By Anote Ajeluorou
For Nigerian poets both within and outside the country, today marks the end of submission of entries for the 2013 edition of the $100,000 worth The Nigerian Prize for Literature in the poetry category. It also marks the promise of an exciting year for poets who have had to wait for a circle of four years to have a chance at the mouth-watering prize sponsored by Bonny-based gas company, Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas (NLNG).
Although it is too early in the day to make any prognosis, Nigerian poets would have been learnt their lessons from 2009 when a verdict of poor outing was given on entries for that year. That judgment sparked off prolonged controversy between writers and critics on the one hand and the advisory board for the prize largely made up of university professors.
Last year, which was for prose fiction, was won by Belgium-based Chika Unigwe. She won with the novel On Black Sisters’ Street, a work based on Nigerian young women sold for sex work abroad by traffickers on the illicit trade in feminine flesh. However this year, poetry takes centre-stage. Ibadan-based PEN Nigeria Centre President and poet has stared into his crystal ball for this year’s poetry contest and has come up with a verdict: “The one safe prediction that can be made is that whoever wins this year would be a poet with strong bona fides and a vision. There is just no room for the poetaster or for jejune juvenilia. It is a strong field and the strongest contenders will be from home and exile. It will be interesting to see how the vision of the poets intersect, how their craft carries their message. It will be really interesting to see how the long list crystalizes into the shortlist. It will be a great year for poetry, no doubt”.
Judges for this year’s prize include Prof. Romanus Egudu (chairman), Prof. Abiodun Omolara Ogundipe and Dr. Andrew Abah as members. Prof. Kofi Anyidoho has been announced as the international consultant. Advisory Board chairman remains Emeritus Prof. Ayo Banjo while Dr. Jerry Agada and Prof. Ben Elugbe as members.
This year also, some innovative ideas have been brought to improve the prize, organisers announced recently. An external consultant would be brought from outside Nigeria to complement judges’ efforts, especially when the final three writers would have been announced and shortlisted. Advisory Board chairman for the prize and Prof. Emeritus Ayo Banjo said the initiative would give the prize both international status and enhanced credibility.
Another novel idea to the prize regime also announced recently was the ‘Critical Essay Prize’ worth N1 million. This prize will be awarded for a critical essay or review of a Nigerian literary work each year. It must be published in a renowned international journal by Nigerian critics both home and abroad. According to organisers, the Critical Essay Prize takes cognizance of the pivotal role critics play in the evolution of literary creativity.