony. Toyin ABHORS boredom and AVOIDS boring people just as he would do anything and everything to ESCAPE boring moments. He must be constantly engaged, and this explains why he is a productively VISIONARY and RESTLESS soul. There was also the fear, which was not unddounded, that most of these women loved him because of his job as a Chevron Staff and perhaps now, as a publisher of the well-respected oil and gas journal in Africa.
ANYWAY, back to ‘those other’ parts of our lives at the Mar’s House… It actually began when we were at 22 Road. In the evening we would drive in his Volvo to Heart’s Exclusive, the most popular niteclub in Festac Town, then. There were women we used to refer to as ‘Omo Poblisha.’ These were chubby ladies with beautiful faces, big asses and big boobs. In other words, ladies blessed ‘boobly and bootiliciously’ (pardon my French, please). Those are my specs too. I love them big and bodily blessed. Being accomplices to Poblisha’s frequent booty crimes, we would treat each ‘Matron’ of search for the ‘perfect’ wife material with the full accompaniment and respect due to ‘Madam of the House’ because you never know who could end up being the Mrs. Toyin Akinosho. Poblisha’s babes cut across varying female demographics but largely filled with decent career women. Yes. Heart’s exclusive… The compulsive reporter that he is, and to excite his readers, Poblisha created a column to document moments of his many escapades with women under the pen name ‘Moses Aremu’. Aremu was the fictional character who brought out beautiful memories of a man desperately in search of unceasing fun. Written in racy, sweet cinematic style, Moses fictionalized Poblisha’s characters and through that window of fiction, poured out the worries, fears, excitement, expectations of the REAL TOYIN AKINOSHO! Incidentally, lots of readers and countless number of fans became addicted to the Moses Aremu column, and were in effect, attracted to the paper. Ifeanyi Ochuba, the Heart’s Exclusive club owner confessed to me it was his favorite column in the paper. While Poblisha was doing his own thing at his level, myself, Diran, Kingdom and later Tunde (fondly referred to as Baboo), operated inour realm. Late in the evening we would drive to hangouts and hotels outside Festac Town such as Satellite Town, Abule-Ado etc. We too had to develop our Moses Aremu runs, which we contributed sometimes verbally to Poblisha, who found them as interesting. For instance, Baboo, who was also in the distribution unit, or some other non-Editorial staff, can’t remember now, had the fortune of being loved by one of the girls we met at one of the hotels around the Satellite Town-Abule Ado axis. I believe GM and Kingdom too. I was not so lucky because I found I could not really blend with the ladies there, which I don’t regard as a plus. I also needed to tell my Moses Aremu stories too. I had some though, but largely off ‘Mars House campus.’ We never knew how dangerous our nocturnal activities were until one night, a car overtook ours dangerously… I think Kingdom or one of us must have done or said something that pissed off the driver of the offending car. He engaged us in a chase I will never forget. I remember telling Kingdom not to run because it was obvious running was not going to help us. We had to stop. Fortunately, he was alone in his car. When he came out of his car and approached us with a silver colored handgun, I thought this guy was going to end our lives… Thankfully, God, who was on our side touched his heart with our pleas. That was how we escaped by a hair’s breath, bullets that would have permanently terminated our journey to covering the night life of Festac Town and its environs under the Moses Aremu column.
IN summary, this is my life with Toyin Akinosho. I am sure I have left out so many other memorable moments which were equally interesting. Perhaps, they may be captured in the experience of others who had at one time or the other been in the Toyin Akinosho’s planet called Mars House.
Chris Paul Otaigbe, theatre artiste, journalist, he is now Head of Lagos Bureau of Kaftan TV News
Essay excerpted with the kind permission of the author from “Poblishaaa…The Man, His Arts, The Myth: Dissecting the interventions of Alfred Oluwatoyin Akinosho in the enterprise of Culture Production, Art Advocacy & Criticisms” http://www.lagosbookartfestival.org/reports-resources/toyin-akinosho-60-commemorative-publicatione-book/