The public presentation of The Nigeria Prize for Literature for 2011 finally took place in Lagos during the week. The winner, Mai Nasara who beat 142 other entries to clinch the 100,000 dollars prize was beside himself with excitement. Edozie Udeze who attended the ceremony reports
It was one of the largest gatherings of literary eggheads in the country: the public presentation of the 2011 winner of the Nigeria Prize for Literature. Mai Nasara Adeleke Adeyemi, whose work, The Missing Clock came tops of the 142 entries that made the long list last year. With Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, as the special guest of honour the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) Lagos, venue of the programme, was agog with the literati in their best mood, cracking jokes and exchanging banter endlessly.
The team from the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG), organizers of the event led by its Managing Director Babs Omotowa ensured that guests were seated early enough for the 10.00a.m programme to take off. With other literary giants like Gabriel Okara, Umoru Shehu, Ayo Banjo, Oye Ibidapo-obe, Jerry Agada, Yakubu Nasidi, Akachi Ezeigbo and others in attendance, the occasion was an apt moment to reflect on the state of Nigerian literature and the values of the prize which has placed literature in Nigeria on a higher realm.
Although Soyinka said he did not believe in prizes or even went out of his way to write to win any, he believes it is nice of the NLNG to institute the prize to encourage writers. In his response to questions by school children, Soyinka stated that one does not necessarily have to wait for inspiration to come. “But you have to move yourself somehow and then something in you or an event may push you to begin to write. I used to go out for a walk in England in those days. I’d sit out in a park in London and one day after I saw the statue of Winston Churchill which I was even tempted to push down, an event that happened in old Oyo many years before flashed in my mind. That was how I began to write” he said.
“So, keep writing. Never say this is a bad or a good script. The most important thing is that you must keep writing, for tomorrow may be your turn. Just take your pen and write. I can even see that these days more females write than males”, he joked, causing the women to clap and giggle,
Mai Nasara, the winner of the prize was so exhilarated to see such a mammoth crowd who turned out to felititate with him. In his speech entitled Meet me at the Library: Getting Nigeria to book a date with development, he recalled how his constant use of the library while at the Federal Government College, Katsina woke him up. To him then, the words of Alexander Hope, an 18th century English poet rammed into his brain.
Hope had written thus: “Hope springs eternal in the human heart”. “It was sheer hope that drove me to enter my first published work for the Nigeria Prize for Literature. If I learnt nothing else from this experience, I have learnt that hope drives us towards success, even beyond our imagination. I dared hope to make the shortlist, I won the prize”, he declared to a uproarious acclaim and thunderous ovation from the gathering.
Mai Nasara whose real is Adeleke Adeyemi studied Geology at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He pledged to use the 100,000 dollars prize money to help humanity and write more works not only for children but for all. The literary prize for last year was for children’s literature and the author has been commended by many for his high sense of creativity and proper usage of the English language.
Welcoming guests to the occasion, Omotowa reiterated the commitment of NLNG to the promotion of both literature and sciences in Nigeria. Even though no one won in the sciences last year, that does not mean that Nigeria does not possess some of the best scientists in the world.
“This is part of our corporate social responsibility… By initiating the prize for literature, we hope to improve the quantity of writing, editing, proofreading and publishing in the country with spill over effects on newspapers, magazines and broadcasting. Therefore, this is certainly a way of promoting writing, literacy and good reading culture among Nigerians”, he posited.
Chairman of the occasion, Professor Ayo Banjo in his remarks said that “the literature prize has been run on a four-year cycle in which, within each cycle, a different genre of literature is focused upon in the chronological order: fiction, poetry, drama and children’s literature. He however reminded the audience that the era of using gala nights to present the prize is over. “It is to synchronize this with that of the science where the award recipient is able to address an invited audience.”
The two runners – up are Ayodele Olafinatuade for his work Eno’s story and Great Chinyere Obi-obasi for The Giant Fall both of whom were equally present at the occasion.
The event was anchored by the Editor of Guardian on Sunday, Jahman Anikulapo who jokingly asked if the prize will still be increased to 150,000 dollars this year. “I have already started writing my own script”, he said.