By Japhet Alakam
It was a gathering of great minds, literary icons, captains of industry, diplomats and notable Nigerians at the second floor of the prestigious Civic Centre located at Ozumba Mbadiwe way in Victoria Island last weekend courtesy of the 3rd edition of the biennial Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa.
The Wole Soyinka prize for Literature in Africa which started in 2006 was established by The Lumina foundation, a non governmental organisation founded by Ogochukwu Promise as a way to encouraging people to read, to think and to write.
The third edition of the prize recordedÂ over 330 entries from 11African countries, an increase from the previous editions. And of that number, the panel of judges after a tireless job of pruning the list down, got a long list of 11 and finally to a shortlist of three.
The final three that made forÂ the grand prize of $20,000 were Wale Okediran (Tenants of The House) and Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani (I Do Not Come To You By Chance) from Nigeria and South African writer Kopano Matlwa (Coconut).
Before the prize was announced to the audience, there were series of performances by the Crown Troupe of Africa led by Segun Adefila and 5 young girls from Lagos State University Music Department. The Crown Troupe spiced up the night with a play (an Ode) that paid tribute to the Supreme deity, to Africa, to Wole Soyinka and to Lumina foundation and later they performed a sketch each from Wole Soyinkaâ€™s Dead and the Kingâ€™s Horseman and Trials of Brother Jero.Â While the chairman of the Lumina Foundation Mrs. Francesca Y. Emmanuel briefed the audience about the foundation and the prize and pointed out that the prize is gradually gathering momentum.
After that it was time for the unveiling of the Symbol of Wole Soyinka Prize a task excellently performed by Dr Ogochukwu Promise and Segun Adefila. There after, the three short listed candidates were called out and given presents by the organizers for reaching to that stage of the comptetion and as a consolation should any of them loss out.
Nobel laureate, Prof.Wole Soyinka, who was also at the event, jokingly told the audience that he taught that he was just invited to relax and watch the events and not to make any speech. Later he said that when he saw the shortlisted candidates he was relieved because a South African was there as it has been an all Nigerian affair in the last two editions.
He then prayed that this year the winner will not be a Nigerian woman. Though, he also observed that the winners has been women, he also prayed that Okediran who was the single male and second Nigerian writer on this editionâ€™s shortlist would not win.
The Chairman of the Panel of judges, Prof. Olu Obafemi gave the judges remarks un behalf of other judges and after that it was the much awaited time, the announcement of the winner. And Prof Obafemi after keeping the audience on suspense for some minutes finally announced the winners instead of the winner.
Wale Okediran, former president of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) and Kopano Matlwa, the EU Literary Award winner and one of South Africaâ€™s most vibrant young writers were declared joint winners of the third Wole Soyinka Prize for literature.
The announcement of the joint winners did not receive wild jubilation as expected as many had thought that a winner will emerge like in the previous editions that produced single winners in the persons of Nigerian writers Sefi Atta (Everything Good Will Come) and Nnedi Okorafor_Mbachu (Zahrah the Windseeker). There were exclamation and insinuations that the WS Prize want to toe the line of the NLNG Prize. And the question on the lips of many was why was it that no winner emerged and how come that the judges could not see any thing that will separate the two. But be that as it may, the winners were presented to the audience and a cheque of $20,000 presented to them by Wole Soyinka.
Kopano Matlwa , the South African writer thanked Lumina Foundation for instituting the award that brought her to Nigeria, while Wale Okediran thanked Lumina Foundation for the award and Evans Publishers for their support. Finally he said â€œI am happy to share the prize with a fellow writer colleague.â€