Nigeria LNG (NLNG) Limited will on Thursday beam a bright celebratory light on the newest winner of its hundred thousand dollar ($100,000) Nigeria Prize for Literature, Professor Sam Ukala, at a public presentation holding in Lagos.
Ukala’s successful entry, Iredi War, edged out a hundred and twenty-three other authors whose works also vied to win the 2014 edition of the literature prize that last year focused on the drama genre.
The playwright’ssubmission withstood the rigorous scrutiny and requisite checks for high standards that NLNG’s Literature Prize is revered for by the literati.
“Nigeria LNG is happy to bring Professor Sam Ukala and his formidable work, Iredi War, to the public for a robust interaction and celebration. This is one of the reasons we set up the prize in the first place— to celebrate outstanding Nigerian authors and their works,” said Kudo Eresia-Eke, NLNG’s General Manager, External Relations Division.
Books submitted by Nigerian writers based in the country and in the diaspora were put through a screening process carried out by an eminent panel of judges and literary critics including a non-Nigerian assessor, checking for originality, relevance, quality of production, form and style, among other criteria.
This led to the total one hundred and twenty four works considered for Africa’s highest cash award for a literary laureate progressively reduced to forty-nine, then twenty-five, later eleven, and an eventual three, before Professor Ukala was announced winner on 9th October, 2014.
The public presentation of the winning writer traditionally commands a strong attendance from the literati, many of whom come to honour the prize winner and hear first-hand, the author read his own work, talk about his muse and ultimately give an acceptance speech, that serve as the final trappings of his investiture as winner.
“I feel fulfilled, grateful to God Almighty for the inspiration, talent and energy. I also feel indebted to NLNG for endowing the prize and processing the entries with utmost integrity and transparency through the appointment of an Advisory Board of truly honourable men, who, in turn, appointed persons of impeccable character as judges,” said Professor Sam Ukala.
“I also think the public presentation is a great idea. It might result in the promotion of this author and his work as well as the promotion of literature and literary artists in general. It might be a forum to spotlight the need for Nigeria to consciously cultivate and maintain a robust reading culture as a way of improving the standard of education in the country,” he concluded.
NLNG’s Nigeria Prize for Literature rotates yearly around four literary genres: prose fiction, poetry, drama and children’s literature. Its 2015 competition will be for children’s literature.
Past winners of the laurel include Gabriel Okara for Chants of a Minstrel and Professor Ezenwa Ohaeto, now late, for The Dreamer, His Vision. Both were joint winners for the award in 2005.
Ahmed Yerima’s Hard Groundwon the competition for drama in 2006, and in 2007, the race for the prize in the children’s literature category again produced joint winners in Mabel Segun for Reader’s Theatre and Professor Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo for My Cousin Sammy.
Kaine Agary’s Yellow Yellow won for prose in 2008 and in 2010, Esiaba Irobi, clinched the prize posthumously with his drama titled Cemetery Road.
Adeleke Adeyemi won the prize in 2011 for his children’s literature, The Missing Clock, Chika Unigwe in 2012 for prose with her novel, On Black Sister’s Street and in 2013, Tade Ipadeola for poetry, with his collection of poems, The Sahara Testaments.
Since the prize’s institution in 2004, NLNG has regularly reviewed the stakes around the competition, to up the ante, not just in terms of the cash value which was $20,000 in the prize’s first year but in other respects as well.
For instance, the competition for the literature prize was initially open to only Nigerian authors residing in the country but was later thrown open to allow entries from Nigerian writers in the diaspora.
Yet another element introduced to the literature prize was the award for literary criticism in 2011, which had no winner until Isidore Diala made the mark in 2014 to become its first winner. The award has a one million naira cash value.
‘The Nigeria Prize has expanded in range and depth from what it was at inception. Now all Nigerians, whether at home or abroad may enter for the prize. Also, the introduction of a non-Nigerian assessor into the adjudication process has also done a lot to give the final verdict international clout as well,” said Tade Ipadeola, who won the literature prize in 2013.
“Also, for the first time, the prize for literary criticism was won by the critic Isidore Diala in 2014. All these are major forms of engagement with Nigerian and African Literature and its significance should not be lost on Nigerians or the prize’s sponsors. Worldwide, the culture and creative industries create about $500million in value year on year and Africa accounts for only 7% of that figure. What Nigeria LNG has done with its Nigeria Prize is to bring the country firmly into the global picture of places where culture is taken seriously,” he concluded.
Beginning in his undergraduate days at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he studied English, Sam Ukala has written, performed and directed many stage plays.
His most popular play, The Slave Wife was written during his first year as an undergraduate.
Some of his published works include The Log in Your Eye (UPL, 1986), Break a Boil (Oris, 1992), Odour of Justice (Oris, 1992) and Fumes of Fuel in Rumbling Creeks of the Niger Delta.
In 1989,Ukala’s Akpakaland won the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA)/ British Council Prize for Drama. Similarly, Skeletons, his collection of stories, won ANA’s Prose Prize in 2000.
He began his lecturing career at the defunct Bendel State University, Ekpoma, in 1985, and moved over to Delta State University, Abraka, in 2001.
In 1993/94 session, he lectured at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom while there as a Commonwealth Senior Academic Staff Fellow.
In 1998/99, he was a Folk Art Consultant and Writer- and-Director-in-Residence at Horse and Bamboo Theatre, Waterfoot, Lancashire, UK.
Between 2007 and 2010, Professor Ukala was the Provost of the Asaba Campus of Delta State University.