By Anote Ajeluorou
Nigeria’s poet laureate for 2013, Mr. Tade Ipadeola, received his award last Friday in Lagos from sponsor of The Nigeria Prize for Literature, Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) Ltd. It was a full house at Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Victoria Island, where students from some highbrow secondary schools in Lagos were in attendance.
That, on its own, was a sharp contrast. Winner of the prize, Ipadeola, attended Fiditi Grammar School, Oyo State, certainly not a highbrow secondary school. As a result, no student from Mushin, Isolo, Makoko, Oshodi, Ajamgbadi, Badagry or Epe had a chance to meet and take photographs with the poet laureate or even own copies of the winning book, The Sahara Testament, that was given free, as a means of stimulating their creative imagination the way Ipadeola’s was fired for walking the same hallowed grounds as pioneer modernist poet, Christopher Okigbo, who once taught at Fiditi Grammar School long before Ipadeola was born.
In a documentary profile on him mostly set in Fiditi Grammar School premises, Ipadeola relived his past and the influences he had while growing up. His father, Chief Ayantade Ipadeola, who taught English and Literature, he said, was unrelenting in directing his attention to literary texts and personalities. Today, he is the better for that overbearing filial encumbrance, as he took home the US$100,000 prize worth.
Later at Federal Palace Hotel, Ipadeola had lunch with fellow poet, Dr. Ogaga Ifowodo and his guests from Spain, Irene Lopez de Castro, an artist (whose painting adorns the cover of the winning book, The Sahara Testament), her husband, Dr. John Damanti, and a budding poet, Femi Morgan. After lunch, Ifowodo read two poems in honour of the laureate for winning the prestigious prize. He read ‘Rather than burn’, a piece that condemns banning of gay and ‘Sixty Lines by the Lagoon’, written to celebrate notable poet, Mr. Odia Ofeimun, when he turned 60 back in 2009.
IN his response, Ipadeola paid tribute to astrologers and architects for the path they thread, particularly J.K. Obatala, in his untiring efforts to expose the field of astrology, as “Keepers of knowledge and true believers in a world drowning in ignorance, poverty and doubt. They see farther than us all, probe deeper and reach further into reality. All the while, the best of them keep the sense of wonder and faith alive in themselves and in the world they keep discovering. They move us beyond rhetoric into a realm we do well to dip into from time to time”.
He expressed gratitude to prize sponsor, Nigeria LNG Ltd, for humouring him and his ilk to be part of the prize in spite of their initial skepticism 10 years ago when it was instituted.
Governing board chairman for the prize, Prof. Ayo Banjo, also praised prize sponsor for their consistency in growing the prize in worth and prestige and for choosing to invest in the area of creativity in Nigeria. He said the effect of such sponsorship was already redounding in similar prizes (Etisalat Prize for African Literature, for instance, that was instituted last year), saying the prize was already fulfilling the purpose for which it was established 10 years ago.
Also Managing Director of Nigeria LNG Ltd, Mr. Babs Omotowa paid tribute to Lagos as city of the poets even though Ipadeola is from Ibadan. But he said awarding the prize to Ipadeola in Lagos seemed fitting enough, adding, “I am happy to say - Lagos is the city of poets. Ofeimun’s famous anthology, Lagos of the Poets, brings together a diverse immensity of poets writing on Lagos, poets ranging from this country’s first president, Nnamdi Azikiwe, through the heavyweights - Wole Soyinka, JP Clark, Gabriel Okara, Niyi Osundare, Femi Osofisan and Ben Okri to the younger generation poets like Esiaba Irobi, Ogaga Ifowodo, Maik Nwosu, Obi Nwakanma, Lola Shoneyin, Akeem Lasisis and Unoma Azuah, among others”.
After cataloguing the immense contributions his company was making to Nigeria’s economy, Omotewa said, “But, of course, today is about Tade Ipadeola. It’s about The Sahara Testament. It’s about poetry and the poets who write them. It’s about writers and the books they write. It’s about recognizing and celebrating excellence that the young ones with us today may see the way and follow it to their individual successes”.
He said seeing the students in the hall nudged in him a feeling of nostalgia, which might prompt him to go back to the classroom where it all started for him.
Goodwill messages from Prof. Clark, Ofeimun and Chief Elechi Amadi completed a fine afternoon in honour of poetry. Clark stated bluntly that he wasn’t “a fan of LNG establishing a prize for literature. When I see what is coming out of Nigeria, I get more than goose pimples, even from university teachers. The kind of poetry I see, I’m not encouraged. But Tade’s poetry makes me say poetry has come out of this exercise. It’s not imagination alone, but the discipline of practicing the quatrain style in a sustained manner. I read the whole book in one night; I couldn’t go to bed. At last something has come out of it, and I hope more will come”.
Clark said prizes were given by people who wanted something out of prizes, as “nothing is for free; they know what they are promoting. But we will tell them what to promote, in confidence”.
Amadi praised the prize, saying it was wonderful and a milestone in the progress of Nigerian literature. He tasked other companies to emulate Nigeria LNG Ltd to do the same for literature, saying, “I value local prizes because we can access them based on local, cultural sensibilities. Foreign prizes don’t always coincide with local tastes; foreign prizes have done so much for us, too. Young writers should aspire to write for prizes but they should write what they feel, as the prizes will come”.
Although he was one of the biggest critics of The Nigeria Prize for Literature at inception 10 years ago, Ofeimun (publisher of The Sahara Testament, with his Hornbill African Poets, Lagos; 2013) commended the sponsors for the initiative. He also said he was happy Ipadeola abandoned his law to write the winning book, adding, “I’m lucky to be able to identify with young writers before they break out!
“In this year of conference, it’s important we have a great book. Tade has written a great book. When great literature begins to be created in a particular environment, it forces people to notice literature, especially those who would not ordinarily bother about it”.
Also paying tribute to Ipadeola’s poetic ingenuity was Spanish painter, de Castro, whose painting is on the book’s cover. She said, “We come with our heart full of love for Africa, for Tade and to be with you. It’s magical that you (Tade) won the prize with a book with my painting; this is after our meeting five years ago in South Korea. I discovered Africa in my last trip to Mali, with the River Niger as my inspiration. Many people in Europe only know about wars, hunger and problems in Africa. They don’t know about its beauty. This is the real gold (artistic talent) that Nigeria, Africa has and I hope the smart phone doesn’t destroy it”.
Prof. Idowu Bamitale, Vice Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University, where Ipadeola studied law, was also in attendance to support an illustrious alumnus for making the university proud.