Thursday, 16 November 2017

How Oke won $100,000 Nigeria Prize for Literature

The Prof Ernest Emenyonu-led four-man panel of judges – Dr Razinatu Mohammed, Tade Ipadeola and Prof Abena Busia – has disclosed why it recommended Ikeogu Oke’s The Heresaid, as winner of this year’s The Nigeria Prize for Literature. Last Monday, Oke was announced winner of the $100,000 prize, Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME reports. 

This year’s Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) Literary Prize attracted 184 poetry collections. Of these, 101 entries were disqualified at the initial weeding carried out by the board of assessors.
But, at the final phase, the panel examined the strengths of each of the three books: Ogaga Ifowodo’s
Good Mourning, Tanure Ojaide’s Songs of Myself: Quartet and Ikeogu Oke’s The Heresaid.
To choose the winner was not come easy for the panel. According to the panel, the decision was made after diligent considerations and objective application of the guidelines and criteria. The decision, the panel said, is based on “its apt topicality, relevance, artistic heft and the pursuit of artistic provenance. In a world increasingly threatened by encroaching totalitarianism and even bare-faced tyranny and intolerance, the wit, wisdom and message of the The Heresaid are infinitely crucial.
“It is our hope and goal that the kind of vibrancy which we have found in the collections of poetry submitted is a vital evidence that NLNG is making unprecedented difference in the intellectual development of Nigeria and Nigerian today,” it added.

International consultant Abena P. A. Busia, in his report, said: “This has been a surprisingly difficult decision as each collection has very strong merits to recommend it for this prestigious prize. The three volumes, though very different, are the work of three extremely accomplished poets who, in fact, have significant aspects in common. I single out as the most salient of these traits a firm belief in the place of poetry in the service of social justice, and the desire, shared by each of them, to forge a poetic form that can contain the often difficult subject matter of the worlds they interrogate, within their structures. I discuss them here in alphabetical order by author.”

On Oke, he said: “This is a bold and wonderful experiment whose great strength also could have been its great weakness. That Oke manages to create a poem that keeps quite strictly over 100 pages to the lyric pentameter and still holds the attention of the reader is a singular achievement. The experiment in lesser hands could have led to a deadening of the senses. The volume itself is structured on a great conceit; a bold venture in defence of the art of poetry itself. The narrator is a griot narrating a great battle between supporters and detractors in defence of the humanities, and has succeeded in creating a modern epic. The mastery of form is a tour de force exemplary of the dedication to the craft the poem is inscribed to defend. It would have been wonderful if this work had not only been published in print, but had been released with an audio version because, indeed, its singular achievement is its sustaining of narrative that displays the arguments of the contending parties, and yet at the same time keeps so clear the voice of the griot. And we can indeed hear the musicality in the rigor of the lines, and the absoluteness of the rhyming scheme of heroic couplets sustained throughout the work.  In the end, if there must be a choice, my selection goes with this collection for the technical feat it performs. The deciding factor was the inclusion of the music, which I attempted playing and in doing that it brought home to me how very carefully the performativity of this work has been thought through; Oke has made ancient forms new again.”

The other finalists are Ifowodo and  Ojaide.

The Nigeria Prize for Literature has since 2004 rewarded eminent writers, such as Gabriel Okara (co-winner, 2005, poetry), Prof Ezenwa Ohaeto (co-winner, 2005, poetry); Ahmed Yerima (2006, drama) for his classic, Hard Ground;  Mabel Segun (co-winner, 2007, children’s literature) for her collection of short plays Reader’s Theatre; Prof. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo (co-winner, 2007, children’s literature) with her book, My Cousin Sammy; Kaine Agary (2008, prose); Esiaba Irobi (2010, drama) who clinched the prize posthumously with his book Cemetery Road; Adeleke Adeyemi (2011, children’s literature) with his book The Missing Clock; Chika Unigwe (2012 – prose), with her novel, On Black Sister’s Street; Tade Ipadeola (2013; Poetry) with his collection of poems, Sahara Testaments; Sam Ukala (2014; drama) with Iredi War; and Abubakar Adam Ibrahim (2016, Prose) with Season of Crimson Blossoms.

The Nigeria Prize for Literature rotates yearly among four literary genres: prose fiction, poetry, drama and children’s literature.

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