“…while on those expeditions searching for the gold, the oil, the deposits of nature’s bounties, he saw more than the physical wealth that the earth had to offer humanity… he saw humanity itself as a resource bequeathed by nature; therefore, like mother nature who gives freely, he decided to give freely.“
It all began in 1998 when out of sheer youthful exuberance, I resigned from my “well-paid and chauffeur-driven job” as Admin Officer/Public Relations Officer of a new agency under the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure, (NASENI).
The new agency, Engineering Materials Development Institute (EMDI), Akure was under the direction of an equally Bohemian personality, the late Professor Olusegun Adewoye.
I arrived Lagos full of passion and ideas to storm the city with theatre productions. Like most young men of my age, all I had was just passion; there was no plan on how to achieve those lofty dreams. Well, I ran into the Black American Chuck Mike at his PEC Repertory Theatre at Onikan, Lagos and there, something like a glimmer of hope showed. I don’t know how it happened exactly except that one day, in the one room that I shared with a friend from Ajegunle, I woke up and went to the Lagos State University, Ojo, to ask for a teaching job. I was engaged the same day on their diploma in Theatre, Radio and Film Production programme as an associate lecturer.
A few months later, Toyin Akinoso and his alter ego, Jahman Anikulapo came into my life through another crazy friend from OAU, Ife, Ropo Ewenla.
Somehow, I was introduced to these two people and it became crystal clear that I had found men who would nurture my ‘madness’ from its infancy to adulthood. The first meeting was at the CORA Arts Stampede at the National Theatre. One of them, Jahman Anikulapo, I could tell was a fellow vagabond by his adire top and jeans which was what we all were wearing for no reason beyond the fad of being artists. In contrast to us the adire-wearing vagabond artists was Toyin Akinoso in his immaculate shirt and tie and official car. He definitely didn’t belong in our class, at least not the class of Ropo and I who had to scavenge for food back in school and had continued doing same long after leaving the university.
I think our troupe, Optimom Arts Konsotiom — an assemblage of some passionate, crazy and willing young boys and girls drawn from several departments and faculties of LASU – had performed at an earlier Stampede. Thereafter, as we say in Nigeria, ‘one thing led to another’ and there we were, over 30 of us at the FESTAC home of the man, Toyin Akinosho.
Well, I must confess that the size and furnishing of the house confirmed my earlier suspicion that he was not in our class because at that time, I was still struggling with my first rent at Igando where Ropo was squatting with me. So, you can imagine what impression a duplex in a place like FESTAC had on me. The massive house — because that was what it was at the time — was akin to Fela’s Kalakuta Repubic. Yes, looking back, that was what it was with Toyin as Fela and Jahman his Tony Allen beating the drum of their ideas and passion with us as the many restless and creative spirits who needed shelter, food and mentoring for our streams of ideas. Nothing was impossible with those two. Toyin Akinosho’s Republic became the homing ground for anyone and everyone who wanted to nurture his ideas.
I wasn’t surprised to learn that he studied geology at the University of Ife. In a way, that explained where he drank more than his full share of the wine of humanity, creativity, selflessness and a total disregard for opulence. At least, I saw some of that back then. Ife was one place where true multidisciplinary discussions took place. For me, his course of study might have also had a tremendous influence on his perception of nature and life. I believe that while on those expeditions searching for the gold, the oil, the deposits of nature’s bounties, he saw more than the physical wealth that the earth had to offer humanity.
Toyin Akinosho saw humanity itself as a resource bequeathed by nature. Therefore, like mother nature who gives freely, he decided to give freely. He gave his time to listen to our pet dreams, he honed them with uncommon critical insights, then tore them apart for us to reassemble.
Toyin Akinosho’s Republic became a melting and meeting point for many of us from diverse backgrounds and generations. There I met the music critic Benson Idonije, the scholar-writer Akin Adesokan, the poet-polemicist Odia Ofeimun, the poet-musician Beautiful Nubia, the singer Asa, the actor-dancer Segun Adefila, and many younger artists who were seeking expression for their creativity. We mingled freely, fought, embraced, birthed ideas and performed in unusual places. Those days gave wings to my ideas as Optimom Arts Konsotiom, the troupe that Ropo and I were running at the time became somewhat one of the official performing troupes at CORA events.
We performed, we ate, we dreamt, we drank all because one man was doling out money made from Chevron to feed our insatiable appetite and creativity. He would always have a smile even when he disagreed with you. Not once in all the years have I seen him shouting. I think he left the shouting to his twin brother, Jahman to do.
Toyin Akinosho was that critic who could speak eloquently on music, theatre, drama, painting, the novel, poetry, politics, religion, culture and still perform excellently in the field of oil and gas. Not many will remember that his Festac News was perhaps, the first newsprint to advertise Tantalizers which was close to his Republic. I sometimes wonder how his neighbours didn’t get us arrested for constituting such a nuisance.
His home and the support that he gave us has had a multiplier effect on the lives of many of us and our followers. His tentacles, like that of the octopus, stretch across generations, and artistic forms. Several young men and women became notable because of those kind gestures.
I remember how Baba Fatai Rolling Dollars was rediscovered and brought to limelight again through the Great Highlife Party in collaboration with CORA and O’Jez Restaurant with Benson Idonije as curator of the gig which held monthly first at Iwaya, and later National Stadium complex Surulere facilities of the restaurant.
Of course, the project was through the thinking and commitment of Toyin Akinosho and Jahman Anikulapo.
Theirs is indeed a meeting of kindred spirits. It’s not my place to list those that have been influenced by these men but I think I have the liberty to mention some of the members of my troupe who were regular callers at Akinosho’s Republic at Festac Town or at CORA Arts Stampedes in those days, I start with myself, Ropo Ewenla, Chris Ihidero, Steve Onu (Yaw), Dorothy Effiom, Emmanuel Uduma, Chioma Nwosu, Tola Jimoh, Jumoke Verissimo, Asa, Jojo Body Beat, and many more. All of these people have gone ahead to continue touching lives in their own ways.
AT sixty, I conclude that Toyin Akinosho is among those unsung great men and women in Nigeria who are motivated not by hype, material gains or political appointments. His impact on the culture sector will remain for generations to come. Poblisha, as we fondly call him, truly deserves a monument in his honour. It is sad that Whuan decided to unleash the coronavirus on the world at this time, if not…
Worry not, Poblisha
Silently, ever silently does the ant walk
Gracefully, ever so gracefully does the cat move
Royally, ever so royally does the lion pounce
The drums will roll again
Its membrane will filter out melodies
The earth, your source of joy
Will wash away the pungent smell of death
Brought upon her by the unseen enemy
Our feet, our restless feet will dance
Our voices, our tireless voices will sing
Our throat, our parched throats will sip emu oguro
As we banter at another Stampede
Before then, we shall embrace you in our hearts
Our hearts, ever with love, will whisper
Tunji Azeez, dramatist, theatre director, is Associate Professor of Drama at the Lagos State University, LASU.
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”