TA @ 60: My Life in the Bush of Akinosho’s many Dreams – Femi Ipaiye

… The Birth of Committee For Relevant Art (CORA)

… Coming of Festac News

AS known to many, Toyin Akinosho, a geologist by training, started his working career as a journalist at The Guardian after his National Youths Service in the early 80s. He eventually moved to ThisWeek magazine  before he finally joined Chevron Nigeria Limited to practise his major discipline.

But because of his passion for the arts and journalism, Akinosho, despite his tight schedule at Chevron, maintained an arts column in different newspapers at different times.

He started writing a one page, reportage style Arts Column in the Guardian Express when that newspaper joined The Guardian stable in 1985. That stopped when he left for ThisWeek in 1986, but in that same year he created the Moses Akin Aremu character in a weekly column themed: Love-A-Day-Life-of- a -Casanova Reporter, based on an idea suggested by Nduka Irabor, then editor of Guardian Express.

When he started work in Chevron in 1988, he decided to resuscitate the idea of an arts column. What became widely known as Artsville, started life as Art-titude in The Sunday Champion (1989), and moved to Lagos Life in 1990. The column berthed in Sunday Times in 1991, where its name was changed to Artsville. It ran there for four years, before ending up at The Guardian on Sunday in 1996.That’s Artsville.

Toyin was co-writing a full-page column Artscity in Evening Times, with Tunde Olanipekun between 1991 and 1996, the same period he was writing Artsville in Daily Times.  Somewhere in the middle of all these, he started writing a monthly column on oil and gas activities in West Africa for  Offshore, a Dallas, US. based trade journal for the petroleum industry.   That column ran from 1993 to 2000.

Toyin Akinosho, Nigerian Publisher, Flees Nigeria After Escaping Assassination

Because of his tight schedule at Chevron, I was involved in running around to help him gather materials for the various columns. A very dedicated and hardworking fellow, though he usually returned home very late, Toyin would work through the night, knocking the materials together for the columns and would be ready to leave his residence as early as 4.30am to catch the staff bus to the office the next day.

Of course, this was before computer and internet became this popular and common, so it was also my duty to go around the media houses to drop off the edited scripts  with the editors. Once this was done,   I would continue my search  for materials for the next edition of the columns, according to his directives.

This was the routine until one Saturday morning in December 1990 when he walked into the room where I was sitting on a red rug and said, ‘Youngman!…’ – that was his usual way of addressing me — “Don’t you think we should start a quarterly journalists’ and writers’ sit-out to catch fun and at the same time have a discussion on arts related issues? You know most of these our guys don’t really have time to sit together to enjoy themselves.”

 I looked at his face and I said, “that will be fine.” 

He had clearly been discussing with people like Jossey Ogbuanoh, Yomi Layinka (who lived next door to us) and Tunde Olanipekun. Indeed, he and Tunde Olanipekun had talked a while about various ideas. 

“But how are we going to start?”

“Don’t worry we will start from somewhere,’ he said.

He then came up with the name:  CORA… Committee for Relevant Art, which  I believe, must have emerged from the group he had been mulling it over with.

Omo Boy! Let’s start something,’ he exclaimed.

ON June 2, 1991, the first edition of Art Stampede under the name CORA, was held at the courtyard in front of a block of flats housing his 3-bedroom apartment on 22 Road A’Close, Festac Town in Lagos.  The poet Sesan Ajayi and the magazine publisher, MEE Mofe- Damijo (both late) were the lead discussants… scores of artists from the varied disciplines and journalists in the cultural and literary fields attended. A remarkable feat at the first edition was that the three-man Wura Fadaka band,  with one of the reigning highlife musicians then was billed to entertain guests. Solid arrangements, including part payment of his performance fee was made to ensure he was available at the event.  I personally took the letter inviting the musician to the event to his office at Kakawa Street, Lagos Island; I also took a reminder to him a day before the event.  Wura Fadaka Band was thus headliner of the programme.

The first members of CORA were the actor, TV producer Yomi Olayinka (President), the graphic artist, art teacher and Akinosho’s colleague at The Guardian Tunde Olanipekun (aka Lanpex), who was designated director of Programme; and Jossey Ogbuanoh,  a magazine designer, who had been Akinosho’s colleague at the ThisWeek. They were later joined by the painter, Chika Okeke, who I think was then a student at the University of Nsukka.

Also present was Mr. Kola Akinlua, a fine art teacher in same secondary school as Lanipekun, who, I recall had fortuitously brought along some of his students to the event.  After we waited for Wura Fadaka band to no avail, and the time for interlude was getting close and we were becoming  worried,  Akinlua walked toward Toyin, hinted him about one of his students, a tiny-looking teenager, holding a saxophone. Akinlua urged that we allowed his teenager student to take the stage while awaiting the Wura Fadaka band.

 Toyin agreed to the suggestion; and so, the student, Kola Ogunkoya got on the stage and performed brilliantly with his friends. His performance really impressed everyone at the event. Toyin, being an afro-jazz enthusiast,  was so impressed with Kola’s style of music that that same night, he wrote a beautiful story on him. I took the story down to the then Editor of Evening Times, and the young musician’s story made the front page of the next Wednesday’s edition of the newspaper. That publication marked the turning point for the musical career of Ogunkoya, later to be known as Afro-Gbedu Master.   So, indeed, Kola was a CORA product.

Fadaka later sent an apology for not being able to make it to the event, saying his band members had an accident on their way back to Lagos from Ibadan where they had performed the day before. I remember that among the top-notch artists that attended the event were the filmmakers, Tunde Kelani, the broadcaster Yinka Craig, the TV actor, Femi Jarret, the painter Mike Omoighe, and the soccer artist, Segun Odegbami – all residents of Festac Town; others were Ben Tomoloju, Richard Mofe- Damijo, Edmund Enaibe, Murtala Sule – all working in the culture circuit as practitioners and journalists. There were others as Hakeem Shitta, who lived in the nearby estate,Amuwo Odofin Low Cost Housing and Kole Ade Odutola, the botanist who was however working as photographer with a media organization.

Funds for the running of the first edition of The Arts Stampede were pooled from the payments Evening Times made for Artscity, the column run by Akinosho and Lanipekun.

AT this time, Jahman Anikulapo had covered the first editions of the Arts Stampede, and written effusively on the events  even though he was critical of the discussion and the set up. In 1992,  he had taken over as  the unofficial head of the Arts desk at The Guardian after Ben Tomoloju, the pioneer Arts Editor of the newspaper retired. He wrote consistently about the subsequent  editions of the Stampede;  and despite his busy schedule at The Guardian, he became an active member of the organising team; and slept many nights with us at the Flat 3 Block 4 apartment on 22 Road.

With the proscription of The Guardian newspaper in 1994, Anikulapo had more time to devote to running CORA, so Akinosho could devote greater attention to his job as a  “Map Reader” (as he often derisively called himself) at Chevron.

This was situation when we relocated to MARS House, on First Aveue, nicknamed Cocaine Avenue at the time. By this time, Yomi Layinka, the founding president had left Festac Town for Ibadan, Oyo State.

The success of the Arts Stampede, the major programme of CORA, later gave birth to Festac News on May 8, 1993.

… Birth of Festac  News

AKINOSHO returned very early from work  at about 7:30pm one day and sauntered from his study to the living room, where I was sitting on the same red rug…

“Youngman! Don’t you think we should think of a business to enable us sustain the running of Arts Stampede?”

“What kind of business can we do?” I  retorted.

“Just thinking of us setting up a bookshop in LASU”.

 “That will be fine, but it will be a little bit difficult for us to manage…” I told him.

 He saw reason in that and went back to his study. Few minutes later, he jumped out of that room and declared…

“I think we can publish a community newspaper.”  

“Fine,”  I said… “How do we start that… what title are we looking at?”  

He picked up a sheet of paper and pen, came up with different names and being who he is… he wanted FESTAC to be well pronounced on the mast head, and after so many deliberations, we came up with FESTAC News, a fortnightly tabloid.

 I went to the National Library for a search on availability of the name; and it was successful. I registered it and proceeded to register the publishing company, Journo Blues Communication Limited.

It was just two of us that single handedly produced the maiden edition of the newspaper with the price tag  of N5, though we distributed all the copies free. The newspaper came out beautiful with great page planning by me. I must confess it was tough! That was around February 1993.

At the beginning of production of the second edition, we had to employ a driver, since neither of us could drive. And this was how Kingdom Arigo came into the picture. The three of us continued with the publication, until we employed a female secretary, Miss Stella Obaka.

After a few editions, two young men from the University of Nigeria, Enugu — Stanley and Obinna — came for six months Industrial Attachment, otherwise called,  I.T. That was how I became the General Manager, and my name became GM! I was reporting and managing the company alongside the CORA secretariat.

… The Community Theatre Project

Not quite long, Chris Omozokpia, an actor in the National Theatre circuit, joined the train as assistant editor of the newspaper, and in line with Akinosho’s quest for greater engagement with the Festac community ostensibly to bolster the fortune of the newspaper, Chris came up with a proposal for us to start a drama troupe that would offer extension services to the leisure life of the Estate.. Two scripts were accepted — one GRIPAM, written by Ola Rotimi, in which  I played the role of ‘Baba Landlord’ and the other written by Chris Omozokpa. Students from LASU and University of Jos were invited to participate in the productions. We had seven days of successful stage drama directed by Chris. Chris soon left to continue his Theatre studies at the University of Ibadan.

…Going to MARS House

Towards the end of 1993, we relocated to MARS House, 1st Avenue, and with the military dictator General Sani Abacha’s closure of The Guardian, where he was now substantive Arts Editor, Jahman Anikulapo, became the Editor under the name, Olaiya ‘Subomi.

Uche Nduka, the poet was employed as the first full-time Editor of Festac News around late 1993. He was with us for few months before he left for Germany on a scholarship from the Goethe Insititut, the German cultural centre.

In the month of April 1995, the pressure was much, no money to pay the eight staff, things were becoming tough and unbearable. At a point, I also resigned my appointment and traveled out of the country. Actually, Akinosho wasn’t really happy about my decision. It was tough, but he just had to let me take my leave and that was when Ken Egbas came on board as Editor. The newspaper went out of print in September 1997.

The Man and the myth

ALFRED OluwatoyinAkanni Akinosho, is a great man.  He sees himself among his staff as a colleague and not a Boss. You will hardly see him sitting at the back of his own car, he would rather be in the passenger’s side gisting with the driver…

omo boy!

Young man…

Agbara ti poju…

G.M. ki lon  sele?

Ko easy fun ole…

Ko easi fun labourer…

these are some of his countless linguistic invention; what you could call Toyinspeaks…

He always tried as much as possible to make everyone around him happy, to have something as an achievement.  

He contributed greatly to my growth in life.

One thing about him which many don’t really know is that he is an introvert and though he loves his women, he is afraid of marriage because of commitment.     

FEMI IPAYE, photojournalist, newspaper administrator was  Personal Assistant and General Manager to Toyin Akinosho, (aka T.A.) in the 1990s.

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