Eighty-nine (89) writers will seek the 2018 version of The Nigerian Prize for Literature, supported by Nigerian Liquified Natural Gas (NLNG) Limited. The USD$100,000 prize will center around show this year. The 89 passages were formally given over to the three-man Advisory Board of the prize drove by its director, Emeritus Prof. Ayo Banjo, with Professors Ben Elugbe and Jerry Agada as individuals. They, thus, gave the passages over to the jury director, Prof. Matthew Umukoro.
While handing over the entries, NLNG’s Deputy Managing Director, Mr. Sadeeq Mai-Bornu, who was represented by Acting Manager, Community Relations, Mr. Godson Dienye, said stakeholders needed to rally round the prize to make it sustainable so it could take its rightful place in the rank of literary prizes in the world.
According to him, “We have received 89 entries this year, lower than what we had in 2014, when drama was also in focus. We must change this trend. All stakeholders must begin to own the prize as theirs and push it to greater heights. We also received two entries for the Literary Criticism Award competition, which unfortunately appears not to attract many entries. I consider this as a huge gap in Nigeria’s literary space. To the judges, I urge you to demonstrate your usual proficiency in administering and adjudicating the process, knowing that the world is earnestly waiting for your announcement of another legendary work.”
Mai-Bornu re-affirmed the commitment of the gas company to the continuity of the prize.
In his remarks, Banjo also stressed the centrality of excellence in the award of the prize. He, however, lamented that children’s literature appears to be the weakest link among the four (poetry, prose, drama and children’s literature) literary genres for honour in the country.
He noted, “We are only bent on awarding the prize to the best entry. The prize stands for nothing but excellence.”
Banjo commended his colleagues on the advisory board and the management of NLNG for the support they have received in administering the prize since 2014.
“We have been fortunate,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed working with them (his colleagues), learning from their advice and competence. NLNG has not waivered on its commitment to the prize. For a petroleum company to be devoted to a literary prize is commendable. We are grateful that we have been able to keep the schedule every year. We are conscious that entry for children’s literature is not only low but of less quality and we hope it improves.”
On his part, the jury chairman, Umukoro said he was aware of the responsibility placed on them as jury members and said they would discharge their duty professionally and admirably.
According to him, “The honour demonstrates the degree of confidence that the board and NLNG have in us. I should be able to spot what is a good play and what is not. The prize is comparable to other literary prizes outside. This is the Nigerian Nobel Prize. We must hold it seriously and dearly. The prize is the greatest image-maker for NLNG. We are conscious of the sensitivity and the enormity of the assignment. Our work is close to Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC); just that we are not counting votes.
“We promise to be fair and just; the question of sentiment does not come in at all. We have to be very objective. The work has to be based on excellence and one that reflects and promotes an aspect of Nigerian culture. It must have some relevance to the Nigerian culture; we want something that promotes our culture and ways of life.”
Umukoro said he was aware of the friction that often erupts between critics and writers, with writers feeling that their work may have been wrongly assessed, adding, “When a critic does his work, the author may find it hard to believe. We are determined to do a thorough job so as to minimise controversy at the end of the day.”
However, a seeming drawback to this year’s prize would be the composition of the judge panel made up entirely of university dons, a situation some critics have continually frowned at. But Advisory Board chairman, Banjo, explained the rational for the absence of a non-academic playwright on the prize jury. He said the inclusion of the poet, Mr. Tade Ipadeola, last year was because he was a former winner (poetry in 2013) and had the prize experience. However, he said the board could not readily find a non-academic playwright, who has such experience to bring on board.
But critics would be quick to puncture Prof. Banjo’s argument, and point at the many experienced theatre directors on the scene doing amazing things on stage. From Kenneth Uphopho, who has been theatre director for British Council’s Lagos Theatre Festival (LTF) for four years, Makinde Adeniran, Ifeoma Fafunwa, Ayodele Jaiyesimi, Jos-based Patrick Oteh, Wole Oguntokun, Ropo Ewenla and others, who have caused a revolution in Nigerian theatre in the last few years should certainly fit into the bill of a jury for drama. However, Banjo said the Advisory Board was still shopping for an international jury for the prize, as has become the norm in the last few years, but was hopeful one would come on board soon.
The jury panel include Professor Matthew Umukoro, a professor of Theatre Arts, University of Ibadan, Professor Mohammed Inuwa Buratai, a professor of Theatre and Performing Arts and Dean, Faculty of Arts, Ahmadu Bello University, (ABU), Zaria, Kaduna, and Dr. (Mrs.) Ngozi Udengwu, a Senior Lecturer, Department of Theatre and Film Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu.