An online portrait of Deji Toye , the lawyer, lyrist and polemist

by Kole Odutola

In information science there is a categorization termed grey literature. The materials in grey literature are not readily available to the public. To gain access to what is termed grey literature a reader must be part of the family or closely related to the owner of the information. So much of useful and relevant information is lost this way. In fact, Joan M. Reitz gives a list of the kind of information types that fall into this category. “Reports, preprints, internal documents (such as memoranda, newsletters, market surveys), theses and dissertations, conference proceedings, technical specifications and standards, and trade literature.”

How does a research rescue some of the materials that are gems but locked in the armpit of social media platforms? This online portrait will start from what can be located in the public domain and thereafter move into spaces where a few can get into with permission.

The name Deji Toye, lawyer, writer and culture advocate is a very common name among people within the cultural circuit. He is a man who works (you may not be far from the truth if you say walks) behind the scenes. Unlike how he presents at home, he has a different kind of presence on various homepages. If you try a search of his name, the Internet will remind you of a book he co-authored with Architect Ayodele Arigbabu and Dapo Ogundipe in 2004. The book is titled 3 Kobo Book: ọrọ pọ ninu iwe kọbọ. In effect, it is a book constructed by three authors and has three genres. In this 154 page book, there are short stories, poems and a play. It was published by Evolution Media, Akoka Lagos. Sewedo Nopuwaku was the publisher and to move with the times the name of the publishing outfit has changed to Revolution Media. As its evolution has changed to a revolution only comics now come out of the stable.

Apart from writing original works, Deji Olatoye is known for writing very critical reviews. In 2003, he wrote Moremi: A myth meets its march as a review of his friend’s drama production; Moremi Revised Standard Version (RSV). A sample may just suffice to give readers a taste of his descriptive capability.

In the RSV, Moremi, lately widowed queen consort of Ife, displayed a passion for social causes early enough in the play when she led the successful rebellion of the market women against the extortionist excesses of their leader, thus earning herself the position of the new leader. But it is a joy short-lived as the Igbo marauders choose the occasion of her installation ceremonies to once again raid the town, with the market being, as usual, their main target. Wares and women are despoiled in the process. The Ifes are no sissies, only may be a little superstitious, for they have never really resisted the Igbo who, covered in grass, are unfathomable spirits to them. Perhaps for the personal turn that this social disgrace has now taken, Moremi soon vows to take an action…” 

Deji Toye

To really know Deji Toye, is to follow his quick-witted remarks on social media. He is a city lover and he says he “loves Lagos because it is a city that thrives on a lot of things. All you need, he says, is the drive to plug into the culture, energy, commerce and so much more.…” deji’s love of Lagos finds its way into poems and cartoons. What do you think about this punchy line? “a Nation is not an axiom, but an argument.” Should we start an argument or just open more layers of how this creative mind thinks.

 I have a quick selection of some of his punchy, never to be forgotten lines online. In a 2013 post on Facebook, I contributed to a thread by noticing that we like to punish the lowly among us but leave the rich. Deji Toye responded “in classical drama, the lowly’ s misfortune is a subject of common ridicule, thus only fit for comedy; the highly placed’ s minor inconvenience, a subject of communal pathos and could only be represented in tragedy. Humanity has never changed since the days of Sophocles and Aristophanes”

Again, sometime in 2011 I had raised an issue about taking a loan from a bank or from families. Deji’s engagement on the issue is worth revisiting

If by that he refers to the social levy imposed the familial relationship on the continent, that’s more in the nature of taxation- certain as death- which you pay whether you went to public school, on scholarship or not. So better, obtain that family finance because you [will be] paying back big time anyway.

To throw more light on the subject, I raised another notion, “what will happen if you do not pay back to family Vs if you default in payment to a Bank. My friend Mr. Bolaji Ogunseye talks about the Economics of Affection and I have been searching everywhere for texts on his idea.”

Deji Toye introduced his own concept of social capital, “Economics of Affection! You may also want to check out the associated concept of Social Capital. To your question: If you default on a bank loan, legally you become bankrupt and your assets may be used to meet the obligations. Nevertheless, this helps you clean up your books and to begin on a clean slate. Try it with defaulting on family obligations, the social ostracization may go from the first to the 3rd generation – no effusion of time, no statute of limitation, no record cleansing bankruptcy procedure.

To give the dialogue a bit of cultural coloration, I brought in the Yoruba concept of people as covering

“@Deji, that social capital concept is more of Eniyan lasho mi. People are my ‘covering.’ I do not like the equation of financial capital with that of human capital. You develop your social capital through networking in a way that increases your net-worth. Is that why most political aspirants in Nigeria have in-laws across the land? Same for polygamous men, who increase their audience/market based on the number of wives they have. Each brings multiples of four into the network. I tell you there is a lot to the way our fathers lived. I guess it is time to modernize and get into the 21st century. How to manage the transition is the real issue. Hmmmmmm

To bring the interaction to a close he offered this closing remarks

“Agreed, but social capital becomes financial when it becomes the basis for receipt of value of a financial nature whether by way of value added or savings. I have an in-law in Maiduguri, so I check-in with the family when I am in Maiduguri for a conference, thus saving myself the cost of a hotel (Boko Haram threat aside). My unemployed in-law packs bag and baggage after NYSC to come put up with me in Lagos. All these are social capital, they are also financial capital.

To be sure Deji Toye is not only about legal issues (as you will see below) I pulled up a very detailed report he wrote about his participation at a conference on African creative economy which took place in Nairobi Kenya (December 4th to 7th December 2011).

According to him the theme of the third conference was ;

to assess and share some of the research done to date on the African creative economy in order to inform advocacy strategies in support of the African creative sector

  1. rigorously to interrogate the available research and the relationship between the African creative economy and development, cultural diversity and other contemporary cultural themes
  2. to provide a platform primarily for African experts and thinkers on the

African creative economy or aspects thereof, to share their insights and perspectives (note: most of the speakers will be Arterial Network members)

  1. to identify areas for further research, interrogation and action – continentally, regionally and nationally – after the conference
  2. to identify links, opportunities and potential relationships – if any – with the creative economies of the north and the south, but particularly south-south.

Just to be sure that his recommendations are not swept under the mythical carpet, we bring them back into the public sphere for further deliberations. He started with self-questioning on what has to be done.

As we asked at the Committee for relevant Art (CORA) conference, what is to be done now? This question retains its poignancy in view of the fact that there is only so much that entrepreneurship can do in solving the three challenges of literacy and literature identified at the beginning of this paper. Yet there is much that active citizens could do to bring the other two hearthstones to the fireplace. The following are therefore some useful suggestions:

For one, there needs to be cross-sectoral/multi-stakeholder platforms through which the scattered oases of citizen initiatives could form a substantial lake from which these initiatives can draw sustenance and through which they can share ideas and form collaborations. The Arterial Network promises to provide such a platform at a continental level. Its regional secretariats and national chapters need to work harder to identify promising and active initiatives at local levels and to collaborate with existing platforms, such as CORA, which are already structured to intervene on a cross sectoral basis. More importantly, such cross sectoral platforms need to galvanise the industry to establish the appropriate modus vivendi with government and business. In this regard, the first conference of the Arterial Network in March 2007 was correct in listing Lobbying, capacity building, research and support for cultural entrepreneurship as the first 4 of the 10 urgent needs of the creative sector on the continent.

In intervening in government, the priority of the cross-sectoral initiative should be stressing the urgency of mass literacy as a minimum condition for the growth prospects of the continent. As Candidate Barrack Obama retorted during one of the presidential debates in 2008, our young people are not an interest group. Not all leaders should be expected to get that though. Certainly, not those leaders on the continent who for the most part continue to demonstrate, in budgetary planning, the propensity to give more ear to the powerful lobbies of the defence, oil and mining industries than the common sense case made eloquent in Blairite terms – education, education and education. A political action platform to monitor budgetary allocations and actual spend on basic education, as well as to measure their impact, will be a good starting point in this regard. A largely literate populace is the most important infrastructure for the support of the book industry.

The cross-sectoral platform should assist businesses with a global, comparable framework in measuring their performances in book and literacy-related spend. Measurable spend should not just be limited to such traditional domains of corporate contribution such as the marketing budget, it should include charitable spend such as is now embodied in the increasingly important CSR budget.

Perhaps even more important will be the tracking of business investments in the industry, which should demonstrate the confidence of the financial sector in its prospects for growth.”


If the above interactions represent the past, let me invite you to 2020 and read an eight-part submission he gave on Twitter concerning a very recent issue.

The question from Gbenro Adegbola was “is there anyone who knows in ‘legal idiot’ terms why the US Supreme Court judges appointments are so important. I mean, what does it matter who nominates them? Don’t they decide cases on points of law? Or they merely go by their individual persuasions?’

Since Dejo toye was limited to 140 characters at a time, he broke his response into eight parts;

Response: Tried answering the question in this tweet yesterday, but was being snide about it. I will now elaborate.

It’s a function of how Americans answer the philosophical question: What’s the law? America’s 2 main contributions to that debate are found in ‘American Realism’ and ‘Sociological Jurisprudence’. One says, law is what the judge says it is, the other says, law’s a social fact

The sum total of these philosophies is that interpretation of what the law says is borne over by society’s current state of ethical evolution and, more importantly, the judge’s persuasion in that regard. This is where the judge’s partisan political bias becomes important

It’s reflected in how legal /social reformers approach their work. Think about MLK hacking back to the Declaration of Independence and trying to say, we were part of the “all men” to whom the founding fathers referred; they just didn’t know it then since they were slave-owners

Lincoln’s “a more perfect union” rhetoric as he passed the 14/15th amendments too. Petitioners approaching the court must also mind this politics. Not a coincidence that lawyers & plaintiffs SELECTED to lead strategic Civil Rights litigations tended to be fair-skinned.

In the academia, American schools tend to lead in the empirical approaches to the study of law (i.e. not just the black-letter what’s the law, but what should the law be): Law and economics, socio-legal, critical legal juris, etc.

It is a pragmatic approach on the face of it. After all, we know judges like all humans have biases. But accepting bias as a fact and that there’s no eternal basis for the law, is the reason for the perpetual fret that a new court could roll back RvW, civil rights law, etc.

It is also the reason for the bizarre display we have seen in the last two days, with mourners shedding a tear for RBG with one eye and for her bench with the other. END

Conclusion: Deji Toye has a large electronic footprint that needs to be harvested for the range of issues and concerns that interest him. The quality of his interventions make him one of those public commentators who do not attract much attention to themselves. He is never afraid to take on any intellectual fight in a very agreeable manner. He is not one to degenerate into foul language to make a point.

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