The Advisory Board of the Nigeria Prize for Literature and Nigeria LNG Limited (NLNG) on Monday announced Ikeogu Oke as the winner of the 2017 edition of the prize after an intensive process of adjudication.
The Prize is awarded with cash prize of $100, 000.
The announcement was made by the Chairman of the Advisory Board for the prize, Emeritus Professor Ayo Banjo at a press conference in Lagos. Ikeogu Oke’s collection of poems, The Heresiad emerged winner from among 184 entries received for the competition.
According to Professor Ayo Banjo, “Poetry competition for the prize is always very fierce and very interesting. We couldn’t have been more reassured about the process because the panel of judges did a painstakingly thorough job in selecting the best from the final shortlist of three entries.
Also speaking, chairman of the Panel of Judges, Professor Ernest N. Emenyonu said “The seriousness with which the NLNG literary prize is received by the teeming population of writers in Nigeria is a sign that the expectations of writers swing beyond the prize itself to that of portraying their creativity. The prestige, associated with the prize saw the 184 entries of collections of poetry in various sizes and of diverse themes and set the stage for the stiff competition. At the beginning, the initial weeding was carried out following one of the primary criteria; quality and validity of publication year”.
“Oke’s poetry collection reveals a conscious /deliberate manipulation of language and philosophy in the style that reminds us of the writings of great Greek writers of Homeric and Hellenistic periods”, he added.
Reacting to the verdict, the General Manager, External Relations at NLNG, Kudo Eresia-Eke, said “We at NLNG are proud of this additional achievement. National and international interest in both the Prize and process are increasing and this is good for the prize and for Nigeria. We are pleased with the judges’ verdict and Mr Ikeogu Oke has demonstrated that he is a fine poet and Nigerians need to rally around and celebrate him. We must begin to build cultural icons, the likes of Professor Wole Soyinka and Professor Chinua Achebe, and this prize is the leading project doing this right now,” he said.
The number of entries for the 2017 edition exceeded the 2013 numbers in the same category, showing a six percent increase in the number of entries received and increasing interest in one of the biggest literary prizes in the world. This has been the trend since 2005, the first time Poetry was in focus, and for which only 13 entries were received. The next four years would see an exponential growth in the number of entries with 160 entries in 2009, and 174 in 2013.
“We believe that the prize has inspired writers to want to deliberately advance the cause of Literature and win laurels. This has led to the proliferation of books and increased the quality of books. The spiralling effect of this is a direct boost to literacy and education in the country, the foundation of cultural and socio-economic revolution. The impact of the prize is easily discernible and we believe that it supports NLNG’s vision to help build a better Nigeria,” he remarked.
The decision on the winning entry of The Nigeria Prize for Literature was reached by a panel of judges, led by Prof. Ernest Emenyonu, professor of Africana Studies at the University of Michigan-Flint, USA. Other judges are Dr Razinat Mohammed, associate professor of Literature at the University of Maiduguri and Tade Ipadeola, poet, lawyer and winner of The Nigeria Prize for Literature, 2013.
The panel had, through the Advisory Board, released a shortlist of eleven in July 2017 and later, a shortlist of three in September 2016. The three shortlisted entries, in alphabetic order, were A Good Mourning (Ogaga Ifowodo), Songs of myself: Quartet (Tanure Ojaide) and The Heresiad (Ikeogu Oke).
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).
The Nigeria Prize for Literature has since 2004 rewarded eminent writers such as Gabriel Okara (co-winner, 2005, poetry), Professor Ezenwa Ohaeto (co-winner, 2005, poetry); Ahmed Yerima (2006, drama) for his classic, Hard Ground; Mabel Segun (co-winner, 2007, children’s literature) for her collection of short plays Reader’s Theatre; Professor Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo (co-winner, 2007, children’s literature) with her book, My Cousin Sammy; Kaine Agary (2008, prose); Esiaba Irobi (2010, drama) who clinched the prize posthumously with his book Cemetery Road; Adeleke Adeyemi (2011, children’s literature) with his book The Missing Clock; Chika Unigwe (2012 – prose), with her novel, On Black Sister’s Street; Tade Ipadeola (2013; Poetry) with his collection of poems, Sahara Testaments; Sam Ukala (2014;Drama) with Iredi War; and Abubakar Adam Ibrahim (2016, Prose) with Season of Crimson Blossoms.
The Nigeria Prize for Literature rotates yearly amongst four literary genres: prose fiction, poetry, drama and children’s literature.