Hitherto, he had remained unsung for his definitive contributions to theatre and film scholarship. A playwright, poet, theatre and film scholar, Prof. Hyginus Ekwuazi has trained many scholars in the field of theatre and film studies, whose names evoke hyperboles.
To this end, the 1st International Media Conference in honour of Prof. Hyginus Ekwuazi was recently held at the University of Ibadan where the grains of his scholarship were sown to the world. The two-day event, which took place Friday, November 26 and Saturday, November 27, had the theme “Media Studies in Nigeria: Genesis and Detours”.
It provided the opportunity for scholars from far and wide to ponder on evolving trends in media studies. Convened by Prof. Okome Onookome of the University of English and Film Studies, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, and Prof. Marcel Okhakhu of the University of Benin, the conference featured two keynote speakers, Prof. Jonathan Haynes of Long Island University, Brooklyn campus, New York, USA, and Barclays Ayakoroma, Executive Secretary, National Institute for Cultural Orientation, Abuja.
Prof. Okhakhu, in his opening remarks at the Draper Hall, Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, said media studies in Nigeria had taken firm roots at the University of Ibadan, thanks to Prof Ekwuazi, who he described as the grandfather of media studies in the country.
Renown dramatist and academic, Prof. Femi Osofisan, in his brief remarks, poured encomiums on Prof. Ekwuazi, expressing his happiness to be part of the epoch-making confab in his honour. “As a pioneer of film studies, we are happy he has given birth to many scholars,” he said, adding that, though film studies “has gone a long way, it is not enough; much still needs to be done, and I don’t want you to be complacent.”
Prof Ekwuazi, who spoke thereafter, said he was humbled for the honour done him, even as he thanked Prof. Osofisan for the tutelage given him as a student and offering him a helping hand in the course of his growth as an academic.
Prof. Mabel Evwierhoma, playwright and media scholar, expressed her joy to be in the midst of senior colleagues –“old squirrels” as he called them –who played significant roles in her growth in scholarship. Likewise, Prof. Ayo Akinsowale extolled the genius of Prof. Ekwuazi, just as he called for the formation of the Association of Film Studies.
The first keynote speaker, Prof. Barclays Ayakoroma, who spoke on “Instant Miracles, Poetic Justice, ‘To God be the Glory’: Developments in Nollywood,” said Nollywood had become its own institution from a humble beginning.
According to him, the Pacesetter’s film in the 1990s, staring Richard Mofe Damijo and Eucharia Anunobi, had “To God be the Glory” at the end of the film, which was to become a marker for many Nollywood films, such as End Times, featuring Clems Ohaneze as Pastor Weaver Bird; The Price, God of Shiloh, to mention a few, all echoing poetic justice.
Prof Haynes, who expressed his shock at the dearth of scholarship in Yoruba films, echoed that, in Africa, only Hausa and Yoruba films were the ones that could invite robust scholarship on account of the volume of productions.
Prof. Haynes has been a regular visitor to Nigeria since he first visited Port Harcourt in 2002 and struck a bond with Prof Okome Onookome. He, however, lamented that funding for foreign researchers in American universities had since been cut thereby affecting travels to Africa for research and also making it difficult for outsiders to do empirical works on Nollywood.
Though Nollywood is an important African art, the American said there was no available chronology of films produced monthly in the industry. Tracing the origin of Nollywood, he said it was borne out of the decay of the NTA. Unlike other notable film industries in the world, he said Nollywood only gets flat pays for their films online and on international TV but not the residuals.
Prof Haynes also informed the audience that the French government had been involved in buying the TV rights of Nollywood films from MultiChoice, to be remade and broadcast in francophone countries as a way of stopping Nollywood from taking over the African market, adding that Nollywood itself might be unaware of the deal.
The New York-based scholar regretted that Nollywood was getting less creative, thus reducing the quality of its films, while TV in Nigeria was gradually becoming a powerful creative force. “Capitalism is now chasing Nollywood. Nollywood has to learn to collaborate,” he concluded.
The second session witnessed presentations of many scholarly papers on the theme of the conference, ending later in the day with the screening of the film, Secret Room, produced by Chris Nnaji. The second day of the conference, like the previous day, began with academic sessions. The award winning film, Lagos Na Wa o!, by Kenneth Gyan was later screened, to the delight of the audience.
Elo Ibaghere, an academic at Delta State University, Abraka, afterwards, commented on the virtues of Prof Ekwuazi. One of Prof. Ekwuazi’s first postgraduate students, he said, “You must learn something from his class,” thanking him for producing scholars, including him.
While appraising Gyan’s film, Prof Okome noted he was proud the first time he saw the film at Oregon, USA, stating that it was a remarkable thing to have new Nigerian filmmakers attaining international standard. Recalling his first encounter with Prof Ekwuazi, he said, the scholar left him with a lasting impression as he offered all the necessary support to make him finish his thesis when the odds were against him.
The conference, he said, should have been held before now after it was conceived about five years ago, but it was withheld until Ekwuazi’s long awaited professorship was attained recently. “He is a man who is able to endure deprivation,” he echoed, adding that he had demonstrated the place of humility in his academic endeavour.
The swansong for the two-day conference was provided by the scholar, Osakue Omoera, who thanked Prof Ekwuazi for producing many scholars, including him. Summing the conference as a beautiful one, he said it drew the right participants, which included scholars, industry stakeholders and the media.
The applause for Prof. Ekwuazi might have lasted long into the night, but the novelty of the media conference, with the prospect of sequels, could even draw more deafening applause in the years to come.