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Nigeria literature prize, all work, more pay

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor (Arts and Culture Editor)
02 September 2018   |   1:47 am
Later this month, the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Limited, sponsors of Nigeria Prize for Literature, will announce the three shortlisted plays for this year’s award.In its 14 years, the company has given out $780,000, which in today’s Naira market (1 USD = 362.17 NGN), is about N282,492,600 million.

[FILE] Prof. Ayo Banjo receiving this year’s entries for The Nigerian Prize for Literature from Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) company, Manager, Communications and Public Affairs, Mr. Tony Okonedo recently… in Lagos

Later this month, the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Limited, sponsors of Nigeria Prize for Literature, will announce the three shortlisted plays for this year’s award.In its 14 years, the company has given out $780,000, which in today’s Naira market (1 USD = 362.17 NGN), is about N282,492,600 million. The Prize has produced 13 millionaires and the 14th will emerge next month.

Last year, Ikeogu Oke’s The Heresiad won the award. He got $100,000 in the process. In 2016, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s Season of Crimson Blossoms got $100,000, while Sam Ukala’s Iredi War was rewarded with $100,000 in 2014.For Tade Ipadeola, his 2013 effort, The Sahara Testaments, got him $100,000. The same as Chika Unigwe’s On Black Sisters’ Street in 2012 and Adeleke Adeyemi’s The Missing Clock in 2011. Esiaba Irobi’s Cemetery Road (2010) and Kaine Agary’s Yellow Yellow (2008) won $50,000 each.

In 2007, Mabel Segun’s Readers’ Theatre: Twelve Plays for Young People and Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo’s My Cousin Sammy shared the $30,000 at stake. The same amount Ahmed Yerima got for his Hard Ground in 2006, while Gabriel Okara’s The Dreamer: His Vision and Ezenwa Ohaeto’s Chants of Minstrel Poetry shared $20,000 in 2005.Between 2008 and 2018, there had been, at least, 1,332 entries. In 2008, 149 entries were received, while in 2009, it was 161 entries. An improvement on previous year.

For 2010, the figure, however, went down to 93 entries, which is the second lowest and in 2011, 126 entries were submitted, while 2012, Chika Unigwe beat 213 authors to the prize with her book On Black Sisters’ Street.The number went down in 2013 to 201 submissions. It slightly went up to 124 in 2014 for the drama competition. The following year, 2015, 109 entries were received. Eighty-nine entries did not meet the preliminary criteria for assessment. This number represents 81.6% of the total number of entries received for the year.

In 2016, a total of 173 authors of prose fiction entered for the competition while 184 entries were received for the 2017. On a flip side, this year has had the lowest number of entries during the same period, just 83.

Between these years, drama has recorded the least number of entries compared with prose. While drama had 93 (2010), 124 (2014) and 83 (2018) prose has 149 (2008), 214 (2012) and 173 (2016).

Except for drama, all the other genres have had no winner declared at one time or the other — 2004 (Prose), 2009 (Poetry) and 2015 (Children Literature). Prof. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo’Promise Ogochukwu, Bina Nengi-llagha, Prof. Ahmed Yerima, Omo Uwaifo, Obari Gomba, Soji Cole and Jude Idada have been long listed more than once.

Initially loathed for excluding Nigerian writers abroad, and coming from a parastatal established by General Ibrahim Babangida, who was hated for annulling the ‘assumed’ freest and fairest election conducted in the country, now it’s one of the most sought after Prizes on the continent. It’s, however, a pity that only Nigerian writers are allowed to enter for it.

Admittedly, the prize got off to a wobbly start. Established in 2004, and its subsequent awards in 2005 to 2007, which are seen as ‘retirement benefit’ to already older-generation writers, the awards scheme has cleared its initial baggage.As the literary community awaits the short list and eventual winner, this year finds itself in robust health, with a lineup packed with diverse range of writers: From royalty to academics, professionals to crossover artistes. It is ‘once in a decade lineup’.

THIS year’s long list features only one female writer in competition – yet this looks only to confirm that the face of Nigeria Prize for Literature is a man. Except on three occasions, 2007, 2008 and 2012, male writers have practically dominated he awards.In 2016, eight out of 11 longlisted writers were female (though, a male won), last year, it was just one female, and this year again, out of 11, one is female.

Last Saturday, August 25, 2018, CORA held a book party for the longlisted writers at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island.The party was for them to discuss their works and inspiration behind their creation. Beyond these reasons, CORA saw it as an opportunity for the creation of an entire economy around the book trade.

“We haven’t got there yet, but it doesn’t stop us from believing, that a full ecosystem of the book trade is still possible in spite of the age of twitter, that we can have robust, publishing, book clubs, authors’ appearances o audiences to read everywhere from Okoomaiko to Maitama, bookshops in traditional market, in shopping malls, online sales of e-books and audiobooks, active proliferation of book blogs, book reviews everywhere, libraries in every corner from Ajangbadi to Kaura Namoda,” said Akinosho.

The CORA scribe lamented the flight of progammes that are aimed at developing the culture, creative industries in the country. He noted that the Literature Prize, no doubt, has come in as a quality intervention, whose contribution to the CCI narrative cannot be reduced to mere data and statistics.An opinion also raised by Andy Odeh, manager, Corporate Communication and Public Affairs. He noted that NLNG has come in to reward excellence. “At NLNG, we believe that the award is to celebrate excellence in literary accomplishments and also bring authors to public attention and. With or without the Prize, people will write.”He noted that NLNG believes that the prize will improve the quality of writing, editing, proof-reading, and publishing in the country.

While noting that CORA believes in the building of the soft infrastructure of the book industry, the presence and improvement of book reviews in the old and new media, the availability and utility of a functional library system, the efficiency of distribution and the profitability of the vocation of writing, Akinosho said: “The book party is a way of ensuring that there’s a robust audience engagement with the books that have been long listed for this reward; a drama piece that makes it to the last 11 out of 83 entries is worthy of acknowledgement.”

The Nominees
Igwe Chidubem Iweka
His Royal Highness Igwe Chidubem Iweka is both a king and an author. He entered this competition with the play, August Inmates. Igwe Iweka is the monarch of Obosi, Anambra State. He says, “it’s tough marrying the two jobs.”He started writing short stories when he was in class two in secondary school in the early 1970s. By his own account writing runs in the royal family. His grandfather was the first person to write the history of Obosi and Igboland in 1923.

Before he ascended the throne, the monarch was an active Nollywood practitioner, who has acted in several movies. He had to give up acting because of his current status and the attendant responsibilities. Igwe Iweka is also a musician, who once worked with a major records company in the United States, for a number of years.

Bosede Ademilua-Afolayan
Dr. (Mrs.) Ademilua-Afolayan entered this competition with her 2015 drama, Once Upon An Elephant, published by Kraftbooks Limited, two years after her first book, Look Back in Gratitude, was published. The two plays were performed on the stage before publishing. Ademilua-Afolayan teaches English at the University of Lagos.

Jude Idada
Idada is one of those with ready name recognitions on the list. He is screenwriter, actor, poet, playwright and producer. He is best known for writing the multi-award feature film, The Tenant. He was working for Arthur Andersen when he relocated to Canada. After seeing a short film with friends, he resigned his job to pursue writing and film production.He was selected as one of the screenwriters for the Toronto International Film Festival’s Adapt This! and the Afrinolly/Ford foundation Cinema4Change projects. Jude was also an inaugural participant in the Relatively Media/AFRIFF Filmmaking project.He has written several plays, as well as directed and produced several films. His entry for this competition is Sankara.

Obari Gomba
Gomba has made the long list thrice in five years. His entry in this contest is with Guerilla Post. Obari’s last two appearances on this podium were as a poet. Now he is aiming at the drama prize. In 2013, he showed up with Lengths of Eyes.Last year, on this same stage, he participated with For Every Homeland, which he published after his much-heralded Thunder Protocol. His participation in 2013, in which he was one of the youngest authors in a long list dominated by writers of the third generation, is particularly worthy of notes here for the statement he made about prizes.

Gomba (PhD) was honourary fellow at the department of English Studies at the University of Port Harcourt. He has been a resource person at the Lagos Bok and Art Festival and was the facilitator of writing workshops for the 2014 UNESCO World Book Capital.

Denja Abdullahi
Denja entered the 2018 competition with Death and The King’s Grey Hair. Like Gomba, Abdullahi is first and foremost a poet. He has been writing poetry for close to 30 years since his days as a student of English and Literature at the University of Jos, where he was the best graduating student in 1990. He has a master’s degree in Literature-in-English from the University of Ilorin, in 1992. Before he became president of the Association of Nigerian Authors, he was the General Secretary from 2005-2009 and was then Vice President from 2011 to 2015. In 2015, he was elected president. He currently works as a Deputy Director of Performing Arts in the National Council for Arts and Culture, Abuja.

Dul Johnson
Johnson, who entered this competition with Melancholia, is a drama director. He worked for many years at NTA Jos, where he began his career, before retiring into independent filmmaking and teaching. He has won national and international awards with his films and dramas, including There Is Nothing Wrong With My Uncle (a cultural documentary), The Widow’s Might (a feature film), Against the Grain, Wasting for the West, Basket of Water and many others.

Being an apprentice blacksmith had a seminal influence on Johnson’s life and career. In secondary school, one of his best subjects was Metal and Woodwork. Blacksmithing connected him with the first story that set him to work: the story was Camara Laye’s The African Child, which he had read in form two, or early part of form three. Like him, Laye was the son of a blacksmith and his story exuded the imagery and atmosphere of the hearth and the sounds of bellows.

Diran Ademiju-Bepo
Dr. Ademiju-Bepo, who entered the competition with the play, No More the Taming Hawks, is a lecturer at the University of Jos, where he got his PhD in 2014. He earned his bachelor’s of arts degree in theatre arts at the University of Ibadan. In Jos, he is Associate Professor of Film Studies at the university, where he has been teaching, researching, facilitating workshops and directing since 2010. He joined the university from the Nigeria Film Corporation, where he worked in initiation of ideas, research, writing, management administration and coordination.In 2012, he enrolled at the New York Film Academy, where he earned a Diploma in Digital Filmmaking.

Dickson Ekhaguere
Ekhaguere, the playwright of Unstable, was born and raised in the ancient city of Benin, where he studied and graduated at the University of Benin. His entry for this prize already won the 2015 Association of Nigerian Authors award for drama and has since become an accepted text in different institutions of learning, including universities and colleges of education.

He is also a public speaker, voice actor, songwriter and singer. His song of the same title as the play was the theme song for the theatre production of the play, which was directed by Ben Tomoloju and featured stellar cast of ranking thespians including, Tina Mba, Olu Okenkanye, Ropo Ewenla and Bassey Okon. In his work, Ekhaguere likes to explore historical story from the innards old Benin Empire. Last year, his unpublished play, General Ologbosere, was runner-up at the Association of Nigerian Author’s award; in the same year, his song titled, Happy was also awarded best pop single by Hot Sound Music Award. Ekhaguere is an entrepreneur who serves as a director at Tryspect Solutions, a writing and publishing company.

Peter Omoko
Omoko is both a poet and dramatist. He entered the 2018 contest with his play, Majestic Revolt. He teaches English and Literature at the Delta State College of Physical Education, Mosogar, Delta State, where he specialises in Oral Literature, Creative Writing, African and Europe Literatures. Omoko is the Assistant Managing Editor, ARIDON: The International Journal of Urhobo Studies and Associate Editor, Nigerian Journal of Oral Literatures.

He obtained his B.A and M.A degrees at the Delta State University, Abraka, and is currently a Ph.D candiadate in the school. His research interests include: Translation, Fieldwork/Folklore Studies, Popular Songs and African Drama. His books include, A Companion to Literature (2014), Battles of Pleasure (a play, 2009), Three Plays (an anthology of plays, 2010), Uloho (a play, 2013), Crude Nightmen (a play, 2015). He started out as a journalist on the JFM Radio in Warri.

Soji Cole
Cole makes the list for second time in four years with the play, Embers. His Maybe Tomorrow contested for the prize in 2014. That play won the ANA Drama prize in the same year and was staged at the University of Ibadan as well as at this venue. Cole is a member of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Ibadan and his main daytime job is teaching playwriting to undergraduates at the department of Theatre Arts of the school.

Akanji Nasiru
Professor Nasiru is the biggest writer this year. His play in this contest is, The Rally. He graduated from the University of Ibadan in 1972, and enrolled immediately at Leeds University, UK, for a master’s degree, following Soyinka’s footsteps 15 years earlier. He was appointed lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in 1976, but he left ABU in 1978 to take up the position Senior Cultural Officer, Oyo State Council for Arts and Culture, Ibadan, 1978-79; appointed Lecturer, University of Ilorin, 1979, later Senior Lecturer.

He was member, International Theatre Institute, Caracas, Vanezuela. Prizes he has won include, third prize in Drama, Sixth National Festival of Arts and Culture, 1983; also won the First Prize in Dance Essay, Seventh National Festival of Arts and Culture, 1985; winner, First International Competition of Third World Playwrights Award, 1981; Publications: Our survival, a play, (UK, Macmillian 1985) and Come let us reason together, a play, (Ijebu-Ode Shebiotimo Publications, 1987).

THE 2018 longlist of 11 plays, chosen from 83 entries, was selected by a panel of three judges led by Matthew Umukoro, professor of Theatre Arts at the University of Ibadan. Other members of the panel include, Mohammed Inuwa Umar-Buratai, professor of Theatre and Performing Arts and Dean of Faculty of Arts at the Ahmadu Bello University, (ABU), Zaria; and Ngozi Udengwu, a senior lecturer in the Department of Theatre and Film Studies at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

The Prof. Ayo Banjo-led Advisory Board appointed the Umukoro-led panel in February 2018 for the Nigeria Prize for Literature, which has been administering the prize on behalf of Nigeria LNG Limited since 2010. The judges received entries for the 2018 Prize in April. Members of the Advisory Board for the Literature Prize, besides Professor Banjo, two-time Vice-Chancellor of Nigeria’s premier university, University of Ibadan, are Prof. Jerry Agada, former Minister of State for Education, as well as former President of the Association of Nigerian Authors, and Professor Emeritus, Ben Elugbe, former President of the Nigerian Academy of Letters and president of the West-African Linguistic Society (2004-2013).