By Anote Ajeluorou
A week ago at The Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos, the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa, a Pan-African award for writers on the continent, went to South African journalist, Sifiso Mzobe for his first novel, Young Blood. The large Banquet Hall was filled to capacity, with such distinguished audience as two sitting governors, Babatunde Fashola and Ibikunle Amosun of Lagos and Ogun States respectively, a former governor, Donald Duke of Cross Rivers State and the former President of Ghana, John Kufour. The award night also played host to eminent personalities in the Lagos business and financial industries.
For The Lumina Foundation, organisers of the prize, managed by award-winning author, painter and philanthropist, Dr. Ogochukwu Promise, and chairman of her board, Mrs. Francesca Emanuel, nothing could be more fulfilling than gathering Lagos business and financial communities under one roof to talk and celebrate art and literature. Indeed, it is the way it should be; it is the way it is in other climes where the humanizing values of art and culture are appreciated. It is a culture that needs to grow in this clime as well as there are abundant human resources in working in the art and culture sector, with literature blazing a significant trail.
The coming on board of telecommunication giant Globacom Nigeria Ltd as major sponsor enjoyed praise from dignitaries, even from Africa’s first Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka. But it was just Globacom, other corporate bodies had support The Lumina Foundation since its started the prize over sic years ago. According to Dr. Promise, “The Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa has been sponsored by some of Africa’s best brands. Not only does this give us a solid platform to advance the cause of African literature, but also offers us a brilliant showcase of African corporate success and social engagement.
“Among such brands is Globacom, led by its chairman, Mr. Michael Adenuga, Jr. (CON). In endorsing this prize, Mr. Adenuga expressed the hope that it would be the inspiration for many more recognised and acknowledged Africans in the tradition of Wole Soyinka, a man he much admires. In partnering with us, Globacom has matched our enthusiasm with uncommon zeal, bringing with them their business expertise and their commitment to excellence, celebrating Africa in its diversity and promoting the nurturing of talent and artistic grace.
“I have personally enjoyed working with the Globacom team, particularly for their indomitable spirit and dedication to the task at hand. For recognizing the importance of this project in building great minds, for readily agreeing to be a part of it as our major sponsor, for giving us immense support both financially and otherwise, we thank Globacom most sincerely”.
But there are other corporate organisations that have played supportive roles since the Wole SoyinkaPrize for Literature in Africa came into being. Dr. Promise took time to acknowledge them, as should fittingly be, when she said, “We are grateful also to Macmillan Nigerian Publishers. When we began this prize in 2006, when all we had was ‘The Dream’, they trusted our ability to attain our expressed goals. They donated the prize trophy to cater for six editions of this prize.
“South African Petroleum Limited (SAPETRO) has proved to be a safe harbor in often stormy weather: They graciously donated the prize money for five editions of the award, an endowment which has immensely eased our anxieties in this regard. But for their encouragement and inspiration as we forge ahead with the business of providing constructive support for flourishing African creativity.
“We thank also Zenith Bank Plc. Our gratitude is also deeply expressed to Ecobank Plc and Ecobank Foundation, both of whom have been faithful companions from the first day of this journey. They helped us start our Mobile Library scheme by donating the bus that houses the library. They have also sponsored Phone-In TV reading programmes for the Wole Soyinka Reading Clubs, thus sustaining an enhancement of a reading culture”.
Other companies worth mentioning include First Bank Nigeria Plc, Fidelity Bank Plc, Tanus Communications Limited, Oracle Books Limited and Bookcraft Limited.
Also, chairman of The Lumina Foundation Board of Trustees, Mrs. Emanuel played up the political card that is often missing in art and culture event with the usual absence of political personages. At this event, two serving governors were in attendance including an African former head of state, Kufour of Ghana. Emauel said, “I want to express our gratitude to former President John Agyekum Kufour of Ghana, who kindly agreed to chair this occasion; I say to you ‘AKWAABA!’
“We are honored also to have as host the Executive Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, a governor whose stewardship is a source of great pride to Lagosians: ‘Eko O Ni Baje O!’. We are also pleased to receive as our guest Of honor Senator Ibikunle Amosun, the Governor of Ogun State, the state of origin of our Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka. I must express our sincere gratitude to them all for finding the time in their undoubtedly busy schedules to participate in our event. I venture to say that their literary passion may have played a deciding factor in this regard”.
Indeed, it is time the literary passion of their Excellencies became inflamed to such an extent that they begin to do what is right to the arts through generous support by way of endowments and sponsorship to stimulate the self-supporting self-starting culture sector of the economy!
With Dr. Promise already angling to have a writers’ residency programme and café to cater for the interest of writers, it is hoped that these governors and others across Nigeria would respond to requests for assistance so she could realise her dream, perhaps the second for the upliftment Nigeria and Africa’s creative minds deserve.
Fashola also responded engagingly on the night when he said, “It delights us to no end to host this kind of event in Lagos. Literature and the arts truly define who we are. Our heritage in Tumbuktu is being threatened. This is not good. This state treasures arts and literature. We are the treasure trove of literature”.
Amosun was no less enthusiastic in the evening’s fever, when he noted, “Wole Soyinka has shown the awesome power of the pen; he has put Nigeria on the world map. There is power in the pen, in literature and the arts. We need to promote literature for the reawakening of reading culture in Nigeria”.
ON the performance side for the evening, the masked musician, Lagbaja serenaded the audience with his old tunes that easily distinguished him from the crowd. Starting from among the audience, he blew on his saxophone till he went up stage and thrilled. But this was not before Footprints of David, the children’s arm of Segun Adefila-led Crown Troupe of Africa had performed. The all-female choral group, Nerfettiti first sang the National Anthem before Footprints of David and then Crown Troupe did a skit on reading and politics without direction and its effect on the general populace with the result that education usually misses direction.
When Mzobe was eventually declared winner of the prize, Footprints of David again stepped forward with Zulu costume to do a Zulu Victoria dance in honour of the South African winner. Lagbaja agan ended the evening with his music and those with a heart for it danced, including the organiser, Dr. Promise, her chairman, Emanuel and other dignitaries, to bring the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa 2012 to an end.