By Anote Ajeluorou
In all respects, it was a book feast for children. And they did not disappoint either as invited guests heeded the advice to bring a child along to be part of the celebration of the six children’s authors, whose works made the longlist of books for this year’s The Nigeria Prize for Literature, a prize generously endowed by Nigeria Liqufied Natural Gas (NLNG) company to the sum of US$100,000
Right from start, it was clear organisers, Committee for Relevant Art (CORA), had made the event children-centred. Performance from Segun Adefila-led Footprints of David (formerly Footprints of Africa) opened the show. The young lads did effortlessly what their elder brothers and sisters in Crown Troupe of Africa had come to be known for in the satirisation of the paradox that Nigeria has come to represent. But their innocence perhaps gave their performance added cadence and an unmatched gloriousness.
Thereafter, CORA Secretary, Toyin Akinosho stated the objective of the gathering and why this year’s event was perhaps the most important amongst the previous two, especially as it focuses on children, who invariably hold the key to the nation’s future. But as is customary with Akinosho, he read an excerpt from Bimbola Adelakun’s explosive novel on Ibadan, Under the Brown Rusted Roofs, perhaps to underscore how wayward children had become in a world desperately in search of values but wrongly thought to be on the path of modernisation. It turned out apt for the session.
He stated, “The Nigeria Prize for Literature this year is focused on children literature. And I make bold to say, early on in the conversation, that this is the most important of all the three book parties we have organised. Children have been a central focus of the book reading awareness that we at CORA have initiated. Our annual Book and Art Festival, which happens every November, is, for a large part, a children affair.
“There are two reasons behind today’s session. For one, the idea for us at CORA is always to expand the membership of the community of culture patrons. And this book party fits in. We have invited you to a light evening of entertainment of a different kind.
“But there is another, more urgent, more crucial reason. It is our notion of extension service for the book industry.
“Everyone knows that we produce remarkably good books in our country. But we also know that we don’t discuss them enough, we are not made aware of them enough. The soft infrastructure of the book reading culture is not aggressively under construction. We at CORA have always felt that books that make it to this level in such a major award system as The Nigeria Literature Prize ought to be known about in every community in the country. We have always maintained that the award is an opportunity for a series of events to really make books look cool; series of book readings and discussions in as many crannies of the country as possible as well as on TV discussions and radio shows. Our ambition is to help that to happen; to extend the star attraction of the award winner beyond the Gala Nite of the award”.
Performance poet and journalist, Akeem Lasisi took the floor and regaled the audience with the measured cadences of his thrilling lyrical offering.
Then six secondary school students of Alakoto Senior High School, Ajegunle, led by Lagos ANA chairman and community development leader, Dagga Tolar, reviewed and had a conversation around the six books. While Bakare Salamiat reviewed Philip Begho’s Auntie Felicia Goes to School, Paul Kolawole Thelma Nwokeji’s Red Nest, Femi Folarin Mai Nasara’s The Missing Clock, Francesca Agbasemo Chinyere Obi-Obasi’s The Great Fall, Judith Nwabia Uche Peter umez’s The Runaway Hero and Abel Afolabi reviewed Ayodele Olofintuade’s Eno’s Story.
After which Deji Toye introduced the six authors and set student intern Korinayo Thompson and publisher, Ayodele Arigbabu, to begin the conversation with the authors. The idea was to mine the minds of the six authors and give the audience firsthand information about themselves and their books. But before they started, six children from CATES Foundation paired up with the six the authors and read excerpt from their works.
There was another round of performance from Footprints of David before children’s writing expert, university teacher, a former winner of the prize and head of jury for this year’s award, Prof. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo, spoke on what it takes to write successfully for children. Former Minister of State for Education and Association of Nigerian Authors’ (ANA) president, Dr. Jerry Agada also lent his voice to the conversation. He was glad ANA was part of the process, and said each of the six nominees was already a winner for having come this far in the contest out of over one hundred entries. He challenged them to be role models for the young ones present in the hall, saying they were already legends in their own rights. He told the children that being an author was a fulfilling experience and charged them to emulate the authors.
There was also heated and lively exchange from two young members of the audience and two authors on some issues their works. A secondary school student took up Olofintuade when she explained that there were no child witches as some children had been accused in some parts of the country to necessitate inhuman treatment meted out to them as it happened to young Eno in her book, Eno’s Story. Olofintuade insisted that only elderly women belonged to witch cults, as children had no knowledge of it.
On the other hand, young Onwordi wondered why Umez allowed the protagonist in The Runaway Hero to remain in an orphanage home even though he had shown remarkable transformation in his character. Although Umez said he might consider a sequel, he, however, asked Miss Onwordi if she would have loved to give the protagonist a home away from the orphanage.
Towards the end, one Mr. Osondu challenged both CORA, the authors and the Nigerian art public to put the works in a digital form so as to wean Nigerian children from the cultural invasion from Disney cartoon films. His argument was that since Nigerians now produced high quality books for children to replace foreign ones, children’s films could also be successfully produced from the books so as to enmesh the minds of Nigerian children in their culture through digital forms for which they have shown addiction.
Thereafter, the authors began the book signing session.