opinionBy Okey Ifionu
Lagos — The rapidly modernising town of Oko, in Orumba North Local Government Area of Anambra state, will, on Saturday (April 22) host an assortment of distinguished and not-so-distinguished Nigerians. They will be coming to witness the first Ofala (coronation rites) of His Royal Highness, Professor Laz Edward Nnanyelu Ekwueme as the Igwe( Traditional Ruler) of Oko , an illustrious community that gave Nigeria her Vice-President during the Second Republic.
Prof. Ekwueme is formally ascending the throne of his forefathers at a time Oko has assumed even greater importance in the affairs of Nigeria as the home of one of the nation's leading polytechnics and as an Arch deaconry headquarters in the newly created Aguata Anglican Diocese.
For the former university teacher and first professor of music in any Nigerian university, Saturday's coronation rites will mark the consummation of his ascendancy to the coveted royal throne.
A man of great talents, a polymath, humorist, extra-ordinary scholar and Nigeria's foremost choral ambassador, Igwe Laz Ekwueme is bringing to the Oko royal kingdom the sort of prestige rarely associated with the traditional stool in most communities. Affable and out-going, the new Igwe is most suitable for the stool he is occupying. His friends and fans cut across ethnic and religious boundaries. And so do his former students.
For Oko, Igwe Ekwueme's reign promises to be a golden one given his vast experience and versatility.
Son of an Anglican Church Missionary Teacher, he was born on January 28, 1936, at Oko. He had his secondary education at Government College Umuahia, where he distinguished himself in English and Mathematics as well as in the fields of sports, art, music and drama. At Umuahia, he wrote plays and composed songs which were performed at House and College concerts, as well as chants and anthems which were sung in chapel.
Between 1958 and 1960, Laz featured regularly on the music, literature (talks) and drama programmes of the then Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, including the series of World Theatre produced in the late 1950's by John Dunn.
In 1960 he won a Nigerian Federal Government Scholarship which took him to the Royal College of Music, London, where, among other things, he studied Composition , Conducting, Singing , Piano and Choir Training. He took a Bachelor of Music (B.Mus.) degree of the University of Durham, and a Master of Music (M.Mus.) of the Royal College of Music, London, in addition to 10 professional Teaching and Performing Diplomas in various branches of Music and in Speech and Drama.
Laz Ekwueme returned to Nigeria in 1964 as a Lecturer in Music at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he taught Composition, Theory and History of Music, Singing, and Conducting. There he founded the University of Nigeria Choral Society, a large group made up of European, American and African music lovers resident in Nsukka, Enugu, Onitsha and environs. The Choral Society regularly gave a concert of classical music every term, including major works in the standard repertory, sometimes supported by an ad hoc orchestra raised from instrumentalists residing within the then Eastern Region of Nigeria.
In 1966, Ekwueme went on an Aggrey Fellowship to Yale University (in the United States of America) from where he later obtained a Ph.D. in the Theory of Music. At Yale (1966-69) he also took post-graduate courses in theatre, linguistics, and anthropology. While in the United States of America. Dr. Ekwueme founded the New Haven International Chorus, sang and conducted professionally in Connecticut and New York States, taught at several Universities and Colleges, including Yale.
Dr. Ekwueme again returned to Nigeria in 1974 - to the University of Lagos where he founded the Department of Music and was the principal actor in the establishment of the Centre for Cultural Studies. That year he founded the LAZ EKWUEME CHORALE which has become acknowledged as one of the most sophisticated choral groups in Africa. The Chorale has featured at national and international musical events. It was the only choir from Africa invited to participate in the 5th International Choral Festival of the Choruses of the World Inc. in the United States of America in September 1982, during which the Chorale undertook a concert tour of various parts of the United States of America. The LAZ EKWUEME CHORALE has appeared numerous times on Television, and has recorded on tapes and discs. Wherever they perform they invariably get a second invitation on account of their enthralling performance.
Laz Ekwueme is recognized as the best academically trained music scholar, composer and performer on the whole continent of Africa. With a Durham B.Mus. degree, a Master of Music from the Royal College of Music, London, and a Ph.D. in the Theory of Music from the prestigious (Ivy League) Yale University in the United States of America, in addition to 10 professional diplomas in the teaching and practice of various branches of music as well as in Speech and Drama, Dr. Ekwueme stands out with unequalled academic qualifications throughout the continent in the field of music.
As a scholar - author of 13 books and chapters to 3 others in addition to numerous articles in learned journals - Professor Ekwueme is frequently quoted internationally, in books and journals, especially in the field of the Theory of African Music where he is acknowledged as the world's leading authority. Some of his books have become standard texts in universities for undergraduate and postgraduate studies: His Essays on the Theory of African Music is taken as "the last word" on the subject, while his text, Choir Training and Choral Conducting for Africans, is often referred to as "the Bible for the African Choirmaster and Choral Conductor".
As a speech and language scholar, Professor Ekwueme's book, A Short Guide to Effective Speaking in English, has been adopted as a standard text by both the Department of English and the Department of Creative Arts of the University of Lagos for their courses in oral English, as it has been adopted by the Department of Performing Arts of the University of Ilorin. The success of his humorous best seller, TEASERS - Poems, Proverbs and Puns, led to the demand that a version for schools be produced, so that it can be adopted for literature studies in Nigerian schools and higher institutions. Some universities in the United States of America use this book as a text for some of their courses in Anthropology and African Studies. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has broadcast excerpts from the work on some of its programmes.
Prof. Ekwueme was for 8 years the Public Orator of the University of Lagos. He has been the subject of several undergraduate projects and Masters Theses on Music and the Arts and has been listed in many international biographical directories and "Who's Who". He has travelled to all the six continents of the world, including Australia. He speaks several languages: English and Igbo (with fluency and good command), Italian and German (with competence), in addition to a smattering knowledge of French, Yoruba and Efik. Married to Dr. Lucy Ekwueme (ED.D. Columbia), Associate Professor in Education (Curriculum Studies and Music) at the University of Lagos, Professor Ekwueme has three children - two sons and a daughter, graduates in Architecture, Computer Science, and English, respectively.
After 38 years of teaching at the tertiary level of education, Ekwueme retired from active university teaching in 2001 on attaining the age of 65. Thereafter he was called upon to ascend to the throne of his forefathers. In May, 2003, he received the certificate and staff of office and became His Royal Highness, Professor Laz Edward Nnanyelu Ekwueme IV, Eze Ijikala II, Igwe of Oko.
I wish him a long and successful reign.