Monday, September 03, 2007


NLNG Literature Prize to don new face
By Armsfree Ajanaku
(Culled from The Guardian September 3, 2007)
AS the Nigerian Literature and Science Prize committees announce their shortlist today, the Nigerian literati sat in the posh hall of the Oceanview, in Lagos, last Wednesday, to review the Nigerian Literature Prize. It was one of those numerous interventions from the Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA). The stakeholders workshop, as the event was designated, was aimed at examining the impacts and where possible to make far reaching recommendations on changes and other interventions towards the future of the prize.
The Nigerian Literature Prize has been in existence for four years. For the literati as well as others directly concerned with the state of the written word in Nigeria, it was time to do some stock-taking.
The event also threw some light into the shape of the prize will take in future. Mr. Ifeanyi Mbanefo, NLNG Head of Communication, sponsors of the prize, revealed that the "next step may be setting up of an endowment to run the prize in perpetuity". To do this, he listed the conditions, which would be critical to the success of the initiative. They include; adequate resourcing, both human and financial, and the management of the funds in such a "way as to safeguard the economic base and guarantee the independence of the judges and prize Committee.
He stressed the need to engage reputable local and foreign blue chip fund management companies with field-tested investment approach to handle the projected endowment.
Just as the workshop was coming to a close, Ropo Ewenla, a playwright and actor, raised the tension when he questioned the choice of Ibrahim Babangida as keynote speaker in the next award ceremony billed for October.
"What does a man who ensured that Nigerian children never went to school have to say about children's literature?" he queried. He got his reply from Mbanefo, who seemed to have come prepared. A writer, he asserted, should be the last person to insist on fiat. For him, dialogue should be the writer's weapon and not fiat. The arguments were by no means over, they continued with participants engaging themselves, after the workshop ended.
Toyin Akinosho, Secretary-General of CORA had set the ball rolling when he surmised that if the gas company "decide to stop the award today, it could jolly well say, well, we've made an impact in these years." But for many of the stakeholders present, an abrupt end to a prize, which has grown to become the biggest on the African continent, was not on the wish list. Rather, there was a pervading feeling - as it could be seen from the body language of those present - that despite the problems encountered in the administration of the prize, it merely required a comprehensive review in order to correct certain flaws that had been observed.
Akinosho captured this feeling thus: "CORA asks for the NLNG prize to be continued. The robust conversation that has grown around the prize has highlighted the challenges of the infrastructure of the book trade.
"The intensity of the debate has been such that NLNG staff might wonder "why have we gotten ourselves into this?" This was an allusion to the series of controversies, which has trailed the prize, including its designation as the Nigeria Literature Prize, and the contentious decision that essentially excluded writers in the diaspora.
For Ifeanyi Mbanefo, the NLNG Head of Communications and PR, the workshop presented an opportunity for some sort of appraisal. He harped on the fact that the whole idea of the Literature prize was born out of the corporate body's drive to encourage excellence in Nigerian Literature as well as in Science. Mbanefo, himself a literary enthusiast and journalist, contended that for this goal to come to be achieved, there was a need for a more productive synergy between the writers community and the corporate world. Consequently, he emphasised on the need for the business angle in the prize administration to be given a premium place. This would mean that writers and other stakeholders would not have the luxury of insisting on having things done their way.
"Writers, scientists, artistes, thinkers -- much like the rest of us -- bristle at being told what to do by people who supposedly didn't know better than they. This is why corporate organisations, not wishing to incur their wrath, often make token gestures to them. But unlike these corporate bodies, NLNG decided that it was not enough to give money and then head off to choice seats in theatres and galleries. The company sticks around to make sure that its money goes to where it needs to go and does what it needs to do".
For him, it is imperative that the literary community operate an open and all embracing system, which would make the evolution of a productive relationship with other professionals possible.
Mbanefo dwelt on how crucial economics was to the administration of a prize. This, he said cannot be wished away by writers, who want to carry on as if other professionals do not have a place in the business of literature. The Nigeria Prize for Literature, he noted, was intended as a public trust. And for its objectives to be met, Mbanefo counselled that "it must avoid the current trend of 'living off its capital' by both the people in The Arts and philanthropic organisations".
On some of the problems encountered so far, especially the controversies, the NLNG Head of Communications ascribed them to the nature of Nigeria as a "logic free zone". By that phrase, he was essentially alluding to the tendency among Nigerians to want to take a swipe at things, even when there are no reasons to do so.
Mbanefo also addressed the controversial issue of the nomenclature given to the prize. He asserted that it was named the Nigeria Literature Prize because of the need to allow space for other corporate bodies to be a part of it whenever they so desired. This allowance, he went on, would be non existent were the prize to be named after the gas company.
Wale Okediran, the President of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) concurred with Mbanefo on the issue of the prize's name. In his presentation, the ANA helmsman contended there was nothing wrong about the name. He argued that: "before a company or name is registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission, there are certain procedures that must be closely followed. One is the placement of a notice of intention in two national newspapers for a certain period of time in order to allow any criticism against such a move. It is also expected that the names of the Board of Directors and any other officials of the proposed prize body should be listed. Once this is done as I expected it must have been done by the NLNG and no opposition was raised against the registration exercise, then the gas company can be said to have followed due process in registering the prize. Not being an act of parliament, registration of names of companies and organisations is not expected to involve anything more than the aforementioned".
It would be recalled that poet and former President of ANA, Odia Ofeimun had in a 2004 article criticised the registration of the prize as the Nigeria Literature Prize, a decision he described as "selling national patrimony for a mess of pottage". Ofeimun had contended that "Even if we are now in the age of liberalisation, privatisation and deregulation, our identities have not yet been so privatised, liberalised and deregulated to the point where we must celebrate a private company's right to use the state apparatus outside the dictates of market forces to over-ride the capacity of other companies to compete with it."
The debate continued at the workshop and it was moderated by Deji Toye. One of the panellists, Dr. Wunmi Raji, writer and teacher at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, raised the stakes when he described Okediran's position on the name as "very disappointing". He pointedly dismissed the argument of the gas company, that it decided a Nigeria Literature Prize to allow space for other corporate bodies to come in, while noting that internationally, prizes stilled remained viable and prestigious regardless of what they are called. Another discussant was derisive when she asked: "how come we don't have a prize called the England Literature Prize?"
Beyond the arguments and counter arguments over the name, however, the panel of discussants deliberated on other issues like; the need for the prize to have a well defined identity (the usual upcoming versus established writers debate), the importance of structuring it properly, and the inevitability of severing it from the NLNG so that it could operate independently. Raji was of the view that beyond the prize money, there was need for the prize to make a greater impact on the careers of winning writers. The integrity of a literary prizes, he surmised, depends very much on the direction it steers the careers of the winners.
On the question of the integrity of the prize, the panellists were unanimous on the need for the names of judges for the competition to be made public. Chike Ofili, one of the panellists caused a stir when he suggested that judges for the competition be chosen from other Africans countries. For him, this would make it impossible for ethnic and other primordial sentiments to influence them. This was rejected by some other contributors.
How about Nigerian writers in the diaspora? Should they be part of the prize. Mobolaji Adenubi thinks the logic canvassed by the administrators of the prize, especially dotting on the wide disparity in publishing opportunities between writers at home and abroad, was tenable. She expressed the 'fears' of many who believe that allowing entries from writers based abroad would mean those based in Nigeria might never win the prize anymore because, "they have opportunity of incentive that held better editing and packaging on the other hand, however, she said allowing writers in Diaspora could help encourage those at home to aim at better quality.
To justify the exclusion of writers based abroad, a discussant reminded that even prizes in other countries "have their specific targets."
It was equally time for counting of the blessings from the prize. All present agreed that the prize has stimulated a lot of activities in the literary scene. As Ofili put it, the competition has helped to continually remind writers of their duty to their societies. The suggestions on how to make things better for the prize were manifold. They ranged from promotional activities for writers to rewarding other professionals in the book industry, like editors and library owners.


Article by:
By Yemi Adebisi,Correspondent, Lagos

(Culled from Daily Independent, Sept 3, 2007

The Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA) and Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) held a workshop for stakeholders in the art sector for a review of the Nigeria Prize for Literature on Wednesday, August 29, at Ocean View Restaurant, Victoria Island, Lagos.
It was organised to assess the impact of the literary prize on the sector. Guest speakers at the event included Mr. Mbanefo, who represented the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG), and President of ANA, Dr. Wale Okediran.
The panel included Dr. Wumi Raji (poet, literary critic), Toni Kan (writer, literary enthusiast), Chike Ofili (poet), and Nike Adesuyi (poet, fiction writer). Others include Folu Agoi (poet, chairman ANA Lagos), Ropo Ewenla (actor, poet, literary enthusiast), and Grace Daniel, chairperson, Women Writers Association (WRITA).
According to CORA Chairman, Jahman Anikulapo, the aim of the gathering was to review the prize by examinining its impact and where possible, make recommendations on changes and agree on the way forward.
When the NLNG announced its preparedness to bankroll the award for Literature and Science in 2004, a lot of people wondered what the awards had to do with gas.
According to Toyin Akinosho, secretary general of CORA, NLNG maintained vehemently that the award was about recognising excellence in the intellectual sphere.
In his paper presentation, Akinosho reminded guests that Kingsley Abhulimen of the University of Lagos and his doctoral degree project supervisor, Professor Alfred Akpoveta Susu, won the first edition of the science award. The work was on "Real Time Computer Assisted Leak Detection/ Location Reporting and Inventory Loss Monitoring System." It was all about a thesis on leak detection in a network of pipelines carrying fluids. This in essence derived a criterion for detecting leaks in any network of pipelines transporting gas or liquid, storage tanks or processing systems and transport of blood in human arterial network.
However, last year’s edition went to a drama piece that interrogated the militia question in an average family in the Niger Delta. Director-General, National Theatre, Ahmed Yerima, carted away the prize with his Hard Ground. His drama presentation, according to Akinosho, suggested that in every household in Ijawland, Itsekiri, Urhobo, Andoni, Ogoni and Ibibio, there was raging debate on the quality of governance in Nigeria.
He submitted that in just three years, the NLNG award had thrown up significant ideas in both the science of monitoring fluid flow as well as the humanist aspect of engaging the rampaging militancy in the region. He reiterated that apart from these, CORA maintains that the NLNG award has helped reshape the award system in Nigerian literature. CORA therefore, solicited for continuity of the award.
"CORA would want to assert that since the NLNG has the means, it doesn’t take much to see that the ideas these awards throw up are made to seep through as much of the body of the Nigerian society as possible," said Akinosho.
However, to the post-award event, CORA proposed a fortnight session of readings country-wide and book signings and television appearances and newspaper interviews as well as most importantly workshops with students at some selected secondary and tertiary institutions. This in turn would make an award-winning book a must buy, not just for the literati, but for a wider section of the public. Apart from this, it would help build capacity and grow the audience for literature.
President of ANA, Dr. Wale Okediran, revealed that the NLNG believed that the literature prize would improve the quality of writing, editing, proof reading and publishing in the country with spillover effects in newspapers, magazines and broadcasting. According to him, the company believed that promoting writers was a way of promoting writing, literacy and good reading culture among Nigerians. Quoting the NLNG General Manager at the establishment of the award in February 2004, Siene Allwell-Brown declared the vision of the NLNG thus: "Our vision is to ensure that no scientist or writer is viewed with scorn and that those who aim at excellence in these fields would live and work in dignity, with a sense of self-esteem and confidence in their future."
Then the managing director of NLNG was quoted, giving reasons for the award: "The aim of promoting the Nigeria Prize for Literature is to stimulate authorship and scientific thinking, reward creativity and bring Nigerian writers to public attention." Okediran observed that no other literary activity has created much excitement, controversy and discourse than literary prizes. "While some teachers of creative writing would quickly remind their students that a literary prize should not be the reason for any writer to write, it is obvious that winning a literary prize had always been many writers desire. He added, however, that, "apart from the financial support such prizes usually give to their winners, literature is always enriched by the keen competition of literary competitions."
Recently, there have been several contentious issues about the Nigeria Prize for Literature. Guest speakers presented their views about the development so as to pave way for continuity.
One of such contention was the name of the prize. Initially, the name was NLNG Literature Prize, but was later proposed to be registered as the Nigerian Prize for Literature. Two former ANA presidents, Professor Femi Osofisan and Professor Olu Obafemi, agreed with the change of name, while Odia Ofeimun, another former ANA president, disagreed. Ofeimun referred to the decision to register the prize as Nigerian Prize for Literature as "selling national patrimony for a mess of pottage". He said, "Even if we are all now in the age of liberalisation, privatisation and deregulation, our identities have not yet been so privatised, liberalised and deregulated to the point where we must celebrate a private company’s right to use the state’s apparatus outside the dictates of market forces to over-ride the capacity of other companies to compete with it."
In essence, Ofeimun emphasised that his belief that any organisation that excelled in the promotion of a country’s literary prize could be chosen by that country as its prime definer of that country’s interest. He insisted that all literary stakeholders needed to be carried along before the legislation. Okediran, who disagreed with this assertion, stated that since members of the advisory council on the prize represented to a fairly good margin, a cross section of the literary sector in the country, "one cannot accuse the gas company of having not consulted the very important sector of the Nigerian public." Okediran added that before a company or name is registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission in Abuja, there are certain procedures that must be closely followed, which include placement of notice of intention in two national newspapers for a period of time in order to allow any criticism against such move. He declared that since such conditions had been satisfied and there was no opposition, the gas company had fulfilled all required process of registering the prize. He queried why the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), was not challenged for using the name of the country as its name.

Okediran also supported the limitation of contestants to Nigeria-based writers. He argued that all over the world, literary prizes are instituted and administered for specific groups; therefore the NLNG cannot be faulted for adopting its present stance of limiting the contestants to Nigeria-based writers.

He stated that the Orange Prize for fiction is awarded for a full length novel in English by a woman of any nationality. Then Olaudah Equino Prize was inaugurated in the U.S. for Nigerian writers based in the U.S.

He, however, faulted the aborted reading tour, noting that at inception of the award in 2004 13 writers were taken on a reading tour of the country, which, according to him, enabled members of the public to become more interested in literature apart from the publicity of the award. The discontinuity of the tour, according to Okediran, has killed the morale of most writers. He also solicited for endowment of the prize. "Having gone so far in running what has come to become one of the most successful literature prizes in the country, it would be advisable for the NLNG to put aside enough funds as a form of endowment for continuation of the prize," Okediran said, adding that apart from generating additional funds to run the prize over the years, it would also insulate it from the vagaries of company managements, which may not be very interested in continuing with the exercise.

He concluded that NLNG has transformed the lean fortunes of Nigerian literature just like an oasis in the Nigerian literary desert. He hoped the NLNG and other stakeholders in the writing profession would bring to the attention of government and other industrialists the urgent need to make the publishing industry viable and procreative writers.

It was rumoured at the gathering that Ibrahim Babangida would be presenting the award this year. Ropo Ewenla, one of the speakers, told the NLNG to think about the integrity of this past president and his relevance to literature. "If it is true that IBB will present this year’s award, the NLNG should rather take caution. This is a man that never wanted an average Nigerian child to go to school."

The representative of NLNG, Mr. Mbanefo, allayed the fear this might have in the mind of writers. He stated that all past presidents are going to be there, and that the choice of Babangida was non-political and does not change the award or influence the choice of the winner.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Nigeria Literature prize is one of the best thing to have ever happened to our literary culture.As a young writer it has been a great stimulant to my writing career.It has urged me on to excellence in creativity and i am sure that i will win this prize in the nearest the grace of God...Enjoy..CYRIL. O.I