Saturday, December 17, 2016

Prostrating Patiently To Purchase PhD

What It Takes by Lola Akande; Kraftgriots, Kraft Books Limited; Ibadan; Nigeria; 2016; 316pp

It is acutely annoying and unacceptable to my temperament that in the bid to earn the coveted PhD some ambitious students are made to stretch from three years onto eternity the task of writing a so-called dissertation that ordinarily can be completed over a cool weekend. The professors who supervise the doctoral candidates in the universities almost always turn the poor wannabes into quivering servants and genuflecting slaves. Lola Akande’s What It Takes lays bare in cold print the shenanigans underpinning the earning of the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) epaulette.
 Back in September 1998, the somewhat vain middle-aged single-mother protagonist, Funto Oyewole, could not contain her joy when she procured the PhD admission letter to the National University of Nigeria (NUN), Abuja. Even as Funto had lost her job in the civil service, she is full of hope that there is a solid future for her as Dr Funto Oyewole, a joy shared with her daughter Deyemi who had just gained admission into the secondary school. Immediately she sets foot on the campus in Abuja everything literally turns upside-down. To get a supervisor for her literature studies proves well-nigh impossible as the Head of Department (HOD) informs her thusly: “It’s fairly difficult to find a PhD supervisor due to a mirage of problems confronting universities in Nigeria. The number of academic staff in every university is grossly inadequate; hence, what has to be done is left in the hands of few academics who can only struggle to cope.” When she tries to get the lecherous Dr Durojaiye as her supervisor the man asks for sex upfront: “All I ask of you is a piece of the ‘action’ and you’ll get my consent to supervise you in return. Fair bargain, isn’t it?” Funto then goes in search of a lady, Prof. Lara Owoyemi, as a would-be supervisor, and gets the shocker thus: “If you are serious about becoming a PhD candidate under my supervision, you must have thirty thousand naira to get the consent letter you are required to submit at the PG School. After your registration, I will spell out other terms of engagement to you.” Funto in the end ends up with Prof. Charles Ephraim as her supervisor who according to the HOD demands three things of his students: “The first one is patience, the second is patience, and the third is patience.”
Funto Oyewole is reduced to tears by the evil machinations of Prof Ephraim, an ethnic jingoist who orders her against her wish to fill in as a part-time student while brazenly registering the lady of his tribe, Agnes Ellen Noah, into the fulltime programme. Prof Ephraim also insists that Funto must spend an entire year in understudying her project before writing a word of the dissertation. She learns the hard way what PhD actually means, as she is told: “In Nigeria, PhD means, Prostrate, Hard work and Dobale. You are Yoruba; you know the meaning of Dobale. It means you will prostrate to them, you’ll work hard and you’ll prostrate again. It also means you’ll do more of prostrating than hard work.”
Funto’s reasons to believe are anchored on her poor mother living in Ibadan, her daughter Deyemi, and her bosom friend Folake. It’s through the care of Folake and her fiancé Geoffrey that her accommodation problem is solved. By September 2001, three years into her programme, she had finished writing the thesis but there was the fear of submitting the entire work to her insufferable supervisor. When she eventually reveals that she had written all the chapters, Prof Ephraim replies: “I have misplaced the chapters you gave me.” He then recommends a new list of books to be found in South Africa, USA, Canada or England which will entail rewriting the entire thesis. Funto is as ever reduced to tears.
In the light of her frustrations with Prof Ephraim, Funto recalls her miserable undergraduate lecturer at Eastern University of Nigeria, Dr Ugochukwu Mbanefo, who even after his students had spent umpteen hours on their knees, begging him, made the entire class to carry over the course. In her moment of weakness Funto falls to a one-night-stand with the happy-go-lucky Adams after a nightclub dance, much to the chagrin of her friend Folake. Funto’s solicitation for the HOD’s help in appealing to Prof Ephraim boomerangs as the enraged supervisor swears that he would no longer supervise her work.
Funto in her lowest moment barges in on Folake and Geoffrey after her friend’s husband-to-be had dismissed Funto as “a miserable, low-life parasite.” Her attempt to find part-time work at Clamorous University is disaster writ large. Only the love of Shettima somewhat uplifts the distraught Funto after the departure of Folake and Geoffrey to England. Funto somewhat succumbs to the use of fetish prophets, spiritualists and shamans in the struggle to get her PhD programme back on track. It all comes to naught.   
In the end, Prof Ephraim agrees to resume the supervision of Funto’s thesis. It is not until December 2009, after more than a decade, that the dream manifests in the freshly-minted Dr Funto Oyewole. It is a glorious happy-ending shared with her daughter Deyemi who had graduated from the university and was serving the nation via the NYSC in the Presidency. In a final twist, it is Prof Ephraim who selflessly signs Deyemi’s referee letter for a workshop in the United States.
Lola Akande has in What It Takes written a very insightful novel for the modern age as per university studies in Nigeria. It extends the frontiers of the inanities of the ivory tower as exposed earlier in The Naked Gods by Chukwuemeka Ike. What It Takes by Lola Akande takes no prisoners and ought to be recommended reading in all Nigerian universities. It is indeed significant that Lola Akande is today a lecturer at the Department of English, University of Lagos, where Prof JP Clark as “the first African writer to be appointed to a chair in an African university, and as the first African indigene to occupy a chair of English on the continent,” delivered the inaugural lecture entitled “The Hero As A Villain” on Thursday, January 19, 1978. Clark of course dedicated a poem “to my academic friends who sit tight on their doctoral theses and have no chair for poet or inventor.” It is all so obvious that a no-nonsense guru like JP Clark, author of America, their America, would have had no stomach to undergo the PhD prostration of Funto Oyewole as narrated by Lola Akande in What It Takes.               

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Great Stephen Keshi

Today spells death. It was a classic case of death at dawn. Stephen Okechukwu Chinedu Keshi was in his playing career arguably the most influential player ever to play football in Nigeria. The image that overwhelmed me immediately his death broke was of Keshi standing by my side while the Super Eagles of the golden era trained in the main bowl of National Stadium, Surulere. Keshi was not training with his mates. We just stood by the side of pitch. Elite athletes such as Mary Onyeali, Falilat Ogunkoya etc were training on the tartan track. Keshi told me many stories. In short, we were gossiping and generally having fun until he suddenly stopped talking and asked me this question: “Did you come with him?” He pointed at a fellow squatting behind me. It was only then that I saw the young reporter who was behind me writing copiously in his notebook all the words coming from Keshi’s mouth. Of course I made sure I tore up all the “reports” that the overzealous reporter had copied. If it had been published it would have been the greatest scandal of all, a total betrayal of trust!  
Keshi is dead. He died at about 3am today. He was the lionized of players. As the head coach of Nigeria, Keshi added yet another feather to his cap by becoming one of only two people, along with Egypt's Mahmoud El-Gohary, to have won the Africa Cup of Nations as a player and a coach. Keshi won the cup as a player in 1994 and as a coach in 2013.
Born on January 23, 1962) in Lagos, Keshi hailed from Ilah in the Anioma area of Delta State, a town renowned for producing great football stars and administrators such as the celebrated administrator late Pa John Ojidoh, former captain of Leventis United Matthew Onyeamah, Bendel Insurance legend Sam Ikedi etc. Keshi was conferred with the high national honour of Commander of the Order of the Niger by the then President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan for leading Nigeria’s Super Eagles to win the 2013 AFCON trophy in South Africa.
Popularly acclaimed as “Big Boss”, Keshi led a team that was largely unheralded to defeat all comers. Keshi started his football career quite early in Ebenezer Primary School in the Ebute-Meta, near COSTAIN, Lagos. He then starred for St. Finbarrs College, Akoka, distinguishing himself in the Principal’s Cup competition among secondary schools. He was drafted into the Greater Tomorrow age-group league at the national level before graduating into the Under-21 National Team, the Flying Eagles.
Keshi started his football club career in 1979 with the African Continental Bank (ACB) team, Lagos. He played just ten games for ACB, scoring one goal, before transferring to the star-studded New Nigerian Bank (NNB) of Benin in 1980. Between 1980 and 1984 he played 42 times for NNB, scoring four goals and winning the WAFU Cup in 1983 and 1984.
Keshi was drafted into the then Green Eagles as a replacement for the ageing skipper of the team Christian Chukwu after the winning of the African Cup of Nations in Lagos in 1980. He led the Eagles to the final of the 1984 African Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast under coach Adegboye Onigbinde where the team lost 3-1 to Cameroun.
The Nigerian Football Association (NFA) under the chairmanship of Air Commodore Anthony Ikhazoboh, now late, banned Keshi and some of his mates for indiscipline. Keshi travelled to Cote d’Ivoire in 1985 to sign for Stade d’Abidjan where he played 13 times and scored two goals whilst winning Coupe Houphoet Boigny for two years in 1985 and 1986. In 1986 he moved over to Africa Sports of Cote d’Ivoire, playing 22 times, scoring two goals, and winning the double of Côte d'Ivoire Premier Division and the Côte d'Ivoire Coupe.
Keshi then led the charge of Nigerian players playing professionally in Europe when he was signed-on by Belgian club Lokeren in 1986, and in his one season for the club played 28 times and scored 6 goals. He then transferred to the giants of Belgium, Anderlecht, in 1987. He starred for Anderlecht from 1987 to 1991, playing 99 matches and scoring 18 goals. He won the Belgian Cup in 1988 and 1989, and the Jupiler League in 1991.
Between 1991 and 1993, he was with RC Strasbourg in the French League, scoring nine goals in 62 appearances. He then went back to Belgium, playing 40 times for Molenbeek and scoring one goal in the 1993/94 season. He played 20 games for CCV Hydra in 1995 where he scored one goal. In 1996 he took his services to Sacramento Scorpions, USA, playing 16 times whilst scoring three goals. His last club was Perlis FA in Malaysia, playing 34 games in the 1997/98 season and scoring four goals. In 2000, an unprecedented testimonial match was arranged for him in Lagos.
His national team career with the Eagles spanned from 1981 to 1995. He won 64 caps, scoring nine goals. He took over the skipper’s band in 1982, and capped his career with the appearance in the 1994 World Cup in Atlanta, USA with a match against Greece which the Super Eagles won 2-0. 
Keshi then took to football coaching, becoming at various times an integral part of the coaching staff for the Nigerian national team. He was the head coach for the Flying Eagles at the 2001 African Youth Championship which also served as qualification for the 2001 FIFA World Youth Championship. The team could not qualify.
In 2004 Keshi was appointed the head coach of the Togo national team, and he shocked the world by qualifying the minnows for their first World Cup tournament, Germany 2006. Even with the epochal qualification for the World Cup the Togolese officialdom surprisingly replaced Keshi with the veteran German coach Otto Pfister. The excuse the Togo officials put to use was Togo’s dismal performance in the 2006 African Cup of Nations in Egypt where the team failed to advance to the knock-out stage.  
However, Pfister did not last beyond a controversial World Cup campaign that nearly resulted in a players’ strike over pay. Togo remained without a manager until February 2007 when they re-engaged Keshi in time for a friendly against Cameroon.
Keshi worked as manager of the Mali national football team, after being appointed in April 2008 on a two-year deal. He was sacked in January 2010, after Mali's early exit in the group stages of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Keshi was eventually appointed the head coach of the Super Eagles in 2011. He of course led Nigeria to qualification for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, which the Super Eagles went on to win, defeating Burkina Faso 1–0 in the final. The following day, there was the disturbing news that Keshi had handed-in his resignation. The resignation was rescinded a day after. There of course followed the melodrama of Keshi’s sack, re-appointment and eventual sack by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) but that is neither here nor there for now.
 Married to his beloved heartthrob “Nkem” Kate Aburime for some 35 years, Keshi was Nigeria’s legendary role model, a precious gift to Africa and the world at large.    

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Mopping-up MOPICON

Recently, the Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in inaugurating a committee to review a decade-old draft of what is generally described as the MOPICON Bill, lifted the lid of a simmering pot of anxiety and discontent in the film industry. With the review’s submission imminent, I engaged eminent film scholar and Nollywood enthusiast, Dr. Jude Akudinobi, of the University of California, Santa Barbara, in extensive exchanges. The following are excerpts, in relation to some key contentions around the Bill:

UMU: Why are expectations on the proposed MOPICON Bill so high?
JA: With the industry being consolidated into the national economy, stakes could not be higher and the initiative more timely. In principle, an entity, not regulatory body, which will work to integrate the industry fuller into the economy, boost private sector investments, ensure constitutional rights to creative expression, and so on, is pertinent. Nollywood is faced with shrinking profits, caused by piracy, policy, operational and regulatory lapses; so, discerning long-term development and investment plans are needed to maintain its competitive edge.

What, then, can one make of the contentions between industry members about the Bill?
Those are indicative of current afflictions, even tribulations, that do not augur well for the industry. If MOPICON comes into existence, it must focus on harmonizing the diversity of voices, visions, even idiosyncratic dispositions, not boxing in or boxing out certain creative impulses or prerogatives. Some, like CJ Obasi, Steve Gukas, Seke Somolu, among others, who have drawn attention to problematic aspects of the Bill have, regrettably, been vilified. Insofar as reviews are about critical examinations, all opinions, whether complimentary or contrary, should be taken into consideration.

Could you share those problematic aspects and your thoughts about them?
It depends on how much time each can spare, as there are elements in that Bill which would subject the nation to ridicule and may, ultimately, sound a death-knell for the industry. A few salient ones include prospects of jail terms, fines, power to regulate and control professional practice in the industry, exhortations to “correct thinking” and “tell a story honestly,” whatever the latter means, prohibitions against film practice in Nigeria, based on age, nationality, learning, ostensible skills, non-membership, three-tier membership order . . . 

The scenario appears quite grim...
Well, policing creativity, especially who may engage in it, runs counter to the national constitution, basic human rights, freedom of expression, making a living, etc. So, conceivably, individuals, guilds and the council would be embroiled in protests, legal challenges, and, with the power and reaches of new media technologies, a global outcry that would waste time, scarce resources, and imperil co-production prospects, thus spurring runaway productions.

Could you elaborate on the last two, co-productions and runaway productions?
Each raises knotty policy issues, with the industry’s prospects for long-term growth. Co-production treaties are entered between countries, not guilds, and increase global networks for the respective signatories. So the guilds should press the government for such, as the benefits are plentiful; for example, cultural exchanges, transfer of skills, access to markets and funding sources. South Africa, for instance, has eight co-production treaties. Nigeria has none and may never do, with the prohibitive elements in the bill’s current draft.

What about runaway productions, a fascinating term . . .?
Coined by the American film industry, the term refers to Hollywood productions which, for a number of reasons, like cheaper labor, tax incentives, production costs, favorable exchange rates, are shot in more amenable locations, like Canada, costing the US billions in lost revenues. If the draft’s shortcomings hold, film-makers will, predictably, hop across borders to Benin Republic, Cameroon, or Ghana, shoot films, release them from there, destabilizing Nollywood’s distribution points, depriving Nigeria of billions, thus laying the foundation, however gradual, for the industry’s undoing.

What do you make of the composition of the review committee?
Well, it is fairly composite, insofar as film-making is a collaborative process and an umbrella forum is at the core of the current endeavor. That said, the dynamics of the deliberative process is key. The integrity of the process, for instance, would be better served if members of the current committee, who may have been involved in the initial (2006) draft, recuse themselves. Town-hall meetings, open to the public, would help foster constructive exchanges, as well as allay fears, founded or not, of hidden agenda.

Positions on the Bill have undercurrents of Nollywood’s inter-generational conflicts. Would you agree?
That is regrettable because a cursory glance across Africa reveals audacious pushing of creative boundaries and more worldly reference points, from a younger generation of writers, musicians, artists, fashion designers, entrepreneurs, and, crucially, here, film-makers. In this are shifts in interests, experiences, sensibilities, and audiences. Living in Bondage, a seminal Nollywood film, would, next year, be a quarter century old. So, whether seen as renegades or upstarts, Nollywood’s younger generation must be reckoned with, considerably.

Advocates of the Bill cite the need for professionalism...
A film’s production gloss or high budget does not necessarily guarantee “professionalism”, “quality” or, crucially, commercial success. A film may be a critical hit and still flop commercially. In all, a mix of elements should count, including creative merits of the film as art and entertainment, how it is positioned in the marketplace and resonates with audiences across the board.

Tenets of APCON (Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria) are, also, referenced as model... Any comments?
“Model,” is putting it charitably if one juxtaposes certain elements of the proposed Bill, like “Functions of the Council”, with “Functions of APCON” on the latter’s website, where it is noted that its establishing Act “vested APCON with powers to control and regulate practice of advertising in Nigeria, in all its aspects and ramifications,” has a “governing council composed of the Chairman who is appointed by the President of Nigeria,” and other provisions that make it, in effect, a parastatal. With the Nigeria Film Corporation, National Copyright Commission, Nigeria Film and Video Censors Board, Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, National Film Institute in existence, such “modeling” is intrinsically flawed. Film practice is different from medical practice, legal practice, advertising, etc.

Are there middle grounds, then, for the government and guilds’ stakes?
Certainly . . .  the government should robustly encourage private sector investments and confidence in the industry, promote indigenous content, production subsidies, tax incentives, help develop sturdy industry structures like production and post-production facilities, expand distribution and exhibition channels, support film festivals, maintain digital and comprehensive libraries of software, books, manuals, worldwide industry journals, create special funding schemes for aspiring and emerging talents, vigorously enforce existing laws, articulate public enlightenment campaigns against piracy, conducive policies and, generally, the environment for the industry’s growth.

And, the guilds or associations...?
The guilds should register an independent lobby forum, premised on solidarity rather than facile notions of “unity”, and articulate bankable visions. They must, relentlessly, invest in the professional and strategic development of the industry through further education or training, websites, networking, workshops, seminars, mentorship programs - not apprentice programs - identifying emerging talents, however young, eschewing hierarchies, encouraging diversity and range of innovative projects, insisting on and respecting contracts, and with recent deaths in the industry look into health insurance programs, even, pension plans. In essence, premium should be placed on collective bargaining power for negotiating with the government, private investors, corporations and international businesses.

Quite a lot, there. Anything else, for all concerned...?
Look to the future with discerning eyes. Build for the future with discerning minds.