Toyin Akinosho @ 60: Tribute to a polymath – Toni Kan
Lagos is a city of parvenus, nouveaux riches and arrivistes.
It has been so since Oba Oroghua of Benin foisted Ashipa as Oba of Lagos over the Aworis in the 17th century.
Since then, many men and women have migrated from far afield to Lagos hoping that the ship of their destiny will dock somewhere in this city by the Lagoon. They come turgid with hope and buoyed by ambition as they lay claim to their patch of Lagos.
And no one knows about these claimants to the land and soul of Lagos like Toyin Akinosho, geologist by training, writer by choice and culture activist by inclination.
Born 60 years ago, Toyin Akinosho is a polymath, a member of that unique specie of human beings, he can best be described as – a sponge for knowledge and a human reservoir of insights.
Toyin Akinosho knows things. Plenty things.
Ask him about Hotel Bobby and even if he was too young to have been a regular he will have a true story about a cousin or uncle who was a regular.
Inquire about FESTAC 77 and ask whether he knew a guy called the “Minister of Enjoyment” and Toyin Akinosho will tell you his real name was Admiral O.P Fingesi, the man whose remit it was to build Festac Town in time for the FESTAC festivities.
Present a query about the first deep offshore well to be spudded in Nigeria and Mr. Akinosho will tell you that while Shell’s Bonga often lays claim to that feat, it is actually not based on facts but on PR because as he puts it “Shell is a bigger company and had more media power, so it was easy for them to be seen as the flagship of deep water exploration in Nigeria. In terms of delivery to first oil Aboh delivered before Bonga.”
Be stuck in your hotel room on a Friday night in Accra, Cape Town, Dakar or Vienna and wondering where to spend the night in a fun and convivial space? Call Uncle Toyin and he will tell you which club jumps and at what time it begins to jump.
When you google Renaissance Man, then click on “Image” the photo that jumps out at you is of Toyin Akinosho.
Go on, try it.
Uncle Toyin who insists on not being called Uncle Toyin because as he puts it – “I am not your uncle” – is one of those elderly men who will never get old because their mindset is young, their perspective is ever fresh and their outlook on life is constantly renewing itself.
But, of course there is a middle age spread coalescing into a paunch, his stubble is now more grey than black and his hair which he keeps well-trimmed is losing the battle to those pesky things Wole Soyinka once described as “frail invaders of the undergrowth.”
Uncle Toyin is turning grey.
I do not remember when I first met Toyin Akinosho. But I know he was with Jahman Anikulapo, his brother from another mother. I am clear that it predated Freedom Park and must have been during the Abacha years.
I must have seen him first at a CORA event, one of those rowdy and irreverent Art Stampedes where you were sure to meet whoever mattered on the Lagos art scene.
Toyin Akinosho would usually be the man in the black trousers and check shirt, usually black or blue and white. He doesn’t care whether it is short or long sleeved. I remember him as always ARMED with a book, fiction or non-fiction, it didn’t matter. Memory tells me he was the one who always had a question to ask but before he asked his question, Uncle Toyin always insisted on reading a passage from whatever book he had with him.
But I remember clearly that he was the one who was always ready to interrupt Jahman Anikulapo, who most times was Master of Ceremony.
“Mr. Man you are wasting too much time on that issue,” Toyin Akinosho would bellow.
The first time I saw it happen, I was so sure that Jahman would take offence, but he had smiled good naturedly and said “Don’t mind Toyin, he wants me to give him the microphone. But I won’t. I am the MC.”
Some context is needed at this time.
Jahman Anikulapo was THE Jahman Anikulapo. Culture Advocate, Editor of The Guardian on Sunday and a man I had been trying to make my friend for years. And this man just interrupted him as Fela would sing – Just Like Dat!
A few months later, while I had still not gotten a handle on the unusual dynamic between the duo of Jahman and Toyin, I was invited by Obi Nwakanma to a party in FESTAC town at a place called Mars House.
I would discover on arrival that Mars House was Toyin Akinosho’s house or to borrow from Coleridge, “his stately pleasure dome.”
Mars House was a place where the beer never ran out, where there was always food ready to please your palate and quell your hunger and where any creative arriving in Lagos and seeking a place to lay his head was always assured of a room and a bed.
And oh my, the books.
The only other place that functioned like that was Odia Ofeimun’s former house on Sanyaolu street in Oregun.
It was at that party, with Obi Nwakanma regaling us with ribald poems and jokes and stories that I found out Toyin Akinosho was no ordinary journalist. I discovered that he was indeed a geologist in the employ of the IOC Chevron and was moonlighting as a journalist nay columnist for The Guardian on Sunday.
He was, as I would discover many years later, the man behind the Cocktail Circuit column in the Guardian. This was an amazing discovery because living in Kano as a teenager with a hard-on for Lagos and all things literary, the little I gleaned about the Lagos cultural and literary elite came from the Cocktail Circuit in The Guardian on Sunday as well as from Tony Okonedo’s column in Vanguard. Then much later from Prime/Vintage People and FAME.
But even though I had met Toyin Akinosho, been to his house and was running into him at different art and literary fora, we never had a conversation until one afternoon, maybe it was the day the late Bisi Silva launched CCA or the day South African queer photographer, Zanele Muholi opened her exhibition. I know it was at CCA for sure and I was standing and talking to a female when Toyin Akinosho pointed at me and said to someone next to him – “That is the famous author, Toni Kan.”
I was taken aback. I felt a sting in the introduction. I was no famous author even though I had a collection of poems and a novella under my belt. I felt Mr. Akinosho was slighted that I did not come over to greet him but the truth was that I had been standing there and shooting the breeze and waiting for an opportunity to introduce myself for the umpteenth time and maybe strike up a conversation which I am horrible at. As a child, I had a stutter and it made me self-conscious and not so sociable, something people often mistake for arrogance or distance. I felt Mr. Akinosho, whom I had been dying to make a mentor and friend, had assumed wrongly.
Somehow, we had a conversation and then we had another and another and many more and Toyin Akinosho was suddenly my uncle, the one who would see me and hail and say – “Baba Toni” as he shook me multiple times – then frown and pull away as soon as I called him uncle.
I had achieved my literary aim in Lagos to be close to arbiters of literary and cultural taste – Odia Ofeimun, Jahman Anikulapo, Maik Nwosu, Nduka Otiono, Uzor Maxim Uzoatu and Toyin Akinosho.
Toyin Akinosho studied geology at Ife and as he tells it, he was an undergrad and was working on his final year project in GeoChemistry when he published his first piece in The Guardian and was paid N25.
“My father used to give me N60 a month and as far as I was concerned he could just go away. I was making good money. My feeding aallowance was N45 for the whole month at Ife and I was making N25 from a story. I became extremely rich.”
How did a geologist become a writer for the flagship of Nigerian journalism? Toyin Akinosho, as they say, had joined bad gang.
“My department was not far from the Theatre Arts department and sitting there I would hear all that noise from down there and that was how I got acquainted with all those characters like Uzor Maxim and Tejumola Olaniyan. They would be drumming and all that and I was excited by what they were doing but even though I was thrilled I still had my samples to run back to.”
So, once he finished his degree, he served at Elf petroleum then ditched his Geology degree and went into journalism because there were happening Ife boys like Greg Obong-Oshotse.
Toyin Akinosho was just 26 and was quickly made Acting Features Editor.
At The Guardian, he was mentored by veterans like Ted Iwere, Femi Kusa and Ben Tomoloju who joined The Guardian from Democrat and introduced what we now know as the Arts and Culture pages.
“I went to The Guardian the same way I went to Ife. I went to Ife because the boys that were were happening at Federal School Science were at Ife. Then suddenly we had people like Greg Obong-Oshotse and all these guys who had been living together at Fajuyi hall. They were showing off so I said I would join them ”
Toyin Akinosho could have risen through the ranks to become an Editor of one of the titles at the Guardian but for a wrong move with Sonala Olumhense and eight others who went to work for Nduka Obaigbena.
“We wanted to make a generational statement,” Akinosho recalls, “but Nduka had other plans. Immediately I got to Newsweek, I knew I had made a mistake. He ended up owing salaries. It was a different life from The Guardian which was structured.”
Broke and with salaries in abeyance, his family prevailed on him to ditch journalism for Geology and in 1988 Toyin Akinosho, at 28, caved in and went to work for Gulf oil (Chevron) where he spent 20 years.
But during that time, he stayed in love with the arts publishing Festac news and novels like Akin Adesokan’s award winning Roots in The Sky. Today, many admirers still refer to him as Publisher.
At 60, Toyin Akinosho is Africa’s foremost oil and gas reporter. The publisher of the authoritative Africa Oil and Gas Report, Toyin Akinosho is a recipient of the CNN African journalist Award.
In 2012, he was named alongside seven others as a fellow of the Nigerian Association of Petroleum Explorationists (NAPE) where Akinosho served for many years as Secretary and in 2015 he received the “top award of the latest edition of the “Big Five Awards” conferred on distinguished oil industry players at the annual Africa Oil Week in Cape Town. The one week conference is one of the most prestigious gatherings of operators and regulatory authorities on the continent…On the 18th anniversary of the awards, Duncan Clarke, Chairman and CEO of Global Pacific & Partners, organisers of the 22 year old conference, announced the 2015 winners for their contribution to excellence in Africa’s petroleum industry. The winners included Toyin Akinosho, Publisher of Africa Oil+Gas Report, who bagged the Distinguished Contribution to the African Industry.”
Toyin Akinosho received the award for what the organisers described as” having the courage of his convictions.”
The award is richly deserved by a man who has had a rewarding and multifaceted 27 years long professional career in the oil industry “20 of them spent as petroleum geologist with wide and increasingly diverse experience in Chevron, where he retired in 2008. He publishes the widely read Africa Oil+Gas Report, which has shown uncommon courage and candour in its coverage of the industry. Toyin has demonstrated keen interpretation of issues and trends in the technology, fiscal and strategic aspects of the oil industry, leading his magazine to establish rankings of top independent foreign and local producers and the emergence of African indigenous independents.”
As Toyin Akinosho celebrates his 60th birthday, I am proud to rejoice with a geologist, columnist, raconteur, bon vivant, Lagos lover, co-founder of Committee of Relevant Art (CORA), past winner of the CNN African Journalist award and all-round Renaissance man.