Tribute to Toyin ‘The Rock’ Akinosho @60 -Tunji Lardner

“In his capacious mind he writes the minutes of every encounter, even if no one else bothers to do so, and the critical difference is that Toyin feels compelled to ‘read the minutes of the last meeting’ to himself, even as he jots down concurrent happenings of life unfolding in this dimension, and I wager other dimensions too!”

JUST the other day, a public policy analyst colleague of mine excitedly sent me a link to an article published by the Africa Oil+Gas Report titled ‘Industry demands clarity over Nigeria’s end of subsidy regime.’ We had both been thinking about the post Covid19 oil sector scenarios for Nigeria, and this article in the best tradition of technical journalistic reporting deftly and lucidly explained the full context of this sudden volte face by the Nigerian government.

It was well researched, studded with pithy interviews from industry experts and written in a crisp, logical and engaging style, authoritatively declaring the author’s mastery of the literary style and technical substance of the subject matter. In my books, it was old style magazine journalistic reporting, the type we practiced over three decades ago in an impetuous weekly news magazine titled THISWEEK.

Back then in ‘dem heady days,’ this story would have been the lead story in the serious, authoritative and well-respected Business Section staffed by starchy be-suited reporters who took themselves a tad too seriously. Our own ‘Back of the book’ section that I edited was fully half of the magazine and staffed by a menagerie of the zaniest, unserious, hardworking and borderline insane/genius young journalists ever to be inflicted on a Nigerian newsroom.

In reading the article, I had a feeling of déjà vu all over again. I recognized the imprimatur instantly it could be no one other than Toyin ‘The Rock’ Akinosho. Somehow through the dusty memories of what seemed like geological time that article rekindled memories of my earliest encounters with Toyin eons ago. Okay, perhaps not in geological time (measured in millions of years) but most certainly in anthropological time.

Consider this fun fact, when we were all corralled by the, em, inimitable Nduka Obiagbena under the Thisweek editorship of Sonala Olumhense some 35 years ago, 75 percent of Nigerians were not born. In the intervening decades, I was out of the country from 1988 visiting infrequently until 2000s when tending to an ICT4D project required my dedicated presence, even so, I kept tabs on Toyin’s work through his splendid weekly column, Artsville, in Sunday Guardian.

AT this present time in May 2020 that we celebrate Toyin’s Diamond Jubilee year, I must say that I feel honoured and privileged to have been chosen to pen a few words about this remarkable man. By way of a layered literary conceit it is appropriate that as we collectively celebrate the sedimentary genius of Toyin to note that we are not in fact dealing with just another carbon-based life form, like you and I.

From our earliest days at ThisWeek as his editor Toyin’s bewildering oscillation between creative insanity and sublime genius raised my suspicions about his possible extra-terrestrial origins. Watching Toyin spontaneously leap on a table in our tiny newsroom in the middle of crunch time, dancing in self-absorbed celebration of an idea or a phrase that captured his prodigious mind soon became so common place, that reporters would barely raise their heads, but continue with their copy – it was Toyin being, well, Toyin.

I however, had my suspicions. How is it that someone could precipitate raucous arguments, weighing in on any topic conceivable in the newsroom, dance on tables, disappear for hours in the face of looming deadlines, suddenly reappear just in the nick of time to deliver a near perfect copy? I began to suspect that his strange disappearances were possibly due to serial alien abductions.

However, it occurred to me that there was the possibility that he was not being abducted in the first place, but rather, reporting to base — a cloaked invisible alien mother ship hovering above Vaughan Street in the Oyingbo area of Lagos, the terrestrial location of his early years and later over 22 Road in Festac Town, the location of his storied apartment.

It was rumored that partially due to the Electromagnetic Pulse Radiation emanating from this invisible spaceship, his front door was actually a gateway possibly through a wormhole into the parallel universe of ideas that is Toyin’s mind. However only the arts and literary cognoscenti know about this, not even geologists were in the know. For the rest of us, immediately we go through that portal, we enter a Reality Distortion Field that offers the dwelling as a normal man cave of an intellectual bibliophile.

Presently in his new digs off Admiralty Way in Lekki, since he moved in, the residents of his street have noticed on occasion strange pulsating lights in the night skies and unusual electrostatic interference with their home appliances. Television and radios would suddenly stop working with that familiar hiss of radio static. Some have even claimed that Toyin’s handsome visage has appeared in a flash on their television and mobile phones.

TOYIN has always been bright, very bright and blessed with a natural curiosity about things he was always ready to inquire and explore new ideas, deconstruct them, appropriate the relevant parts that resonated with his thinking at the moment and blithely discard the detritus, well, not quite. Toyin’s long memory for ideas meant that he would file a subject away for further engagement in the future. Well, I have come to sense that Toyin’s concept of time and space might not be the Einsteinian model of space-time.

Let me explain.

I remember a chance encounter with Toyin at Bogobiri (the art hotel in Ikoyi) possibly more than a decade ago. It was delightful to see my old friend and trusted colleague. We quickly settled into a bottle of stout apiece and got talking about… everything as usual. By now he was a senior executive at Chevron (imagine, Toyin a senior executive at an oil company) and somehow he was still very active in the Arts and Literary scene in Nigeria and Africa and was finding fulfillment in CORA which he and Jahman and a motley crew of art patrons had somehow kept going, when halfway through one thread of a conversation, he suddenly switched to another thread of conversation we had during our days together at ThisWeek.

To be honest, I barely remembered the initial conversation, but as he carefully intellectually unpacked the well-preserved debris of that idea, I realized there and then, that my hypothesis about him not really being a carbon-based life form was probably correct. Now, who remembers the particularities of an arcane conversation decades prior, effortlessly recalls the specific point of contention, consolidates it into a new framework and then presents it to you, the hapless interlocutor as part of an ongoing conversation that started five minutes before!

Toyin’s circadian clock — the quotidian rhythms of time that compels us lesser mortals to wake up in the morning and sleep at night does not apply to him. I seriously doubt that he even operates on the Gregorian calendar, which is ironic as we celebrate his ‘sixtieth’ birthday in the month of May 2020. Perhaps, just perhaps in another dimension, Toyin’s real date of birth might be… oh…never mind!

      For close to four decades, Toyin’s curiosity as a self described “cultural enthusiast” has led him on an itinerant quest all over the world, making friends, arms flailing disruptive conversations, and looking for cultures to be enthusiastic about. He was and remains a true lover of wisdom -- you know, ‘philos-sophia’ as well as the ardent object of affection by his large fan club of sapiosexuals, who are drawn to his always intelligent banter, deep philosophical discourse and of course his prolific writings. How can one person at once know about ‘Diorite’ (look it up) and ‘denouement’ and a great swathe of things in between? 
      My own guess is that he keeps notes on life stories. In his capacious mind he writes the minutes of every encounter, even if no one else bothers to do so, and the critical difference is that Toyin feels compelled to ‘read the minutes of the last meeting’ to himself, even as he jots down concurrent happenings of life unfolding in this dimension, and I wager other dimensions too! As a scribe of history and life, his chronicles might not always be accurate, given the power of his self belief and a tendency to rush to write the first draft of history, but his ability to self-correct in mid trajectory underscores his intellectual integrity.

AS we celebrate Toyin ‘the Rock’ Akinosho’s 60th birthday, we celebrate a man whose life has been a metamorphic journey into becoming the ‘rock’ of a man that he is today. Having taken some poetic license to baptize him ‘the rock,’ his new nom de guerre is the perfect metaphor for this diamond jubilee birthday celebrations. We are in a fashion celebrating a diamond in its diamond jubilee year. Our much beloved ‘cultural enthusiast’ diamond is sixty in this month of May 2020 and against the backdrop of love in the time of corona!
However, a niggling thought is how ‘a non carbon-based life form’ can be so strongly identified with a remarkable piece of well, carbon? Only Toyin can fathom this out! In the meantime, happy birthday to a friend and respected colleague.

Lardner, media and communications  expert and social worker is the Executive Director of WANGONeT a technology-based non-profit organization

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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