CELEBRATING TWO LITERARY ICONS
The Nigeria Prize for Literature, in conjunction with Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), recently celebrated the winner of its 2014 Nigeria Prize for Literature, Professor Sam Ukala and the prize for Literary Criticism, Professor Isidore Diala at the public presentation ceremony held at MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos.
For the Literature prize, the drama genre was selected last year and out of the 124 entries received, only 49 met the eligibility criteria namely relevance, originality, form and style; thematic engagement and social commitment; language and aesthetics as well as the quality of the production. In July 2014, 11 plays were shortlisted out of which Sam Ukala’s Iredi War emerged as the winning entry.
On the one hand, it was a special day for Professor Ukala not just because he won the coveted prize. He rejected the offer to serve on the panel of judges for last year’s edition of the prize. Instead, he chose to enter his play for the competition. It was a risk worth taking. Perhaps, Professor Ukala is endowed with a winning streak. Between 1976 and 1978, he won three awards including the British Council Prize for Best-All-Round student of the Department of English, University of Nigeria. In 1989, he won ANA/British Council Prize for Drama with his play, Akpakaland. In 2000, Ukala’s collection of stories, Skeletons, won the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Prose Prize. In that same year, his collection of poems, In My Hermitage, emerged as the First Runner-up, ANA poetry prize.
The winning play, Iredi War, is a historical drama based on the 1906 uprising within the Owa Kingdom. In the drama, Ukala gives a vivid description of the issues relating to this war, particularly the battle by the chief against the colonial forces.
On the other hand, the inaugural winner of the prize for Literary Criticism, Professor Isidore Diala was the fortunate one of the seven shortlisted critics. The criteria for assessing the submissions include authenticity and reputation of journal, intellectual argument, use of language, style and elegance, evidence of academic research and contribution to knowledge. Professor Diala’s article titled, “Colonial Mimicry and Postcolonial Remembering in Isidore Okpewho’s Call Me By My Rightful Name” won the prize. The article, which is published in Journal of Modern Literature, addresses post-colonialism, provides refreshing discourse on the subject and contributes to post-colonial literary criticism.
Diala’s scholarly work has been published in notable journals such as Research in African Literature, African Literature Today, ARIEL, Studies in the Novel, Journal of South African Studies, Contemporary Literature and many others. Many believe that critics never make any work of theirs but Diala is quite an exception. His play, The Pyre, was joint winner at the 1992 ANA Prize for Drama while his first poetry volume, The Lure of Ash, won the 1998 ANA/Cadbury Poetry Prize.
In his acceptance speech, Professor Ukala said that many distinguished Nigerian writers have rejected awards on the basis of principle. With reference to Professor Wole Soyinka’s rejection of the Centenary Award and Chinua Achebe’s rejection of the award of Commander of the Federal Republic, Ukala condemned the unquenchable hunger of the average Nigerian for awards and titles.
“Some organisations even exist for nothing else but to offer awards,” he said. “I have had award offers from many of them some of whom neither knew my correct name nor my address. Nowadays, I hardly read beyond the heading of their letters before shredding them into my waste paper basket. Yet, I get baffled beyond words that the same awards I have disregarded as unnecessary distractions from donation seeking organisations are daily received with gusto by Nigerian Presidents, governors, top government officials, political appointees and even academics of high standing.”
However, he gladly accepted the Nigeria Prize for Literature for its transparent integrity, informed judgment and evaluation.
In his brief remark, the cinematographer, Tunde Kelani, who had been tipped to make a movie out of the winning play, said that not everyone will win the prize for literature unless the organisers choose to extend the prize to the readers. He also called for stakeholders to invest in knowledge generation and promised that Iredi War would be adapted into a movie very soon.
In Professor Diala’s acceptance speech, he commended the organisers on the initiative which is the first of its kind in Nigeria.
“The endowment of a specific Literary Criticism Prize is the sponsor’s acknowledgement of the complementarities between creation and criticism,’’ he noted.