Race for NLNG-sponsored Literature, Science prizes begins

Soji Cole
The Advisory Boards for The Nigeria Prize for Science, The Nigeria Prize for Literature and The Nigeria Prize for Literary Criticism, sponsored by Nigeria LNG (NLNG) Limited, have called for entries for the 2023 edition of the prizes, flagging off this year’s competitions. The Board administers the Prize.

The current Board for Literature is headed by Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo, an emeritus professor of English at the University of Lagos and a 2007 The Nigeria Prize for Literature joint-winner in the Children’s Literature category. Other members are Prof. Olu Obafemi and Prof. Ahmed Yerima. Prof. Obafemi is a playwright, poet and Professor of English at the University of Ilorin. Prof. Yerima is a professor of Theatre and Performing Arts at the Redeemer’s University. He is also a Laurette of The Nigeria Prize for Literature in the Drama category (2006). ​

The Science and Literature prizes, which are now in their 19th year, each come with a cash prize of $100, 000 while the Prize for Literary Criticism has prize money of $10,000.

The Science Prize, which recognises outstanding scientific achievements by Nigerians and non-Nigerians, will focus on Innovation for Enhancement of Healthcare Therapy this year.

The Literature Prize, on the other hand, will focus on Drama. The prize, which honours the author of the best book by a Nigerian, rotates among four literary genres, namely Prose Fiction, Poetry, Drama and Children’s Literature.

The Literary Criticism Prize, which also aims to promote Nigerian Literature, will receive entries on works in literary criticism of Nigerian Literature, especially critical essays on new writings in Nigerian Literature.

The call for entries for the Literature prize and Literary Criticism will close on March 31, 2023 while the window for the science prize will close on April 30, 2023.

From the outset, it was clear that the awards were going to be among the most respected on the continent. The organisers charted a credible path by its panel of judges.

It was not actually the prize money, but the fact that members of the panel were selected by the Advisory Board to reflect the geo-ethnic balance of Nigeria. The Prize has three Nigerian judges and one international judge. Their tenure is yearly
• The judge(s) must be experts, adjudged to be sufficiently versed in the genre under consideration for the particular year.
• A judge shall be nominated by the Advisory Board but shall be formally appointed with a letter signed by NLNG Management. Such appointment can only become effective when the appointee acknowledges such letter and accepts the appointment in writing.
• The judges must be persons of impeccable character.
• The person(s) will be required to have a personal laptop, which can be used for online meetings via Skype, Microsoft Teams, etc.
• The person(s) must have basic Internet and computer skills to ensure they can navigate online platforms easily for the purpose of reports and online meetings.
• The person(s) must be able to dedicate considerable time to the Prize in the year, be willing to travel for the purpose of the Prize and be in considerably good health to undertake such travels.

According to the prize sponsors, “prior to inauguration of the Prize, the quality of writing, publishing, news features and articles in newspapers and magazines, and the quality of film production on television and radio did not paint a picture of the excellence the industry was previously known for.”

The sponsors also noted: “It, therefore, became evident to us at Nigeria LNG that a well-run literary prize with transparent adjudication process, administered by respected academics, writers and lovers of literature, and with respectable monetary reward will spur creativity and contribute to the improvement of the quality of writing, editing and publishing in Nigeria. The rest, as they say, is history.”

The first edition proved how much the organisers wanted it to be a standard bearer. It did not anoint any winner. Some editions, years after, did not have winners too: 2009 and 2015 because of standard.

By happy coincidence, this year’s genre remains the only one that has had a winner in every circle.

Professor Ameh Dennis Akoh will chair the panel of judges for this year’s Literature and the Literary Criticism competition. Professor Akoh is a Professor of Drama and Critical Theory at the Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ebonyi State. He has over 50 publications in refereed local and international journals and books. He is the former Editor of the Nigerian Journal of Indigenous Knowledge and Development, Nigerian Theatre Journal (NTJ), Co-editor of African Nebula and the UNIOSUN College of Humanities Monograph Series (2009-2016).

Other panel members include, Professor Osita Catherine Ezenwanebe and Dr. Rasheedah Liman. Professor Ezenwanebe is a professor of Creative Arts, the University of Lagos. She has written and produced several full-length plays. Dr. Liman is a Senior lecturer at the Department of Theatre and Performing Arts, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria, Kaduna State.

The Board also announced Professor Victor K. Yankah from the Department of Theatre and Film Studies, the University of Cape Coast, Ghana as the International Consultant.

The winners of the Nigeria Prize for Literature and the Nigeria Prize for Literary Criticism, if any, will be announced at an award ceremony in October 2023 to commemorate the anniversary of the first LNG export from the NLNG’s Plant on October 9, 1999. The Science Prize winner will be revealed earlier in the year.

Speaking with The Guardian, Dr. Soji Cole, a theatre teacher and 2018 winner, feels the prize has impacted the Nigerian literary scene fairly well. “I said ‘fairly’ well because it could be better. As at now, the essence of its impact could be singled as us (writers) trying to write something ‘fantastic’ because of the prize return that is attached to the competition.”

While attesting to the fact that the prize has been ‘generative,’ Cole said, “as a past winner, the prize has conferred this grandeur of elevation on my writings. My writings have never been completely satisfactory to me–as I guess other writers have the same feeling towards their works. There are always things you feel could have been done better, and better, and better, even after publication.”

The immediate past President of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Denja Abdullahi, also said the Prize has led to more attention being paid to the aesthetics of publishing itself.

A near winner in 2018, when his drama, Death and the King’s Grey Hair, made the shortlist of three, he says, “I can say my drama received validation with the numerous staging it has received across Nigerian universities and societies since that time. The last of the staging was on July 16, 2022 in Minna by a group of primary school pupils.”

For Jude Idada, the 2019 laureate, “there is no gainsaying that the Prize on the Nigerian literary scene, both local and in the Diaspora, has been enormous.

Idada revealed, “it has catalysed output and quality. It has also created a healthy spirit of competition and camaraderie amongst writers and has accorded a certain kind of prestige to the craft when placed alongside more populist platforms such as, television, film and music.”

Past Winners

Prof Ahmed Yerima
In 2006, Prof Ahmed Yerima’s stunning book on the militancy situation in The Niger Delta, entitled, Hard Ground, beat other drama books to win the Prize. Yerima, a respected Nigerian academic, dramatist and theatre director, was then, the Director of The National Troupe, Lagos. The versatile published author of several drama books studied in University College London and Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. He is currently a lecturer in The Redeemers University.

Esiaba Irobi (2010)
IROBI (1960-2010) was a distinguished Nigerian playwright, poet, stage director, actor, literary theorist and scholar. He never really got the full recognition that he deserved until he passed on. Educated at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), the University of Sheffield and the University of Leeds, both in England, lrobi’s specialisation was in Drama, Film and Theatre Studies. He was first Nigeria, resident outside the country, to win the coveted prize and also the first and only one so far to have won the prize posthumously. He went the way of all mortals after submitting the award-winning entry, Cemetery Road. His other works include The Colour of Rusting Gold (1989), Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh (l989), Hangmen Also Die (1989), Nwokedi (1991), The Other Side of the Mask (1999) and The Fronded Circle (1999).

Prof Sam Ukala (2014)
UKALA (1948–2021) was a Nigerian playwright, poet, short story writer, actor, theatre director, film producer and academic. He taught theatre art in a number of universities including the University of Leeds in The United Kingdom. He propounded the theory of ‘folkism’, which is the tendency to base literary plays on indigenous history and culture and to compose and perform them in accordance with the aesthetics of African folktale composition and performance. Ukala authored several plays including, The log in your eyes, The Slave Wife, Break A Boil, and Akpalaland among others. In 2015, his Iredi War emerged the winner of the highly coveted Prize.

Soji Cole (2018)
COLE, a Nigerian academic, playwright and author, won the 2018 prize. He is a teacher/scholar who strives to “decolonise the structure of learning among students and engage positive reductionism in the processing of information.” He is also a creative writer, as well as a performance creator. His scholarly and creative works have won various local and international awards. His research areas are on drama therapy, trauma studies and cross-cultural performance research. His utmost belief is that knowledge is an expanse pool, and so, he identifies himself as a perpetual learner.


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