Children’s literature receives boost in 2019 NLNG’s prize

Professor Jerry Agada, Advisory Board member of NLNG-sponsored The Nigeria Prize for Literature; Professor Emeritus Ayo Banjo, Chair, Advisory Board; Andy Odeh, NLNG’s Corporate Communication and Public Affairs Manager; Professor Obododinma Oha, Chair, Panel of Judges and Professor Asabe Usman Kabir , a judge, during the handover of 173 entries for 2019 prize cycle to the judges.

One hundred and seventy-three (173) entries have been submitted this year to the Nigeria Prize for Literature sponsored by Nigeria LNG Limited (NLNG). This year’s prize focuses on Children’s Literature.

The number of entries shows a 59 per cent increase as compared to number of entries received in 2015, when the genre was last up for competition.

The company also received 10 entries for the Literary Criticism Prize. The Literature prize, which is now in its 15th year, has a cash prize of $100, 000 while the Literary Criticism Prize has a prize money of N1 million.

The number of entries was announced on Thursday in Lagos during the handover of the entries to the Advisory Board of the prize, signifying the beginning of the judging process, which will culminate in the announcement of the winner.

While handing over the entries to the Advisory Board, chaired by Professor Emeritus Ayo Banjo, NLNG’s Manager, Corporate Communications and Public Affairs, Andy Odeh, said, “as we deliver these 173 books for your vetting, we eagerly look forward to the discovery of yet another literary gem that will open up possibilities for millions of children not only in Nigeria, but all over the Africa.

“We can confidently say that the Nigeria Prize for Literature has brought some previously unknown Nigerian writers to public attention. Our generation and those after us are becoming familiar with not just legends like Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Gabriel Okara, Elechi Amadi, and Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo, Mabel Segun and other writers of longstanding acclaim that, perhaps, some of us had opportunity of reading as children, but also a new cadre of writers like Kaine Agary, Adeleke Adeyemi, Tade Ipadeola, Ikeogu Oke, Soji Cole and others.”

During the handover, Chairman of the Advisory Board, Professor Ayo Banjo recalled it was exactly 15 years after the first handover event was held. He stated that at the start of this year’s cycle, the board was a bit jittery over the prize not being awarded in 2015 and writers being discouraged to send in their entries.

“When the call for entries was made, entries trickled in at the beginning but toward the deadline, it picked up and crossed the 100 mark. Professor Banjo said further that the board is hopeful that the numeric strength of the entries will be matched by strength in quality of the submissions,” he added.

He commended NLNG for having the vision to create the literature prize and The Nigeria Prize for Science, saying, “the prizes have raised the creativity in the country, whether you are writing poetry or trying to solve the problem of electricity in the country.”

He remarked further that NLNG has done its share of work in promoting innovation and creativity in the society, adding that “the company is contributing to the emergence of original thinkers and highly creative people in the society. It has managed to do that in the space of 15 years.”

The entries, which came in response to a call for entries published in the national media in February 2018, will be examined on their merits of excellence in language, creativity and book quality.

The entries were immediately handed over to the panel of judges led by Professor Obododinma Oha. Professor Oha is a professor of Cultural Semiotics and Stylistics in the Department of English, University of Ibadan with great interest in technology and language. He currently teaches in the Department of English and Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, now a unit of the Institute for Peace and Strategic Studies, where he teaches Disaster Semiotics.

While receiving the entries, Professor Oha said, “we have been saddled with a big responsibility and we will discharge our assignment credibly.”

Other members of the panel include Professor Asabe Usman Kabir and Dr. Patrick Okolo. Professor Kabir is a professor of Oral and African Literature at Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto. Dr. Oloko, a Senior lecturer at the University of Lagos Nigeria, specialises in African postcolonial literature, gender and cultural studies.

A highly technical genre, many had envisaged that entries would be low this year. Unlike what happens abroad, there is no, if there are, they are very, universities, where children’s writing is specifically being studied. This is enough cause for alarm in itself. It is what largely accounted for the poor representation of children’s writing in the country, where it is an all-comers affair.

The perennial manifestation of the poor output of the genre was what led to the prize not being awarded in 2015. The result of that poor outing was the workshop on Children’s Literature that the Advisory Board for The Nigeria Prize for Literature organised for would-be writers of the genre from which a seminal book was published. In fact, the organisers had to fly in two world acclaimed experts of the gene from universities in the United Kingdom (University of Manchester), alongside local experts to hold the workshop.

The winners of the Literature and Literary Criticism prizes will be announced at an award ceremony in October 2019, to commemorate the anniversary of the first LNG export from the NLNG’s Plant on October 9, 1999.

Members of the Advisory Board for the Literature Prize, besides Professor Banjo, two-time Vice-Chancellor of Nigeria’s premier university, University of Ibadan, are Prof. Jerry Agada, former Minister of State for Education, former President of the Association of Nigerian Authors, and Professor Emeritus Ben Elugbe, former President of the Nigerian Academy of Letters and president of the West-African Linguistic Society (2004-2013).

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