By Prisca Sam-Duru
Soji Cole has been crowned winner of the 2018 edition of the Nigeria Prize for Literature for his drama, ‘Embers’ which was chosen out of 89 entries received. Cole was rewarded with $100,000 award at a grand event held on Friday at the Eko Hotels and Suites, Lagos.
The Advisory Board of the prize headed by Emeritus Professor, Ayo Banjo adjudged ‘Embers’ the winning entry after beating two others; ‘Death and The King’s Grey Hair’ by Denja Abdullahi and ‘The Rally’ by Akanji Nasiru which made the final shortlist of three books out of the long list of 11 released in July 2018.
Prof Ayo Banjo said the three books met the judges’ expectations and uphold the quality and excellence for which the Prize stands.
‘Embers’ by Soji Cole, he said, is a good book of dramatic literature which focuses on life in one of the Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) Camps in Northern Nigeria. The characters gave testimonies of their ugly encounters in Sambisa Forest, as well as their painful discovery of life in the IDP Camp. A member of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Ibadan, Soji Cole teaches undergraduates play writing at the Department of Theatre Arts. The theme is topical and the settling is recognizable by the people.
In ‘Death and The King’s Grey Hair’, Denja Abdullahi, a literary essayist and National President of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), confronts the issue of perpetuation in power, where rulers, like the king in this drama, employ all sorts of devices to cling on to power long after they have overstayed their welcome.
Akanji Nasiru’s ‘The Rally’ addresses the contemporary political theme of youth versus age. Nasiru is a professor of Performing Arts, Bowen University, Iwo, Osun State.
The Nigeria Prize for Literary Criticism Award went to Professor Isidore Diala. He received a prize of one million naira. By this feat, Prof Diala has made history for becoming the only winner that has won twice a prize sponsored by NLNG.
Prior to announcement of the winner for the Nigeria Prize for Literature, drama sketches on the three shortlisted books were presented to the guests.
The chairman of the panel of judges was Matthew Umukoro, a Professor of Theatre Arts at the University of Ibadan. Other members of the panel include Mohammed Inuwa Umar-Buratai, Professor of Theatre and Performing Arts and the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Ahmadu Bello University, (ABU), Zaria; and Ngozi Udengwu, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Theatre and Film Studies at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
The judges expressed their delight at the high standard of writing evident in the entries for the competition this year.
The International Consultant to the Advisory Board for this year’s prize was Jonathan Haynes, Professor of English at Long Island University in Brooklyn. In 2001-2002 he was the founding Director of the West African Center of the Friends World Program (now LIU Global) in Kumasi, Ghana. He taught at the American University in Cairo (Egypt), Tufts University, Albion College, Bennington College, and Columbia University, and spent three years in Nigeria as a Fulbright Lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Ahmadu Bello University, and University of Ibadan.
Other members of the Advisory Board, besides Professor Emeritus Ayo Banjo, were Professor Jerry Agada, former Minister of State for Education; former President of the Association of Nigerian Authors and Professor Emeritus, Ben Elugbe, former President of the Nigerian Academy of Letters and president of the West-African Linguistic Society (2004-2013).
The Nigeria Prize for Literature has since 2004 rewarded eminent writers such as Gabriel Okara (co-winner, 2004, poetry), Professor Ezenwa Ohaeto (co-winner, 2004, poetry) for ‘The Dreamer’, His Vision; Ahmed Yerima (2005, drama) for his play, ‘Hard Ground’; Mabel Segun (co-winner, 2007, children’s literature) for her collection of short plays Reader’s Theatre; Professor Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo (co-winner, 2007, children’s literature) for her book, ‘My Cousin Sammy; Kaine Agary (2008, prose) for her book ‘Yellow Yellow’; Esiaba Irobi (2010, drama) who clinched the prize posthumously with his book ‘Cemetery Road’; Adeleke Adeyemi (2011, children’s literature) with his book ‘The Missing Clock’; Chika Unigwe (2012, prose), with her novel, ‘On Black Sisters Street’; Tade Ipadeola (2013, poetry) with his collection of poems, ‘The Sahara Testaments’, Professor Sam Ukala (2014, drama) with his play, ‘Iredi War’; ‘Seasons of Crimson Blossom’, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim (2016, prose); and The Heresiad, Ikeogu Oke (2017, poetry).
The Nigeria Prize for Literature rotates yearly amongst four literary genres: prose fiction, poetry, drama and children’s literature.