Toyin Akinosho @ 60: The quintessential Change Agent -Ayo Arigbabu


“… his large and expansive extended family in the oil and gas, journalism, publishing, culture and literary circles has contributed to the growth of many careers, many relationships, and indeed, when the books are finally written, would be seen to have contributed to the growth of industries.”

IN the last few years, I have not seen Poblisha a whole lot, which in itself is an anomaly I must take full credit for, having become a bit of a hermit. Every week however, for the past few months, an email announces itself in my inbox like clockwork with the signature BookArtVille, signifying one thing and one thing only —  Poblisha is hard at work.

     Poblisha is what I grew up to meet the man otherwise known as Toyin Akinosho being called and a publisher he is indeed, but that is about how far that moniker goes in describing who Mr. Akinosho is. Toyin Akinosho’s industry and character puts him in a special league amongst the finest of them all. It’s not just that he publishes and has been hard at this for decades, but the agency and character he brings to the vocation elevates his contributions to the knowledge space to legendary levels, albeit in non-linear ways.

      Toyin Akinosho is not just a publisher. Scratch that. Toyin Akinosho IS Publisher, but that means a whole lot more than just putting out publication after publication. You cannot unpack Toyin Akinosho without thinking of geology as anthropology, of anthropology as economics, of economics as politics, of politics as culture, and of culture as the central pool of evidence of our existence which seeps through the sands of time into the rocky geological crevices of history, to be mined by future geologists and studied by anthropologists, to define future economies. Uncle T, as I like to call him, has worked this circle of life with aplomb for as long as I have known him. Quintessential and unconventional journalist, unwavering arts patron and critic, devoted geologist, understated social crusader, overall jolly good fellow.

      I like to see Toyin Akinosho’s contribution to our society as that of an unusual anthropologist, studying us and encouraging us to learn about ourselves, and in that roundabout manner, he also emerges a teacher without a classroom who has co-opted the entire space around him as his classroom. One Oil and Gas magazine at a time. One book and art festival at a time. One literary and art critique at a time. One unannounced grant to a struggling artist at a time. One roaring night out with friends, debating Soyinka and Bertolt Brecht in a bar with Fela blaring through the speakers at a time.

AKINOSHO the geologist, culture activist, prolific journalist, publisher and everybody’s favourite culture buddy who has only just learnt while reading this piece that he is ultimately an anthropologist, will also be impressed to learn that he wields his vocation in anthropology in a counter intuitive manner, as an instrument of change. And the bulwark against which this change is wrought is an unwavering sense of commitment. His commitment to his passions, and his large and expansive extended family in the oil and gas, journalism, publishing, culture and literary circles is a thing of beauty to reflect upon. This commitment has contributed to the growth of many careers, many relationships, and indeed, when the books are finally written, would be seen to have contributed to the growth of industries. When next you  consider the growth or otherwise of Nigeria’s GDP. Think of the power of commitment, such as exhibited by Toyin Akinosho, year after year.

     It is also hoped that when the books are finally written, they will talk about how unwavering commitment, counter intuitively turns structure on its head in the service of endurance. We see this in a man who patented working from home more than two decades before that became the buzz word with international C-suite business executives and the go-to survival strategy in combating the global Covid-19 pandemic and in a literary and arts festival that has endured as the longest running in Nigeria, albeit on shoe-string budgets, solely on the strength of uncommon commitment.

      We see it in a community of people that have collectively adopted a culture to quietly till the diverse knowledge fields they have domain expertise in and learn to distill the needed intelligence to bring to the central pool in the unending task of improving society. We see it in people who have had the pleasure of knowing and working with Publisher, or just simply sharing a drink with him while he regaled them about the Agbami oil fields and Kole Omotosho’s Just Before Dawn, with a quick segue into some escapade he had while holidaying in Cape Town, or Cairo, which gave him deep insight into how the political system in the said space had morphed over the years.

On your sixtieth birthday, Uncle T, a robust feast is what is expected to celebrate your decades of curating and seeding ideas for communal development. I would however like to toast to this amazing milestone with a very simple prayer, remembering that upteenth Lagos Book & Art Festival planning committee meeting where you revealed that you went to Church at the beginning of the year solely to pray that we found the resources to not only deliver the festival, but make it better; my prayer is, that may your best wishes – every one of them – may they come true, for when they do, so would mine.

Happy Birthday Publisher!

Arigbabu, is an architect and writer is on the board of CORA

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”

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