Since the inception of the Nigeria Prize for Literature in 2004, three playwrights have won the glamourous prize: Prof Ahmed Yerima, in 2006, with Hard Ground, Prof Eziaba Irobi, posthumously, in 2010, with Cemetry Road; and Prof Sam Ukala, in 2014, with Iredi War. There is a chance of crowning another playwright this year as the winner of the 100,000 dollar prize only if the best of Nigerian playwrights take the bull by the horn.
Of the four genres of literature in which the prize is awarded every circle of four years –prose fiction, drama, poetry, and children’s literature –drama seems to be the most underappreciated in the country at the moment. Unlike other genres of literature in which the basic things a good author requires to excel is writing and publishing his book, it is not the same for playwrights.
For drama, the play has to be enacted on stage before its impact is felt by the audience. This isn’t a dog breakfast by any means. Staging a play requires a cast, directors, costumiers and a stage, which have financial implications. Even when the playwright manages to scale through these hurdles, he still has something to contend with: the audience. Will the audience come to watch his performance? If there is no audience or limited audience, it is as good as not staging the play in the first place, for, the more the crowd, the merrier. Live plays tug at our hearts, and catharsis comes to play once the curtains are drawn. If you are a renowned playwright, there is a tendency that the audience will be bursting at the seams. If you aren’t one yet, miracles still happen in the thespian world, especially if a performance is a top draw, no matter the playwright.
Whether you are a veteran Nigerian playwright or an emergent voice on the fringe of literary stardom, the Nigerian Prize for Literature doesn’t discriminate; it throws its doors open for all comers. The fact that the previous editions of the drama prize have been won by professors is a compelling reason for up-and-coming writers to do their best and throw their hats into the ring.
On February 13, a call for entries for the 2018 Nigeria Prize for Literature was made by Nigeria LNG, sponsors of the prize. By March 29, it will be all over for potential entrants. Being on the longlist or shortlist of the coveted prize, as time has shown, is an open sesame to hog the limelight, which increases the acceptance of the writer to the public and improving his chances of getting better deals.
Indubitably, the winner of the 2018 Nigerian Prize for Literature will not only go home with a handsome reward, but will also be exposed extensively. The latter is even more important to the playwright, especially if he is not yet there on the apex of the literary totem pole. It means, too, that, with or without external funding for his future performances, he can still bring his make-believe world closer to eager eyes and elicit many ohs! and hurrahs!
The submission procedure for this year’s prize stipulates that 10 copies of the entry should be submitted. No book published before January, 2014 will be accepted, and manuscripts are not accepted either. Entrants are expected to submit alongside the book, full contact information, to Nigeria LNG Limited’s External Relations Division.
NLNG has warned that no entry entered previously should be reentered, even if major revisions have been made on the one published earlier. Entrants are also expected not to enter more than one book for the competition to avoid disqualification.
The panel of judges for this year’s prize, constituted to reflect the focus of this year’s genre, includes Professors Mathew Umukoro (chair) and Mohammed Inuwa Buratai, as well as Dr. Ngozi Udengwu (both members). An international consultant, informed NLNG, would be appointed soon, in the tradition of the prize.
While the deadline for the entries has been fixed for March 29, 2018, the winner of the prize will be announced in October this year. The Advisory Board has a memb ership that include Professor Emeritus Ayo Banjo as the chair, and Professors Jerry Agada and Professor Emeritus Ben Elugbe as members.
Speaking to newsmen on Wednesday, March 14, in Lagos, the Corporate Communications and Public Affairs Manager of NLNG, Tony Okonedo, said 2017 was a watershed for NLNG, for winners emerged for both the Literature Prize and the Science Prize, unlike in the past when no winners emerged for the Science Prize.
He was particularly excited that the winner of the 2017 Literature Prize, Ikeogu Oke, while announcing that a nationwide reading, starting on Sunday, March 25, 2018, at the Ethnic Heritage Centre, Ikoyi-Lagos, had been fixed in his honour. “For somebody with that depth and ability, we have to give him all the support,” he said, adding that “we must build on the success of the 2017 prize.”
Nigeria Prize for Literature honours erudition by Nigerian authors. With the prize money of 100,000 dollars, it is the biggest literary award in Africa and one of the richest literary awards in the world. It is presented by the Nigerian Academy of Letters with an Advisory Board constituted from the Nigerian Academy of Letters itself and the Association of Nigerian Authors. The prize was first awarded in 2005 to Gabriel Okara and late Ezenwa Ohaeto as joint winners in the poetry category.
In a related development, the window for the Science Prize opened on February 15, 2018 and will close on May 25, 2018. The Science Prize is focused on Innovations in Electric Power Solutions. Both prizes are some of Nigeria LNG Limited’s numerous contributions towards building a better Nigeria.