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Osondu’s Caine Prize, another literary honour for Nigerian writing

By McPhilips Nwachukwu
NIGERIA’S winning of the covetous 10,000 pounds sterling Caine Prize for African writing, last week, the third in the ten years existence of the prize since inception in 2000 has definitely made another interesting major statement about the status of Nigerian literature not only in Africa, but in the global literary world. The winning of the prestigious prize in 2001, by Nigeria’s Helon Habila through his entry, Love Poem invigorated a new competitive spirit in the nation’s huge stock of emerging literary writers.

Following Habila’s winning, both young Nigerian writers at home and abroad have taken shots at the competition. Nigerian writers, who have taken shot at the prize and made it to shortlist level include: Belgian married Chika Unigwe, United States based, Ada Udechukwu, United States based Chimamanda Adichie, Nigerian based Uzor Maxim Uzoatu, Uwem Akpan and the present winner of the prize, E.C. Osondu, who also made the shortlist last year.

Habila
Habila
Interestingly, in the one decade of the existence of the prize, three Nigerian writers: Helon Habila, 2000, S.A Afolabi, 2005 and EC Osondu, 2009 have won the prize. This prodigious achievements interspersed by the efforts of Sudanese writer, Leila Aboulela, 2000, Kenyan, Binyavange, 2001, Kenyan writer,Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, 2003, Brian Chikwava, 2004, South African, Mary Watson, 2006, Uganda’s Monica Arac de Nyeko, 2007 and South Africa’s Rose Inns, 2008 has further authenticated the fact against all distracting criticisms that Nigerian literature has not really come of age:

But with these achievements, it is very clear that a new representative voice has emerged in the nation’s literary firmament to compete with their peers in the global turf. Osondu’s recent honour for the country has also added to other magnificent records already set by other contemporary Nigerian writers. In this regard, the global literary recognition of Nigeria’s literary poster face, Chimamanda Adichie, who apart from her numerous literary laurels, has also won the highly regarded Orange prize with her second novel set around the Biafran civil war titled, Half of the Yellow Sun is very remarkable.

Also,Uwem Akpan, a Jesuit priest of the Catholic Church, whose own work has made the Commonwealth prize and Kareen Aribisala are among other Nigerian writers, whose international achievements have done the nation great pride.

Engagingly, in all the winning entries that have won this African Booker; starting with Habila’s Love Poem to Afolabi’s Monday Morning and E.C Osondu’s Waiting, Nigerian writers like their contemporaries from other parts of the continent employ their literary skills and good sense of history in addressing some of the post colonial questions that have continued to hunt the entire post colonies including Nigeria.

Habila’s story, Love Poem revisits the gulag experiences that many Nigerians suffered in the many years’ military leadership in power. The story dramatizes the years of military plundering and dictatorship, especially does a critical dissection of the autocratic years of dark goggled wearing expired military ruler, General Sani Abacha.

The latest Caine’s bride, E.C.Osondu in his case, looks at the problem of displacement and refugee. The African continent is known for its fragility, wars and political instability. The ascendancy of corrupt leaders to power and subsequent practice of ethnocentric power game by the ruling elites have in most cases resulted in all kinds of crises, conflicts and wars; such that are witnessed in many parts of Africa.

In Nigeria for instance, the deformed federal status of the country with its attendant economic and political inequities has resulted to irrevocable ethnic and fratricidal conflict: The concept of militantism is now employed by a section of Nigerian youths, who make trouble for the whole country in the name of resource control wars and marginalization.

The killing in Nigeria in 1985 of Ogoni writer and environmental activist, Ken Saro Wiwa, whose Movement of the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP waged serious wars against the exploitative practices of oil exploration and prospecting in Ogoni land by the military junta of Abacha and subsequent man hunt of other Ogoni activists, who challenged the operations of Shell and other oil prospecting companies, whose activities are alleged to destroy the environmental and economic well being of the people led to a massive emigration of Ogoni Youths and by extension other Niger Delta youths to safer places of refuge.

Also, the sit tight proposed regime of late Abacha coupled with his high handedness in power exercise resulted in confrontations with many democracy and civil right society groups, which attempted to challenge the excesses of military in power. As a result, the military on its side launched onslaught of manhunt as well as extra judicial killings that saw to the extermination of many perceived and imagined enemies of the state power managers represented by the junta. This development on its own also created a condition of mass emigration of people to other climes as victims of political victimization sought refuge in other climes.

It is this kind of scenario that Osondu’s Waiting addresses: The story looks at the life of displaced people in the refugee camp in foreign lands. The story brings to the fore the experiences of displaced people all over the world whether the displaced person is from Nigeria, the Congo, Sierra Leone, Rwanda or Liberia.

It is a story that speaks a universal experience and thus, appeals to the emotion of the reader. Osondu’s Waiting, according to panel of judges chaired by New Statesman’s chief sub editor, Nana Yaa Mensah is, “powerfully written with not an ounce of fat on it – and deeply moving.” The work competed with Ghanaian Mamie Kabu’s The End of Skill, Kenya’s Parselelo Kantai’s You Wreck Her, South Africa’s Alistair Morgan’s Icebergs and another Kenya’s Mukoma wa Ngugi’s How Kamau wa Mwangi Escaped into Exile to emerge overall winner.

The Caine Prize, which had its debut in 2000 at the Zimbabwean International Book Fair in Harare is established in the memory of late Sir Michael Caine, former chairman of Booker Prize plc, the administrators of the Booker Prize. It is awarded to a work of short story by an African writer published in English whether in Africa or in the Diaspora. It has on its board of patrons all the four African winners of the Nobel Prize for literature including: Wole Soyinka, Nadine Gordimer, late Naguib Mahfouz and J.E.Coetzee.

Since the prize was established, all short listed stories have been published in anthologies. From the array of harvest of entries that have made the shortlist of the competition since inception, the Caine has in its treasury the following anthologies: Tenderfoots from 2000 edition, Timbuktu, 2002, Discovering Home, 2002, A is for Ancestors, 2003, Seventh Street Alchemy, 2004 and The Obituary Tango, 2005.


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