Mai Nasara (real name is Adeleke Adeyemi), who won the 2011 edition of the $100,000-worth The Nigeria Prize for Literature sponsored by Nigeria LNG Limited, formally received the award at an impressive ceremony on Monday in the presence of eminent Nigerians including Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, elder writer, Dr. Gabriel Okara, Prof. emeritus Ayo Banjo and Shehu Umar and others, and a crowd of students, including renowned academics
THERE was hardly enough room inside the hall of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Victoria Island, Lagos, as academics, literary enthusiasts, students, family and friends of Mai Nasara gathered to cheer their own on as the children’s literature laureate received his $100,000 award for his book, The Missing Clock. He had flown in from his base in the U.S. to be crowned. He made the best out of the occasion by tasking government on the urgent need to rebuild public libraries in communities to make books readily available for young Nigerians.
In accepting his award, Mai Nasara had said, “If I learnt nothing else from this experience, I have learned that hope drives us towards success even beyond our imagination. I dared hope to make the shortlist; I won the prize. Today, I dare to hope again. This time, it is my hope that by the end of this event and long afterwards, the one thing that would mostly be on our minds and lips, would be libraries. Yes, libraries.
“...From my father, and others like Benjamin Franklin, whom I encountered in art and science, I learned that good parents, leaders and role models take special pride in knowledge and do everything to contribute to the education of the young. Unfortunately, Nigerian children today feed their minds on ‘sound and fury, signifying nothing’ as William Shakespeare wrote. But it is not entirely their fault. For some reason, those of us who grew up reading good books and learning from stories in them seem to have conspired to deny the young generation the benefit of that knowledge and more”.
Mai Nasara’s agony over the absence of public libraries to help nourish the minds of young people was profoundly expressed. He said the denial Nigerian school children were under-going over absence of books as a conspiracy of immense proportion, and declared “books do change people… They have been known to change society at large.
“We will never grow a civilised and responsible citizenry without the book. It is not a luxury; it is a lifeline. There will never be justification to banish the book; for only with it can we frustrate the fanatic with fateful folly.
“Ladies and gentlemen, just imagine what a country we will have if children from Anambra to Zamfara, Abakaliki to Zungeru, Akure to Zaria all grow up reading stories of hope, courage, patriotism, responsible citizenship, of our common humanity, written by some of our best authors! It (the country) most certainly won’t be one kept running on barrels of innocent blood spilled hither and thither, every now and then, again and again”.
While lamenting that there was indeed a decline in reading culture in the country, Mai Nasara wasn’t sure if the right books were truly available for children who desire to read.
He countered the argument on the funding that would provide public libraries with the proposition that philanthropists in Africa are equal to the task if only they could redirect their financial energies to the right causes.
He stated, for instance, that Sudanese Mo Ibrahim, whose Prize for Achievement in African Leadership to promote leadership, development and democracy in Africa… “be more visible if Dr. Ibrahim, for instance, redirects his attention and mammoth resources to endowing a network of public libraries, customised to helping our children play catch-up with their peers around the world; give each a head-start”. Mai Nasara, therefore, called on parents and guardians to “prime our children to go questing… to grow up wanting to read, ask questions, and learn. This is the only way we are guaranteed a future as a nation. Many of us dream of a better Nigeria for the future generation and rightly so. What baffles me is the seeming sense of helplessness in the land. And hopelessness, which as the poet Alexander Pope tells us, is contrary to nature.
“Slowly but steadily, Nigeria is fast becoming a place where the state of the mind is ‘anything goes’”.
To change such negative perception, Mai Nasara proposed what he termed “a perfect direction for Nigerians to follow,” adding, “Meet me at the library… But don’t show up without the children! Whether born to you or any for whom you bear a burden: to see him/her metamorphose into a Nigerian… calibrated to my benchmark pre-1987 settings, upgraded to the digital Internet age, of course. On such children alone we must bank to build the Nigeria of our dreams.
“Like a fitting cap, that would be our crowning achievement – and our generation, with its angst and anger, follies and frustrations – would not have been wasted. If truly we want a better Nigeria, it can happen even in our lifetime. But we must start now”.
ON his part, the new managing director of the LNG, Mr. Babs Omotowa restated the firm’s commitment to supporting The Nigerian Prize for Literature as a key component of the company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme. He said there is a need to pay special attention to literature as it “gives credibility to perceptions, feelings, and dreams. It (literature) alone explores the fine texture and full meaning of human existence with all its subtleties and nuances, and either jars us into wakefulness or leads us to insights and rich reflection — and, of course, wisdom. Literature gives us understanding, empathy and capacity to truly feel without grinding to a halt. It humanises us…
“This is precisely why we as a nation should pay attention to literature. We need to read more in order to expand our horizon, broaden our vision, and deepen our hearts. The crushing poverty of a lot of the populace has led to soul-numbing complacence and insensitivity. Perhaps literature will help us remind us of the things that really matter: integrity, love, care, contentment, grace and gratitude. “By sponsoring The Nigerian Prize for Literature, therefore, it is our hope that a lot more Nigerians will take to reading a lot more than they may find the inner strength and the wisdom to cope with life in these tough times”.
Omotowa then paid tribute to the winner, Mai Nasara (Adeleke Adeyemi) and his runners-up — Ayodele Olofintuade Eno’s Story, and Chinyere Obo-Obasi The Great Fall), saying, “in winning the prize, Adeleke joins the fast-growing list of Nigerian laureates, seven writers so far, who have won the prize.
“Winning the prize could not have been easy. Adeleke had to contend with 125 other writers who submitted entries for the competition. In the words of the panel of judges, Mai Nasara is ‘a gifted storyteller’. They describe The Missing Clock as ‘a loveable and credible novel that meets the basic requirements of art for excellence in children’s literature’, and have praised the book for celebrating ingenuity, hard work, creativity and self-reliance, qualities the Nigerian child needs to grow into a well-rounded adult ready to contribute meaningfully to the Nigerian project”.
In a brief remark, Prof. Soyinka commended Mai Nasara for succeeding where he (Soyinka) hadn’t successfully ventured as a writer — writing a book for children.
LATER in his question and answer session with students from about 12 schools drawn from Lagos and Ogun state, Soyinka relived his renowned role as a mentor and teacher of the young. The teen-age students asked about his source of inspiration, how a good book could be written, how he got into writing, how he felt when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986 and many more interesting questions that tickl