he richness of African culture has, once again, been brought to the fore when sound knowledge has found an enviable place in western education within the four walls of our ivory towers. This development not only shows the interdisciplinary nature of knowledge, it also clearly highlights the superiority of African tradition when it comes to global relevance. This reality was showcased when a widely-celebrated creative and literary icon was recently appointed Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Entrepreneurial Studies (CENTS), Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Ogun State.
CENTS, which was established in 2011 in line with the directive of the Federal Ministry of Education through the National Universities Commission (NUC), is a product of the mandate given tertiary institutions in the country to offer such programme and establish an entrepreneurial centre, to create and provide an academic environment whereby students would be exposed to business environment through a variety of training in both multi-disciplinary and non-traditional skills that would propel the growth and development of Small and Medium Enterprise (SMEs) in Nigeria.
To promote academics and skills acquisition, Alagba Tunde Kelani is the ‘big fish’, to facilitate the teaching and coordination of short courses designed to enhance the entrepreneurial skills and knowledge of film-making to students of the university. Popularly called TK for those that may not know him, Kelani is a respected Nigerian filmmaker, storyteller, director, photographer, cinematographer and producer with a career spanning over four decades. He is renowned for his love of the adaptation of African literary material into successful movies such as Oleku, Thunder Bolt, Arugba, The Narrow Path, White Handkerchief, Maami, and Dazzling Mirage.
The Visiting Fellow specialises in producing movies that promote the nation’s rich cultural heritage with deep root in documentation, archiving, education and entertainment. Kelani, a native of the ancient city of Abeokuta, where FUNAAB is located, was born in Lagos, attended the Oke-Ona Primary School in Ikija, Abeokuta, and had his secondary school education at Abeokuta Grammar School, Idi-Aba, Abeokuta. Records show that he was privileged to have witnessed most aspects of rich Yoruba ways of life and culture such as religion, literature, philosophy, literature, and theatre early in life.
It is instructive that when he was in secondary school, he was opportune to see most of the great Yoruba theatre classics including The Palm Wine Drinkard, Oba Koso, Kurunmi and Ogunde, among others. Aside this, he got interested in photography starting from primary school and it continued throughout his secondary school education. Kelani trained at the then Western Nigeria Television (WNTV) and went further to attend the London Film School, where he bagged a Diploma in the Art and Technique of Filmmaking. In the 1970s, he worked as a journalist with Reuters, and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) television.
It would be recalled that TK co-produced his first film with the late dramatist, Adebayo Faleti, called ‘The Dilemma of Rev. Father Michael’ (Idaamu Paadi Mukailu), a very emotional piece. After several years in the Nigerian film industry, as a cinematographer, he manages Mainframe Film and Television Productions; which was formed to document Nigeria’s rich culture. Reputed as an advocate of ‘Alternative Technology’ in motion picture production in Africa, he has successfully produced and directed many digital features, as Kelani often use the Mobile Cinema Project, designed to take information and entertainment to the grassroots. The profile of Kelani can certainly not be captured at once.
On the impact of this development to the academic life of the university, a honorary awardee of FUNAAB and a Professor of History, Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities, Department of History, The University of Texas at Austin, United States of America, Prof. Toyin Falola has described the appointment of TK, the Iroko, as ‘extraordinary’, ‘deserving’ and shows the “warmth and uniqueness of the university’s boundless imaginations and the humanistic vision of its Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Kolawole Salako”.
Similarly, Do it Right Africa Initiative (Dirai), a group of African professionals, who are committed to the socio-cultural and political rebirth of Africans, said Kelani is “full of energy and knowledge to continue to add moral and cultural values to our generation. We know TK will use this opportunity (of his appointment in FUNAAB), to support the society of our dream particularly in helping African reorientation.”
For the man that is being celebrated and appreciated, his appointment is an opportunity “to bring my decades of industry experience to train students in preparation for their entry to the industry plus arming graduates leaving the university with skills to create their own jobs, rather than queue in the market. I have been overwhelmed by comments and felicitations by colleagues, friends, family and the Nigerian public on my appointment as Visiting Fellow to FUNAAB. It has been observed all over the world, universities are realising the disconnection between them and the industry. This disconnection is a sad case in Nigeria! Our universities train people for the industries yet both are not talking! My appointment and engagement with FUNAAB, Abeokuta is to bring my decades of industry experience to train students in preparation for their entry to the industry plus arming graduates leaving the university with skills to create their own jobs, rather than queue in the market,” Kelani stated.
Apart from the blend of rich cultural, academic and entrepreneurial flavour that have been offered students and members of the university community, the high unemployment pervading our country could be further reduced when youths and young persons are active, and be provided with good source of finance.
The main lesson from Alagba Kelani’s appointment is that people should continue to work hard and would one day be duly appreciated. African culture is rich and could be infused into academics to broaden knowledge. Entrepreneurship is promising when the right vocation is identified and pursued. More talented Africans should be identified and be encouraged to mentor young ones so that the rich cultural heritage can be preserved for future generations.
*Kupoluyi writes from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB) via firstname.lastname@example.org