By PRISCA SAM-DURU
When Professor Sam Ukala, Nigeria’s renowned playwright picked up his pen to write Iredi War, he was clear about what he wanted- The Nigerian Prize For Literature. As a goal-getter well focused on his priority, Prof. Ukala was said to have turned down the offer to be among the panel of judges for the 2014 Prize. Instead, he submitted his book Iredi War to compete with 123 others.
Iredi War eventually withstood the rigorous scrutiny and requisite checks for high standards that The Nigeria Prize for Literature is revered by the literati, as it emerged tops in that literary competition, fetching the playwright a whooping $100,000. With the cash prize, Ukala plans to set up Sufficient Grace Studios for entertainment services, artiste training, and theatre/film/music production and adapting in addition to producing Iredi War for screen.
In the tradition of the sole sponsore of the prize, NLNG presented Prof. Ukala as the 2014 winner of the most prestigious literary Prize in the continent of Africa, the Nigeria Prize for Literature, and the winner of the Prize for Literary Criticism, Prof. Isidore Diala, to the public, last Thursday, at the Agip Recital Hall of the MUSON Centre, Lagos. The hall was surprisingly packed full as guests came to identify with the renowned scholar, theorist, award winning and internationally known playwright for his feat.
The occasion commanded a strong attendance of the literati, the two runners up; Jude Idada, Friday John Abba, eminent Nigerians, Academics and students from more than seven secondary schools in the country.
Prof Sam Ukala’s Iredi War it would be recalled, last year, defeated a total of 123 other books to take the trophy. His book was announced the winning entry at a world press conference held last October, at the Eko Hotels and Suites, Lagos.
Out of the 124 entries for the 2014 drama, only 49 met the eligibility criteria. The panel of Judges headed by Prof Charity Angya, pruned the 49 entries to 29 which were further screened to an initial shortlist of 11 plays. The 11 shortlist was later screened to 3; Iredi War by Sam Ukala, Jude Idada’s Oduduwa- King of the Edos and Alekwu Night Dance by Friday John Abba.
Iredi War published by Kraft Books Limited, Ibadan, is based on an aspect of the history of Owa people of Delta State. It is a historical drama based on the 1906 uprising within the Owa Kingdom. Ukala gives a vivid description of the issues relating to this war particularly the battle by the Chief against the colonial forces. The Judges unanimously chose Iredi War as the winning because the “content is serious, the handling is quite mature.”
Ukala has written, performed and directed many stage plays including The Log in Your Eye (UPL, 1986), Break a Boil (Oris, 1992), Odour of Justice (Oris, 1992) and Fumes of Fuel in Rumbling Creeks of the Niger Delta. In 1989, Ukala’s Akpakaland won the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA)/ British Council Prize for Drama. Similarly, Skeletons, his collection of stories, won ANA’s Prose Prize in 2000.
The Nigeria Prize for Literature sponsored by Nigeria LNG Limited rotates yearly around four literary genres: prose fiction, poetry, drama and children’s literature. Its 2015 competition will be for children’s literature.
Receiving the prestigious prize, Prof Ukala who was obviously excited, said, “I whole-heartedly and most gratefully accept the award of The Nigerian Prize For Literature, 2014. I dedicate the award to God Almighty for inspiration, talent and direction and to all writers and critics of Nigerian Literature, especially those who have contributed to making it significant throughout the world. He thanked NLNG for “Offering the biggest literary prize in Africa. I also thank the Advisory Board and Panel of Judges for processing entries with transparent integrity.”
In a rather poetic acceptance speech, Prof. Isidore who emerged as the first winner of the Prize For Literary criticism,worth one million naira, instituted in 2012 to reward literary critics of Nigerian Literature from all over the world, noted that “ By endowing the Literature Prize, NLNG acknowledges one of the oldest functions of criticism: informed evaluation and judgement, discrimination between the mediocre and the great… Thus, the endowment of a specific literary Criticism Prize is the sponsor’s acknowledgement of the complementaries between creation and criticism.”
NLNG Managing Director, Babs Omotowa congratulated Prof Ukala for his feat and for adding value to literature through his writings. He disclosed that inspite of the fall in oil prize, NLNG will remain deeply committed to the Award of $100,000. Omotowa also noted that the Award has stimulated significant number of new writings since it was initiated. He expressed his satisfaction with the standard of production and publishing of the winning book.
“Nigeria LNG is happy to bring