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At UNIPORT, The Town Meets the Gown

07 Jul 2013

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Some Nollywood AlumniSome Nollywood Alumni

A film premiere lifts the veil on a university’s efforts at entrenching entrepreneurial training in its curricula. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports 


“We invited you here this afternoon to acquaint you with another ground-breaking event of the University of Port Harcourt.”
Hardly anyone in the conference room could have doubted the Vice Chancellor, Professor Joseph Ajienka’s excitement.  The coterie of academics, journalists and stakeholders in the university’s Senate Building’s Governing Council Chambers listened intently as he addressed them. This “ground-breaking event” was the premiere of the film, Who’s Afraid of Job Interview? And the date, June 27, marked its formal public announcement. Produced by the university’s Institute of Arts and Culture (IAC) – a.k.a. the Arts Village – it is just one of its “educational art film series”. Another film, titled Out of the Nest, is still being developed.

“The educational film being presented today is specifically produced to assist our university graduates to acquire ...skills to make them succeed in job interviews in our very competitive labour market,” the dark-suited Professor Ajienka continued.
This premiere, which held later at the nearby New Theatre Hall, was preceded by the launch of the IAC’s Journal of Arts and Culture, titled Oja. Unmistakable and palpable was the sense of fulfilment, which lingered among the members of the university’s arts community.

Besides the production of this film, the university had chalked up other “ground-breaking” feats in research and development. These included software development and infrastructure. In his inaugural address as the university’s seventh vice chancellor, Professor Ajienka had harped on the role of entrepreneurship on nation-building. “The Institute of Arts and Culture was established in line with the vision of this administration to make the University of Port Harcourt a world-class entrepreneurial university that is research intensive,” he said.

He also informed the media representatives about the IAC’s landmark achievements so far, which he said were in music, video/film and photography. “We are in the process of establishing a recording studio.”
Four professorial chairs have so far been endowed as part of his administration’s efforts to entrench the culture of research in the arts. These are the Yemisi Shyllon Chair of Fine Art and Design, Rex Lawson Chair, Ikoli Harcourt Whyte Chair of Choral Music and Nemenibo Chair of Music.

The university has also been an active participant in the annual Garden City Literary Festival – now Port Harcourt Book Festival – which is the initiative of the Koko Kalango-run Rainbow Book Club.  It is a credit to this book club that Port Harcourt was recently named UNESCO’s World Book Capital for 2014.  Professor Ajienka promised to lend the university’s support to the events revolving around this development.
Such self-help efforts by a tertiary institution, in an ever-growing need of funding, positions it as better prepared to tackle future challenges. Long-time Nollywood devotees are not unaware that the greater number of the industry’s movers and shakers had their formal training at the Rivers State-based federal university. According to the IAC’s director, Professor Julie Okoh, invitations would be extended to Nollywood actors and directors to support the institute’s efforts as part-time lecturers. This is in addition to hosting a visiting professors as well as having research programmes.

“We’ve designed a professional programme in the form of a certificate training programme in film production,” said Professor Femi Shaka, the head of the institute’s proposed School of Film and Video Production which takes off by September or October.  This proposed hands-on training programme, which has the approving nod of the National Board for Technical Education, offers the missing link between the film industry and the ivory tower. “We also wish to train world-class directors of photography.”

In addition to bringing in professionals from the US, India and South Korea, the IAC hopes to reach out as well to the Nigeria-based directors of photography with a view to encouraging them to train younger practitioners in the field.

The IAC, which currently consists of a sprawling set of modest one-storey buildings in the university’s Delta Park, hopes eventually to relocate to its permanent site in the University (a.k.a. Abuja) Park in a not-too-distant future. For the time being, it is running its programmes from the lecture halls, studios for practical works and rehearsals, a gallery for art exhibitions, several conference halls and auditorium owned by the university. Theatre performances are held at the University Art Theatre, which is better known as The Crab.

Indeed, the institute was established in 2011 as direct fallout of the collaboration between the university and national and international arts institutes and academies. This is in partnership with art and entertainment industries. Its conception was informed by the need to foster the development of talents and skills in creative processes. Various categories of its target students benefit from its courses in media, performing and visual arts as well as in creative writing.

Listed among the IAC’s mission is the enrichment of the quality of life of the people of the Niger Delta Region. This is through offering high-quality programmes in arts education and performing arts. Thus, it is hoped that it would act “as an economic and cultural catalyst for the region.”

Professor Ajienka had informed the journalists at the Senate Building’s Governing Council Chambers about the institute’s academic programmes which have been developed within its two years of establishment. According to him, there are the Professional Post Graduate Diploma programmes, the Continuing Education Diploma (CED) programme, Capacity Building Certificate programme (CBC) and Long Vacation Youth programme.  He also announced the establishment of the professional art schools of the institute, which were established in partnership with the industry.  They are: the Adams Fiberesima School of Music, the Jonathan Dagogo Green School of Photography, the Silverbird School of Film and Media Studies in partnership with Trend City TV, the Ola Rotimi School of Drama and Theatre Arts, the School of Dance, the Jubilee Owei School of Fine Arts and Design and Elechi Amadi School of Creative Writing. “Each of these schools will operate as dual platform – as an academy and as an atelier,” he explained.

On the academic level, the schools will, among others, offer post graduate programmes, which are not only operation-oriented but also studio-based and performance-oriented. The atelier segment concerns itself with the establishment of theatre and musical troupes, film, video and radio recording studios, photography laboratory, gallery exhibition, museum and entrepreneurial services.

Leading the big names from the industry is the veteran, Adiela Onyedibia. The man, who produced Chinua Achebe’s international bestseller Things Fall Apart as a television series, spoke of collaboration with an Indian-based company, Whistlingwood (through the efforts of the Port Harcourt-based Trend TV). Onyedibia was the only non-academic member of the sextet who first had a brief chat with two visiting journalists from Lagos. A discussion with the sextet – comprising of Professor Okoh, Professor Shaka, Onyedibia, Professor Onyee Nwankpa, Dr Asodionye Ejiofor and Seiyifa Koroye – had acquainted the journalists with the initial information they needed about the IAC. 

Prominent among the institute’s planned programmes are the Garden City Fairs and Festivals. This is in partnership with the Rivers State Government and local government councils. The prizes, which would be competed for during these events are: IAC/Rex Lawson Prize for Highlife, IAC/Harcourt Whyte Prize for Choral, IAC/Gabriel Okara Prize for Poetry and IAC/Adams Fiberesima Prize for Music, among others.

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