Universities should realign their programmes to suit industry needs, says Ekwuazi
Hyginus Ekwuazi is a professor of film at the University of Ibadan. He recently spoke with ANOTE AJELUOROU on salient issues in the film sector
You raised the issue of inadequate preparation for theatre arts students in Nigerian universities where you said they are not prepared for the market place. Why is this so?
Yes, it doesn’t prepare them for the market out there. What is there in the syllabus or curriculum does not relate to what they are going to meet out there. If it is in the U.S., it is a different thing, where it is called harmless communication. We call them harmless degrees; when they say harmless, it doesn’t mean it is useless. But in the U.S. it doesn’t matter what you take as first degree; you can still actualise yourself within any other discipline you choose.
Here, what you read in the university matters a lot; it determines what you are going to do in future. When you have all these people reading Theatre Arts and there are no competitive content platforms on which these people should work and they are not prepared for them, then something is wrong. As a Director-General of National Film Institute (NFI), Jos, I came to realise this. I started seeing that when you take these students from mass communication or theatre arts, they can’t really fit into film properly; they require some practice. But if you extend the curriculum, they will be able to practice very well. I am glad that some departments are beginning to do this. Nollywood is there, as well as, advertising, and these are mass employers of labour. They are creative platforms. So, you should begin to realign your curriculum to be relevant to these industries.
As an academic, you have gone into the market by the virtue of your appointment into government agencies. So, why are the universities still missing it?
I want to be very guided in my statement. You see, it is easy to do the same thing you have been doing all along. The universities have not really put any mechanism on ground whereby they look at how students are performing out there and use that as a basis to look at their programmes again. They just keep turning them out. And if every year X number of students keep coming in, you think that when you graduate them, they are doing well out there; it doesn’t necessarily follow.
There has to be some kind of evaluation after two or three years to see how your students are doing out there, and if the need be, you change your programme to realign to what is happening in the marketplace. They do that in other countries. The curriculum in most departments that I know, the way they turn them out this year is the same way they turned them out 10 years ago, and yet the market keeps increasing.
For instance, take the researches that take place in the universities; there is no corridor whereby these researches can get into the industry. If you go to the library of all departments, you would see beautiful researches that have been done but there is no outlet to get them into the industry.
So, how can this gap be bridged?
We will start from schools. In a series of meetings, I keep saying, ‘let us change our syllabus,’ but you will find out that the urgency in it is not the urgency in the system. The system has its own time that it would work. I think National University Commission (NUC) is trying to do this; it has created this thing they call Entrepreneurship Programme. It does not provide all the solutions but it is the beginning. When the former governor of Lagos State, Mr. Raji Fashola came here at the commencement exercise, he delivered a speech and I said, ‘this man surely knows that we are turning out students that the society no longer requires because we are not aligning to what is out there’.
For example, he said that we are letting Nollywood get out of hand, and we are not doing anything about it. One thing I realised with the students is that they are very career-conscious and very soon they will have conflicting thoughts on which course they want to study, because they are looking at the indicators in the market out there. During our own time, it didn’t matter which course you studied but it is no longer so. It is a discriminatory market and the best way to prepare the students adequately is to make sure that the syllabus is discriminatory as well. You have to get them to be industry ready. It is good that we have students going out on industrial attachment but it is not enough.
For instance, Dr. Reuben Abati was asked to come and teach news writing, editorial writing or something, and he looked around and said, ‘those that are teaching it have never written a lead in their life, they probably have never seen what a newsroom looks like.’ There needs to be this marriage, which is why if you look at the modern syllabus, it gives room for people in the industry to come and teach. But it is not being implemented because some people are still using the British system; they are still tied to the old ways of doing things.
I can tell you that the new syllabus is so dynamic. When I designed the curriculum at the National Film Institute, I made sure that the Production Workshop at the institute is not taught by a lecturer but by a practitioner who comes in to spend two weeks with the students to run the programme. So the students are meeting industry practitioners in the four years of their degree programme; the same people they will meet out there when they go out. They are getting them industry ready which their lectures alone cannot do. However, the industry compliment is still lacking.
The country is in dire need of a new direction, and the government is supposed to champion this synergy. Is it doing enough?
I think through NUC they are trying to do that, which is why they created this Entrepreneurship Programme. The basic problem is that you have a situation where you get a committee to do something and the committee ends up bringing out something that doesn’t represent the sole purpose of its creation. If you look at the intention of the NUC, it is clear, but if you look at the content of what now emerges from there, it is a different thing entirely. We have a way of saying, ‘we must standardise everything,’ and you find out that in trying to ensure this quality control, it ends up killing a lot of things. The good news is that government is aware that they need to get these students 95 per cent industry ready. There are people who are saying ‘why Faculty of Humanities and not Faculty of Creative Industries? These people have realised that the value of this thing is out there in the industry. The good thing is the awareness is already there.
Would government’s regulation, through NUC regulation, for only PhD holders to teach in universities not limit industry practitioners from intervening?
It is not a limitation. It means that when you bring these practitioners, you don’t designate them as lecturers but as resource persons or facilitators. The rule is there on paper but it is not followed. At the film institute, there is no problem at all because where else will you get the knowledge? It has to be from the industry. So, you don’t question it, but you just go there and tap it. But if the practitioner wants to become a lecturer, he must acquire a PhD. Like in the film institute, anywhere I have designed a course for motion picture, I have always said that it must be reserved for someone in the industry to teach because the Production Workshop brings in everything together.
Are there opportunities for you as a film academic to also practice filmmaking and bring such practical experience to bear on classroom, theoretical practice?
Like Abati observed, if you are a lawyer, you can still teach law at the university and rise to a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) level. So, it allows this meeting of industry and academia. You can even be Head of Department (HOD) in law. But in other departments, it is difficult, as some people would say, ‘this person cannot make a good HOD because he is always out and doesn’t teach all the time.’ But you need to go out as a matter of fact because there are some areas that you teach and if you don’t go out to practice, you are not teaching well. You must get out there and practice what you are teaching. In my department, I am happy that those who have these industry and marketing based areas are all out practicing or have valuable contacts with the industry. In the Humanities, it is a bit rare to meet those in the industry; we must recognise that fact, and it makes those who can do it in the industry highly suspect.
Could you share your experiences while at the NFC and NFI?
For me, it was the fulfilment of a lifetime, but not necessarily at the National Film Corporation (NFC) but at the NFI. When I left here (University of Ibadan) on leave of absence, it was to see whether we could open a film institute. The NFA asked me to come over and we worked on the idea of a National Film Institute. The idea was to open a place that was going to be for training people from the same unit. When I looked at the facilities, I said, ‘we can do this better, and beyond that, we would start with the diploma programmes, then the degree.’ It was like a joke. I affiliated it to University of Ibadan for the diploma programme. And by the time we were turning out the students, I affiliated it to Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi, for the degree programme, and now, it is also affiliated to the University of Jos.
It was an opportunity for me to practice what I had learnt and also help in creating something. I must also say that I had the goodwill of the Goethe Institut; through it I got a month stint in Germany; I went to every school in Germany where film is taught and I interacted with the staff. That was before I designed the curriculum. I also had another person from Germany with me for two weeks, and after that I designed the curriculum. I got the staff and started running the programme. For me, that was all I wanted to do.
Going over to the NFC as the D-G was to be the icing on the cake, but it was really no big deal. While I was there, I used to get accused that my mind was still in the institute. But even today, without the institute, the NFC is dead. The problem with the NFC is that government has not been able to do anything. It is not the fault of whoever has been at the NLC. If you read the constitution of the National Film Corporation, you would be amazed. It is like reading the Nigerian constitution; it is to provide facilities for making of films; it is to engage in research, to provide facilities for production and do certain productions.
But the corporation has not been adequately funded to do any of those things. When I was there, there was no capital vote for all the years that I spent at NFC. I was just getting recurrent to pay staff. One time when I did something, I got some money from UNESCO. I spent four years as the DG, and we didn’t get a capital vote for one year. Under Obasanjo’s regime, the budget would go out but the money is never released. I keep saying it everywhere, let anybody quote me; I did not get one kobo capital vote during my time at NFC. Meanwhile, there was a budget for it every year, but the money was never released to the corporation. But after I left, they did release some. You must know that after I left, the NFI had started growing some stature. They had started demanding some form of attention. After I left, the last budget I submitted was released. I wouldn’t say it was intentional, but just the fragile economic environment of those times.
Chief Eddie Ugbomah continually cries out that MultiChoice’s AfricaMagic is the virus killing the industry. What is your take on this?
It is more than a virus. My fear is that the practitioners don’t even know what they are doing because they are letting MultiChoice get away with real murder. They make AfricaMagic kind of films for that platform that does not define us. It only brings down the quality of the industry. If you know how these guys started, it is interesting. I was at NFC when these guys started. I remember going to the National Council of Information with a memo that NFC should be allowed to run a television station where we would show only Nigerian films. Council said I came without adequate preparation and consultation, and they stepped down the memo because Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) and Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) objected to the memo.
So, they said I had not done enough consultation which was true. I was asked to do so. When I went to NTA, Mr. Ben Bruce was the then D-G. The agreement we arrived at was that NTA was going to give us a channel to show purely Nigerian films. We also agreed that the proceeds would be divided into three – NTA will take one, NFC will take one and the filmmakers will take the last. We agreed to set up a committee to fine-tune and properly plan it. We set it up and agreed to meet in my Lagos office. We met twice and then broke up. My attitude to the whole thing was that NFC would not take its own share but give it to the filmmakers, that we would only be the platform running the films.
You won’t believe what happened. It was the theatre of the absurd. The filmmakers we invited to join the committee now turned around. I remember Gaboski getting up to say, ‘what if my own film cost N10m to make and another cost just one million, are we going to expect equal returns?’ I said ‘yes.’ The mere fact that your film is accepted to run on that platform means that you are all equal. And that was how it all ended. The following week, AfricaMagic came up; it was as if they were listening; we would have beaten them to it. Interestingly, they operated the same way we were going to operate. The filmmakers rushed to it because the payment was in dollars, but it was the same flat rate we proposed. Shortly after, these same filmmakers wrote to NFC to intervene with MultiChoice because they were not being paid adequately. But, of course, I ignored them. What is MultiChoice doing today? They pay these filmmakers to produce films for them; they dictate what kind of films to be made. So they own them.
This AfricaMagic thing for me is rubbish because the kinds of films they are portraying are just primitive Africa, the same CNN mentality, which is what they are fostering. Some people are beginning to realise that these guys are not in the business of developing the movie industry but killing it instead.