* I still feel like I’m in a dream, says winner, Mohammed
* Momodu, MTN Foundation boss, Sanya, Ikpoki, others attend prize award
By Godwin Okondo
A jubilant atmosphere filled the Agip Recital hall of MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos, where the grand finale of the 6th edition of Beeta Playwright Competition (BPC) was awarded to the winner. Olaide Nurat Mohammed was announced the winner of the 6th Beeta Playwright Competition. She won with her play, Abinsiwin and went home with the grand prize of USD$3,000, a laptop and a workshop session scheduled for Utopia Theatre, Sheffield, UK. Beeta Playwright Competition is sponsored by MTN Foundation, Chairbone Global Services Ltd and Five2Media Ltd.
Organised by Beeta Universal Arts Foundation (BUAF), the drama prize is aimed at recognising unpublished young and emerging playwrights. It is dedicated to fostering talent development in the performing arts sector through avenues such as production, competition, education and outreach, it strives to elevate the nation’s creative output on the global stage. It also provides a platform for playwrights with remarkable stories. The 2024 edition had as theme ‘No Limits’, and was awarded on Wednesday, February 7, 2024. Apart from the grand prize of USD$3,000 for the winner, there’s also a publishing deal with Beeta Universal Arts Foundation’s partner, Paperworth Books. Also, the top ten finalists will participate in a capacity-building workshop.
Guests who attended the event were the Executive Secretary of MTN Foundation, Mrs. Odunayo Sanya, the Managing Director of Chairborne Global Services Limited, Mr. Adokiye Ikpoki, the Publisher of Ovation International, Mr. Dele Momodu and President, National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP), Mr. Israel Eboh, among others.
Sixth edition winner of BPC, Olaide Nurat Mohammed (middle) with her winning cheque and flanked by the founder of Five2Media Ltd, Mrs. Solate Akarolo (left); MD of Paperworth Books Limited, Ibiso Graham-Douglas; actress and Founder of Beeta Playwright Competition, Bikiya Graham-Douglas and MD/CEO of Chairborne Global Services Ltd, Mr Adokiye Ikpoki at the prize presentation on Wdnesday, February 7, 2024 in Lagos
The 10 finalists shortlisted for the grand prize were Cheta Igbokwe (Dimkpa), Alemoh Victory Omomei (Dance of the Masquerade), Elias Ozikpu (Bride and Widower), Efe Ronald Chesterfield (Of Love and War), Olaide Nurat Mohammed (Abinsiwin), Olalekan Fadare (Awawu), Matthew David (One Dagger Two Souls) and Ayoola Adesewa Akinyemi (Life In Many Shades).
While welcoming guests, BUAF Founder, Bikiya Graham-Douglas restated her reasons for organising the competition, saying, “I came back to Nigeria as a young actress looking for opportunities to be a part of new stories, and I found none. We always had to refer back to our old playwrights, and I kept on asking: ‘where are the voices of my generation?’ We had none documented, and so we started this competition to create opportunities for the new voices in the literary genre of drama to shine, and that’s exactly what we are doing.
“We received over 3,000 entries from across the 30 states of Nigeria and the diaspora for this edition. So far, we have had five winners already, 50 finalists, and we’ve been working with a number of them. We are very happy to be chosen by the Almighty to create a platform for young people, and we see how it’s changing the performing arts industry in Nigeria, and contributing to storytelling.
“To the finalists and participants, I’d like to thank you for trusting us. It’s not easy to put yourself out there, especially in the world today, where there is a lot of dishonesty and you take risks when you put your work out. And for that, you are all winners. Thank you, and congratulations to all of you for being here.”
Sanya also shared a few words on the collaboration between MTN Foundation and Beeta Universal Arts Foundation. According to her, “the question we always get at MTN Foundation, when people see us getting involved in events like this is, ‘why do we do what we do?’ Through the years, we have supported various businesses. For us at the foundation, it’s really been about enabling people to birth their ideas. We saw with Bikiya, a path for young people who are arts inclined, and we thought it was important to be a part of this.
Winner of the 6th edition of BPC with Abisiwin, Olaide Mohammed
“For us, it was really about the capacity building behind the stories and production when they get staged. It’s about how young talents in the rough pass through a process that enables them become stronger in their minds and talents that they already have. So, I’ll say the relationship has been great. This is our third outing, and hopefully, we will do it again.”
Sanya commended the young dramatists for their daring spirit, adding, “To the 40 participants, I would like to say you’ve gone through a process that lands you in this room today, but the lesson is not about whether you win or not, but out of thousands of entries, you made it. That sort of strength, for you, when you hit a roadblock, remember the moment you submitted your entry and you were selected out of thousands. I would say congratulations in advance.
“I think the most important thing here today is that we are putting our trust upfront, and we are giving it to these 40 people, and our expectations are that you don’t let us down. You use that trust to gain more trust for yourself, and the most important thing is that you come back and change your immediate environment.”
Ikpoki, whose Chairborne company is supporting the prize for the third year running, also applauded the finalists for their efforts, noting, “This particular objective speaks to us because of the fact that we are putting in hard work and integrity. I see very hardworking youths and I’m happy that we are partnering with Beeta on this. My advice for Beeta is to see if we can publish these plays, because I’m sure there are a lot of good content here. I know playwriting is like craftsmanship and you need your mind to be clear to sit down to write and how hard the work is, but I want to encourage you to continue doing what you are doing. A lot of your peers have turned to a life of crime, but you decided to continue to write to contribute to this art history, providing quality content for movies and drama.
“I’m very proud of you, and as I said last year, as long as we are in business, we would continue supporting this. As you continue to be trained in playwriting, I believe that more quality would come out of you. I wish you all the best and we will continue to support, and see that you publish works.”
Veteran journalist and politician Momodu said, “Playwriting is a specialized type of writing. Anyone can be a writer, but playwriting is different. I read a lot of plays as a young man at Ile-Ife. I remember Ola Rotimi in Ife, and the great actors like Jimi Solanke. I grew up with the Wole Soyinka’s in Ife and I worked at the university library, and we used to all say we wanted to act, and I used to wonder how a person would just sit down and write plays that we will all enjoy. So, for us to have all of you in this room, I am hoping that there would be a way that I would participate more in the future. I want to congratulate you all because it has not been easy, and I want to congratulate you all, and Bikiya, for a job well done.”
The theatre administrator Eboh also shared a few words of encouragement and praised the finalists as well as BUAF for the prize initiative, when he said, “It’s a great day and the storytellers are being celebrated today. The playwrights are the storytellers. They create the story. Every other thing that happens emerges through the eyes and the storytelling of the playwright. I want to congratulate the 40 of you being recognized.
“There are a lot of playwriting competitions in the country, but very few recognize more than five or three. So, for BUAF to be celebrating 40 of you is a great recognition. I want to congratulate BUAF. Some of your discoveries are doing great things out there. They have conquered and still conquering, telling stories about Nigeria through the eyes of Nigerians, promoting our culture with the pathway provided by Beeta Universal Arts Foundation. Thank you for what you’ve been doing. I want to welcome you into the professional space. In the next couple of years, we will be seeing your works on television and on stage, and our association would be willing to participate with some of you and provide greater platforms to be able to project what you’re doing.”
Two jury members for the competition, the Festival Director of Lagos Fringe, Mr. Kenneth Uphopho and the Founder of Paperworth Books, Ibiso Graham-Douglas, unveiled the 10 finalists for the prize. Uphopho congratulated the finalists, and also shared his experience while deciding the finalists.
According to him, “Your stories are phenomenal, and it was so tough trying to judge this particular edition. We’ve been here since the beginning, but this one was particularly tough, because the stories were amazing. I want you to know that as writers nothing is lost. If you don’t win today, it doesn’t mean that story won’t be made into a movie tomorrow. I wrote a play (Esther’s Revenge) in 2020, and that story has gone farther than I imagined. Everything is possible for you. I’d like to say a big thank you to the organizers of the event led by Bikiya — a phenomenal woman who has been at it for a very long time, and we are always going to be there to support you.”
Founder of BPC, Bikiya Graham-Douglas (middle) flanked on both sides by the 10 finalists
Ibiso Graham-Douglas also commended the finalists and assured them that Beeta Universal Arts Foundation would always be available for them to reach out to, adding, “You don’t have to win to benefit from the network of the Beeta Universal Arts Foundation. We had a play written by someone who wasn’t in the top three, but we have produced that play twice a year since, and we’ve done it here and in Abuja. We also have another who was part of the Covid-19 anthology we just did. So once you’re a finalist, you become part of the BUAF and we carry you wherever we go. Our ethos is to build capacity in whatever genre you choose to dabble in. You can reach out to us anytime.”
An excited Mohammed spoke about her journey into scriptwriting, when she said, “I still feel like I’m in a dream. 2020 was the first time I heard about Beeta Playwright Competition. It was during the Covid-19 pandemic, and I had just lost my job at the time. So, I was home doing nothing and a friend told me about it and asked me to give it a try, and that was my first attempt at scriptwriting. I submitted a play Diligence on a Throne, and I was a finalist back in 2021. Though I didn’t win then, I kept on pushing and submitting plays. Last year, it was my first week in film school and classes were on; it was rigorous and tiring, and I was still contemplating on submitting a play. But then, it was a day before the deadline that I submitted my play and it was just 22-pages.
“The play is about post-partum psychosis and it’s a story I hold dearly to my heart, because it’s a true life story about a distant relative of mine. In Yoruba culture, it is called Abinsiwin, but many people are not aware of what it means. Most times, it’s diagnosed as spiritual problem and they take victims to unorthodox doctors to care for them. It’s a play to create more awareness that post-partum psychosis is real, and it’s not a spiritual problem, but something that needs to be treated as important.”
Winning plays and playwrights of the prize so far include Our Son the Minister (2018) by Paul Ugbede, Jagagba (2019) by Abdul Qudus-Ibrahim, Daughters of the East (2020) by Achalugo Chioma Ezekobe and Black Dust (2021) by Temilolu Fosudo. Akande won with The Mask We Wear in 2022. Mohammed has now joined the winning club with her play Abisiwin to emerge the 6th in the competitive drama prize.