By PRISCA SAM-DURU
For Nigerian writers resident all over the world, April 27 marked the beginning of the race for who becomes the next winner of The Nigeria Prize for Literature, following the submission of the 173 entries received for the 2016 edition of the prize, to the panel of judges. This marks the beginning of another circle of the four-year rotation of the prize among the four literary genres – prose, poetry, drama and children’s literature. This year focuses on prose fiction.
Considered Africa’s most prestigious literary award sponsored by Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas, NLNG, $100,000 will be up for grabs in perhaps the fiercest genre in the prize history.
During a ceremony held at the Protea Hotel, Ikeja, the entries were handed over to the panel of judges by the Chairman of the Advisory Board for literature, Emeritus Professor Ayo Banjo.
Also present were other members of the Advisory Board, Emeritus Prof. Ben Elugbe and Prof Jerry Agada. This years panel of judges is led by Prof. Dan Izevbaye, a professor of English Language, at Bowen University, Iwo. Other members of the panel are Asabe Usman Kabir, Professor of Oral and African literatures at Usman Danfodio University, Sokoto and Isidore Diala, a Professor of African literature at Imo State University, Owerri who is also first winner of the award for literary Criticism. The international Consultant is Professor Kojo Senanu, Professor of English at the University of Legon.
The NLNG’ s Communications and Public Affairs Manager, Mr. Tony Okonedo, said his company has been vindicated in instituting the 12 years old prize to add a measure of excellence to Nigerian life. “Over the last 12 years, we’ve made no mistake in awarding the prize on the basis of excellence, as excellence and integrity have been the watchword for the prize. With the 173 entries received, we have a robust and thorough competition.” He said.
Okonedo commended the Advisory Board for its steadfastness and support, adding, “The board has been a rock of support for the prize.” He also praised the panel of judges for being men and woman of integrity, honour and excellence for helping to extend the frontiers of the written word.
Emeritus Professor Banjo commended the commitment of Nigeria’s foremost gas company, NLNG, to the prize and for blazing the trail that other companies have followed in instituting prizes for literature in country. He re-emphasised the guiding principles of the prize to be excellence, which he said would not be compromised.
The Emeritus Professor pointed out that except for one or two years – 2009 and 2015 – when the prize was not awarded, because of poor entries, the prize has had worthy winners.
Banjo still unhappy with last year’s no-winner verdict on children’s literature category, said, “Children’s literature appears to be the weakest link.”