NLNG’s Corporate Affairs Manager Mr Andy Odeh said the collaboration with CORA was aimed at helping to build a better Nigeria.
They sat on the stage at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos, full of mirth and expectations. None was spooked. It was their chance to hog the limelight. Of the dozens that entered for this year’s Nigeria Prize for Literature, sponsored by Nigeria LNG, their plays were considered the most spectacular to make the longlist of 11 for the $100,000 prize.
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Only Obari Gomba, the author of Guerilla Post, and Jude Idada, the author of Sankara, couldn’t make it to the event last Saturday. The rest were present at the Book Party organised by CORA (Committee for Relevant Arts), in collaboration with NLNG. While Gomba’s presence was caused by the Lagos traffic, Idada was faraway in Canada, where he was residing.
For the first time in the history of the 14-year prize, a royal father made the cut. On the stage, Eze Chidubem Iweka III, the Igwe of Obosi, Anambra State, the author of August Inmates, riveted attention with his sartorial elegance and feathered cap. But the longlist is dominated by playwrights from the academia.
The headliners included Professor Akanji Nasiru, a foundation staff of the drama at the Ahmadu Bello University, Jos; Obari Gomba from the University of Port Harcourt; Diran Ademiju-Bepo, an associate professor of drama, theatre and film studies at the University of Jos, and author of No More the Hawk.
Others were Soji Cole from the Department of Theatre Arts, University of Ibadan, and author of Embers; Dul Johnson from the University of Jos, author of Melancholia; Bosede Ademilua-Afolayan of the Department of English, University of Lagos, author of Once Upon and Elephant; and Peter Emoko of the Department of English, Delta State College of Physical Education, Mosoger, and author of Majestic Revolt.
Mallam Denja Abdulahi, the current ANA President, is one of the biggest names on the longlist this year. The author of the critically acclaimed Death and the King’s Grey Hair is coming from the arts and culture sector. Dickson Ekhaguere, a playwright and a singer, is the author of Unstable.
Greg Mbajiorgu of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka set the tone for what promised to be an exciting day with a retouch of Doris Day’s classic “Whatever Will be, Will Be”. The chorus of Oh Sarah, Sarah accompanying the Mbajiorgu remix sent the audience and the longlisted writers singing along.
The ante of the entertainment was upped by a traditional drumming by a dance troupe before Jahman Anikulapo, the president of CORA welcomed the gathering to the annual programme. His opening remarks were followed by a statement by Toyin Akinosho, Secretary General of CORA, who reiterated that CORA saw the event as an opportunity for the creation of an entire economy around the book trade, which informed the initiation of the book party.
He declared, “The book party is a way of ensuring that there’s a robust audience engagement with the books that have been longlisted for this award; a drama piece that makes it to the last 11 out of 83 entries is worthy of celebration.”
His speech was preceded by that of the NLNG’s Corporate Affairs Manager, Mr Andy Odeh, who said the collaboration with CORA was aimed at helping to build a better Nigeria. He added that the company was also engaged in scholarships and other plans activities as part of its social responsibility.
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Renowned Nollywood actors, including Nobert Young, Mimbo Manuel, Segun Osunaike, Tina Mba, among others, performed skits of each play on the longlist, offering the audience a peep into the works of the playwrights.
The moderator of the interactive session, Deji Toye, engaged the writers on their works and the pervading social themes. In response, Chidubem Iweka, the author of Prison Inmates, said “Writers are meant to correct socially and morally. We writers are like prophets. So, it is not surprising that we are talking about the same thing. In the society today, there are corruption, power tussles, and the like. We are entangled each and every one of us. So, we are trying to correct morally.”
Speaking in the same vein, Denja Abdullahi, author of the Death and the King’s Grey Hair, said: “A play is about performance, and when you talk about drama as a genre, it is about conflicts, and you find conflicts everywhere, especially in the struggle for position. We can’t forget about the issue for the struggle for power.”
For Dul Johnson, “Writers, as the move, are consciously, internally and externally, responding to things around them. There have been too many bad policies around us.”
No doubt, the playwrights on the longlist have a rich writing pedigree, and choosing a shortlist of three could be an uphill task for the judges in the weeks to come.