By Anote Ajeluorou
The winner of The Nigeria Prize for Literature 2014 worth USD$100,000 is professor of Theatre Arts, Sam Ukala of Delta State University, Abraka. This was the unanimous verdict of the panel of three judges, who are also playwrights, one of them, Prof. Ahmed Yerima, a past laureate of the same prize, and chaired by Vice Chancellor, Benue State University, Prof. Charity Angya.
Ukala won with his historical play, Iredi War, based on his community’s clash with the colonial powers that threatened the existence of his Owa community. He won ahead of two others – Jude Idada with Oduduwa King of the Edos and Friday John-Abba with Alekwu Night Dance. They were the last three standing after the initial 124 entries that contested.
In a short message service response, Ukala said, “I’m grateful to God for the inspiration and creativity He endowed me with; to NLNG for the opportunity to explore the endowment at this high platform, and to the judges for integrity!”
Also for the first time in three years since its inception, the Literary Criticism Prize worth N1 million has a winner. He is Prof. Isidore Diala of English Department, Imo State University, Owerri. Diala remarked thus when contacted, “Incredible! I didn’t even receive acknowledgement for my submission. God’s grace never fails!”
Diala won with his article ‘Colonial Mimicry and Post-colonial Re-membering in Isidore Okpewho’s Call Me by My Rightful Name’, published in Journal of Modern Literature Vol. 36, No. 4. According to Chairman, Advisory Board for the Literature Prize Prof. Ayo Banjo, the criteria for assessing the critical article are ‘authenticity and reputation of journal, intellectual argument, use of language, evidence of academic research and contribution to knowledge’, noting, “The work addresses post-colonialism, providing new thoughts and based on excellence research. The works is exciting to read and provides refreshing discourse.
Further on literature prize, Banjo said Iredi War emerged winner after it met set criteria for the prize, which include relevance, originality, form and style, thematic engagement, social commitment, language and aesthetics, and quality of production.
In commenting on the three plays, Banjo said, “Oduduwa King of the Edos is a historical that deals with the oral history and cultural tradition of the Yoruba and Edo peoples of Nigeria. Iredi War addresses the socio-political history of the Owa Kingdom and the imperialistic tendencies of the colonialists at the beginning of the 20th century. Alekwu Night Dance is a play that explores the crime, deception and desire for vengeance in an Idoma community in Benue State.
“In addition to the recommendation of the panel of judges, the advisory board also received in a report, the independent opinion of the International Consultant, Prof. Mzo Sirayi of Tshwane University of Technology, South Africa. We are gratified to note that the recommendations from both the internal and external judges are identical”.
On behalf of the board, the judges and NLNG, Banjo congratulated Ukala for winning the prize this year, and commended NLNG for continuing to support the prize that in its 11th year.
Indeed, it was a vote from one set of professors to another set of professors going by this year’s prizes from three professors of Theatre Arts – Angya, Yerima and Akanji Nasiru to two of their colleagues – Ukala and Diala.
According to the General Manager, External Relations, NLNG, Dr. Kudo Eresia-Eke, “No amount of money can buy a good work of art. Prizes are just catalysts, stimulants for creativity”.
In a statement from the gas company, which Eresia-Eke also made, he commended the winner of the main prize, Ukala, whose work the judges describe, as having ‘the masterly handling of vast historical material through the narrative and action method’. He maintained that the prize was designed by his company to help build a better Nigeria by providing excellent platform for writers to ply their craft.
In Iredi War, “The language captures indigenous sensibilities, preserves the profoundity of the original, and yet entertains”, according to jury chair, Angya.