Toyin Akinosho @ 60: All about service to humanity – Sola Balogun

Geologist, journalist, publisher, art enthusiast, arts activist and critic, Toyin Akinosho is hardly seen in an angry mood. He loves the arts with great passion and is easily at home whenever discourse on any of the artistic disciplines crops up. As a well read and compulsive follower of art trends, Akinosho has a cynical, yet friendly style of criticising people whenever they err. He is quick to point out your faults to your face, but not in any rude or offensive manner.

He has a rather customised way of heralding his presence at every artistic gathering in Lagos. Clad in his usual shirt and trousers attire, with his belt tilted up, he would saunter into the arena and salute everyone in attendance with warm handshakes and broad smiles. While doing this, he would also call everyone by their first name. If he doesn’t call you by your name or pseudo name, you must be an elder, a new guy in town or a new convert into the Lagos arts circle.

I had my first encounter with TA in the ‘90s during one of the early editions of the Arts Stampede held at the Ikoyi home of the Kuboyes. I remember how he received me warmly even as a cub culture reporter; how he inquired after my name and quickly reminded me of some of my pieces that he had read on the arts pages of The Guardian. He was then in the company of his fellow art enthusiasts, who constituted the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) – Yomi Layinka, Tunde Olanipekun, Jahman Anikulapo, Chika Okeke and a few others. TA naturally served as moderator at these events, many of which centred on carefully selected topics or burning issues in the culture sector but which had not been addressed by relevant government officials or practitioners in the sector.

TA’s arguments on cultural issues were always cerebral, topical and highly informative. He has a very logical way of presenting his views, which interestingly, he would intersperse with jokes and a chronological sense of history. He, of course, knows all the ’who is who’ and ‘what events’ in the Nigerian arts and culture sector, and he would not mince words when occasion demands that he passes judgements either in complimentary terms, or otherwise. From his numerous arguments and writings, he displays a deep understanding of the culture community, which up till date, is never seen or treated as an all-important unit in the government circles. His comments usually centre on the perennial advocacy for arts and culture to be given prime of place in national planning.

Among such issues and topics that were hotly debated at the quarterly Art Stampedes were the Nigerian Cultural Policy, the National Endowment for the Arts, recurrent appointments of wrong people to handle culture-based agencies, plight and welfare of Nigerian artists and writers, attempt by the federal government to put up the National Theatre complex for sale, indolence or non-performance of certain culture bureaucrats, pillaging and illegal selling of Nigeria’s artefacts as well as poor performance of successive henchmen in the culture, tourism and information ministries. As a man of many parts, TA would easily analyse any of these topics with precision, proffering solutions or advocacies where necessary.

…As in the arts, so in petrochemical sector
FOR being a blunt and fearless journalist, TA was sometimes ago got persecuted for exposing the corruption in the Nigerian oil and gas sector through the magazine he publishes. After working for 20 years at Chevron, the trained geologist started publishing the African Oil+Gas Report, a monthly magazine with a mission to avail the general public and other stakeholders a clearer and objective view of operations in the petrochemical sector. But for daring to expose the rot in the sector, some of his detractors sent suspected hired assassins after him. The suspects trailed his driver at gunpoint, demanding for his boss’ whereabouts. It took providence, his driver’s wisdom and rare luck for TA to escape being killed. It would be interesting to know that what TA used African Oil+Gas Report to achieve in the petroleum sector, he equally used Festac News to accomplish in the arts and culture sector. Though he named the publication after Festac Town where he had lived for many years, TA essentially utilised the community tabloid not only to celebrate human virtues and creativity in the mega town, but to also expose all sorts of social ills and public corruption plaguing the community.

The kind, generous giver
As a selfless and generous person, TA has been a benefactor to friends and associates in and outside the arts sector. He is probably generous to a fault; always ready to render assistance in whatever capacity.

I remember how TA supported my wedding in 1995, at a time when his aged mother ironically demanded that he too should go and ‘bring a wife’ or ‘impregnate a woman and bring ’to the house. I had gone to give TA my wedding invite; I didn’t meet him in his Flat 3, Block 4 22 Road residence in Festac Town, but I was shown the way to mama’s flat upstairs, where I dropped the invitation card. This was when the motherly request was made; and when I eventually met him and delivered mama’s message, TA just laughed it off, saying since he is the only child, mama was right to seize every opportunity to demand for her grandchild from him. Despite all these, TA did not only bless me with cash, he equally attended the wedding in company of my mentors — Ben Tomoloju and Jahman Anikulapo.

Life-long service to humanity
So, our own TA has joined the league of elders, having clocked three scores on this shore. I remember when he turned 50 in 2010, and how the entire arts community trooped to his Fesatc Town duplex home at Mars House on 1st Avenue to rejoice with him. Today he is crowning his accomplishments in the culture and energy sectors with his advancement in age. What else can a younger admirer like me say to TA, other than to wish him longer life and many more years of success in his service to humanity.

Dr Sola Balogun lectures in the Department of Theatre and Media Arts, Federal University, Oye-Ekiti.

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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