Most people know Toyin Akinosho as an art critic and culture activist than as a geologist. He has been in the arts for so long that people assume that his training was in the humanities. But it is not so. The publisher of ‘Festac News’ and ‘Africa Oil & Gas Report’ happened on the arts accidentally.
During a Zoom session with Arts writers organised as part of the virtual celebration of his 60th birthday last month, Akinosho disclosed that he started looking the way of the arts as an undergraduate at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University).
He said: “I went for my Higher School Certificate (HSC), in Federal School of Science, Lagos and then Federal School of Science in Ogoja, Cross River State to read maths, physics and chemistry. I was going to do engineering. At the end of the Higher School Certificate, I didn’t make maths. I had two subjects, physics and chemistry.
“The closest applied science I could get in any university was geology. They could take that in Ife, and I wanted to go to Ife. It’s a long story. The same year that I went to Ife to start geology, I was offered electrical engineering at the University of Ilorin, but that was for the prelim. Ilorin was not an exciting place, everyone that I knew as an exciting person in Lagos was in Ife; I wanted to go and meet the same guys that we were going to parties in FSS Lagos. I was not going to study. I wanted to hang out.
“So, I ended up in a place where there was all that fun. It wasn’t that I wanted to read anything per se; it was what was available. I was never an art person really; I had an A in English; had A in History. I think I had C 4 in Literature. It wasn’t something that I was necessarily looking at until Ulli Beier came to Ife in 1981 to discuss Duro Ladipo. I was fascinated by his presentation, and I wrote a short essay, or a brief report and sent it to the National Concord, which was the most important newspaper at the time.
“They published that report on Ulli Beier, and so I looked at what else to do, and I started writing for Lagos Weekend because National Concord didn’t pay. I heard people telling me that some people might pay. So, if I could write something serious and National Concord published, why won’t I write the relatively light material that Lagos Weekend would publish.
“They were paying N25 per article and don’t forget in my time, N45 was all you needed to feed in a month. You pay that, and you got your ticket, 50 kobo per meal. My father sent N60 every month; the remaining N15 was for upkeep. So, to be earning N25 from 1981, I was already a rich student. I mean Weekend Concord could publish like thrice.
“That was how I got into journalism. I wasn’t planning anything. No, I’m not that organised. I was never that kind of person. I went to school because my age mates were going. You are living in the neighbourhood of the National Theatre. My set who thought we owned the National Theatre, we would go there. We would watch films without paying; that was my exposure. But I wasn’t necessarily an arts person. I went to university, discovered Oduduwa Hall in Ife. I enjoyed Ulli Beier and Jazz. Ife provided all that atmosphere.”
The book worm who always prefaces his interventions at events with excerpts from books also disclosed during the interaction with journalists that he has started work on his long-anticipated social history of Lagos.
“It would be closer to ‘Vaughn Street.’ [the neighbourhood he grew up in Ebute Metta]. VS Naipaul’s ‘Miguel Street’, I read that in Ife, and I told myself I would write ‘Vaughn Street’, and I’ve never done it. I’ve completed a chapter. It’s going to be several chapters. The thing is that as pictures leap at me, I will, but you are not going to get a magisterial work like Kaye Whiteman’s. Give me a year and a half. If I don’t deliver in 2022, you should beat me up.”