NIGERIA’S foremost literary prize, The Nigeria Prize for Literature, sponsored by Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas (NLNG) Limited, has put out a call for writers of children’s literature to enter their works for the 2024 edition of the prestigious prize that will be awarded sometime in October. Tuesday, April 2, 2024 is deadline for entries for Africa’s biggest literary prize worth USD$100,000.00. The three appointed judges for the prize are Prof. Saleh Abdu (chair) while Prof. Vicky Sylvester and Dr. Igudia Osarobu are members. Also, Dr. Christopher Okemwa has been appointed as the International Consultant to the prize. Okemwa teaches Literature at Kisii University in Kenya and has published widely across genres, including a children’s book, Sabina and the Mystery of the Ogre, which won him the Burt Award for African Literature (Kenya) in 2015.
While announcing the jury panel, the prize’s Advisory Board, led by its chairperson, Prof. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo (one-time joint winner of the children’s prize in 2007 with her book, My Cousin Sammy), Professors Olu Obafemi and Ahmed Yerima (one-time winner in 2006 with his play, Hard Ground), said, “A panel of judges has been appointed for The Nigeria Prize for Literature 2024. The appointment of judges has been done to reflect the genre in competition (children’s literature) for the year. Persons appointed have wide experience, peer recognition, good public image and command respect nationally and internationally.”
Prof. Abdu teaches at the Department of English and Literature, Federal University, Kashere, Gombe, Prof. Sylvester teaches at the Department of English, University of Abuja and Dr. Osarobu also teaches at the University of Ibadan. All three judges are writers. However, the Advisory Board has returned to its all-academics as judges after the gains it made in previous editions by also including non-academics in the jury, particularly in 2022 for poetry when only one academic Prof. Emmanuel E. Sule chaired the three-member jury that had spoken word artist Dike Chukwumerije and Toyin Adewale-Gabriel. Also, the odds are still stacked against female judges as the ratio continues to be one female to two male judges that is also reflective of the Advisory Board’s composition. The skewed nature of the jury panel in favour of only academics, critics of this preference continue to argue, is that it negates or relegates other knowledgeable consumers of literature to be mere onlookers and fails to take a cue from international jury compositions like those for the Caine Prize and the Booker Prize that have academics occupying marginal position, with historians making the jury lists.
Who takes over from Jude Idada as children’s literature laureate in 2024?
The last winner of the children’s category for The Nigeria Prize Literature is Jude Idada. He won with his book Boom Boom in 2019. In 2020 there was no prize award as the global coronavirus pandemic disrupted activities. That year’s prize edition was carried over to 2021 when The Son of the House, a novel by Cheluchi Onyemelukwe, won the prize. In 2022 Romeo Oreogun’s Nomad won the prize’s poetry category, thus becoming the only winner who shared his prize booty with his two fellow poets, soulmates and runners up – Su’eddie Vershima Agema (Of Memmory and Call of Waters) and Sadiq Dzukogi (Your Crib, My Qibla). Only last year, the Associate Dean of the University of Port Harcourt and lecturer in English and Literature, Dr. Obari Gomba won the prize’s drama category with his play, Grit.
With the announcement by the prize’s literature Advisory Board, the race is on for the biggest literary prize in the country that is open to Nigerian writers living in and outside the country. By the announcement also, The Nigeria Prize for Literary Criticism is open for entry from academics and essayists in the critical literary mode. The prize money is USD$10,000.00. Dr. Eyoh Asuquo Etim, who teaches Literature at Akwa Ibom State University, Uyo, won the 2023 critical essay contest. This is the 20th year of the prize that continues to define the literary and critical landscape of Nigerian literature.