…As CORA-NLNG Book Party 2023 celebrates 11 playwrights
‘I don’t think it is arrogant for me to think I want to change the world’
By Benjamin Olisah
IN what was a moment of pride and recognition, 11 Nigerian playwrights, who have been longlisted for The Nigeria Prize for Literature 2023, were on Sunday, August 6, 2023, celebrated for their outstanding literary works. The celebration was jointly organised by the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) and the Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas (NLNG) Ltd, tagged CORA-NLNG Book Party. It took place at MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos. The 11 writers were adjudged to have the best drama publications for the year out of 143 entries. They were engaged in an interactive session by journalist and writer, Anote Ajeluorou, to discuss the relevance of their works to contemporary Nigeria society and trends in literature.
The playwrights and their plays include Bode Sowande’s The Spellbinder, Abideen Abolaji Ojomu’s The Ojuelegba Crossroads, Olatunbosun Taofeek’s Where is Patient Zero, Grit by Obari Gomba, Dance of The Sacred Feet by Ade Adeniji, and Yamtarawala- The Warrior King by Henry Akubuiro. Others are Victor Dugga’s Gidan Juju, Olubunmi Familoni’s When Big Masquerades Dance Naked, The Boat People by Christopher Anyokwu, Cheta Igbokwe’s Home Coming and The Brigadiers of a Mad Tribe by Abuchi Modilim.
While welcoming guests to the auspicious event, the General Manager, External Relations and Sustainable Development of Nigeria LNG, Mr. Andy Odeh, stated that the essence of the institution of the prestigious literary prize award, which is in its 19th year, was to extol excellence, which is one of the core values of the gas company sponsoring the prize. According to him, the Nigerian creative industry, it has been observed, has witnessed a decline in the production of quality books since the turn of the millennium, thus necessitating the need to come up with an incentive that would serve as a catalyst or a form of reward for outstanding writers.
Some of the playwrights:- Henry Akubuiro (left); Olubunmi Familoni; Olatunbosun Taofeek; Prof. Obari Gomba; Prof. Chris Anyokwu; Cheta Igbokwe; Prof. Victor Duga and Abuchi Modilim
“We have been doing this successfully for 17 years, and I’m glad to welcome you to this year’s edition of the annual Book Party,” Odeh said. “This event connects Nigeria LNG, the sponsor of The Nigeria Prize for Literature, with the literary community to promote one of our core values – Excellence. It provides an insight into the quality of works selected by the panel of judges.
“Today, we are glad that Nigeria can showcase great literary works published in Nigeria. Works that portray excellent editing, proof-reading and publishing. Our library and bookshelves have been enriched with very many great works by Nigerian writers. The Nigeria Prize for Literature alone has received over 2,400 entries to date in the four genres and many of them are top quality entries.
“Interestingly, the Book Party has assumed a life of its own in the administration of the prize, as it showcases to Nigerians and indeed the rest of the world, outstanding books for each competition year. To Ade Adeniji, Victor S. Dugga, Obari Gomba, Cheta Igbokwe, Christopher Anyokwu, Abuchi Modilim, Abideen Abolaji Ojomu, Bode Sowande, Olubunmi Familoni, Olatunbosun Taofeek and Henry Akubiro, congratulations for making the list of 11.”
While appreciating CORA, organisers of Lagos Book and Arts Festival (LABAF), The Rainbow Club, and other collaborators, Odeh disclosed that over USD$1 million have been given as prize money to the winners since the awards began, noting that it was the biggest prize in Africa.
According to Odeh, “Nineteen years of successful administration has produced 17 winning works and over $1million as been won. This prize stands out as the biggest and most prestigious literary prize in Africa, and one of the world’s biggest and most reputable. We are happy that today presents an opportunity to interact with these eleven authors the works selected from 143 entries.”
Moderating the conversation was journalist and writer, Anote Ajeluorou
On his part, the Secretary General of CORA, Mr. Toyin Akinosho, who was represented by a board member, Mr. Ropo Ewenla, commended Nigeria LNG for its desire in uplifting the Nigeria creative industry, noting that CORA’s decision to collaborate with Nigeria LNG was borne out of the need to organise a book party where not only remarkable authors would be celebrated but would create a platform for interactive discussions between the authors and the reading public in order to promote reading culture, formulate public opinion and ensure all-round development of the nation at large.
“The first Book Party, which took place in the scenic seaside premises of the Goethe Institut-Nigeria on Victoria Island in 2010, was organized after a review of the first five years of the prize (2004-2009), in response to calls that the prize should do more than a glamourous Gala night in which one author got rich, but the Nigerian book trade and literary scene as a whole didn’t seem elevated. Sympathizers of the award argued that Nigeria LNG Ltd, through The Nigeria Prize for Literature, could not alone wipe out the entrenched challenges of the Nigerian literary landscape.
“CORA decided to help out. We asked the question: Why don’t we organize book readings, in which the top laureates come out to engage with audiences? For what is the worth of the riches when you don’t have an audience? Nothing beats a Book Reading – an event at which an author sits and discusses his work with readers in the room.”
Akinosho further advised the shortlisted authors to not dwell on the prize money alone, but to see the platform as a form of recognition, so they could become better and well recognized in global literature.
“Whoever wins The Nigeria Prize for Literature is the most literate Nigerian in the year of his winning. The Nigeria Prize for Literature is the biggest cash prize award for a literary competition on the continent. On the street, today, $100,000 will deliver N86 million. The prize money makes the competition to be as keen as some of the most prestigious literary prizes on the planet, but what writers want, primarily, is to distinguish themselves with magical writing and gain a wide audience in the event. Simply put, the recognition is important.”
Akinosho seized the opportunity to invite both physical and virtual audiences at the Book Party and all the laureates, regardless of whoever wins the prize, to the 25th edition of Lagos Book and Art Festival 2023 in November.
Dame Taiwo Ajai-Lycett (left); General Manager, External Relations and Sustainable Development of Nigeria LNG, Mr. Andy Odeh; CORA Board of Trustees, Chief Kayode Aderinokun; Mrs. Ifeoma Anieze and Mr. Yemisi Osilaja at the Book Party
Chairman, CORA Board of Trustees, Chief Kayode Aderinokun and Matron of CORA, Dame Ajai-Lycett, spoke at the event and gave nuggets of wisdom both to the audience and the 11 writers, stressing the place of the creative arts in envisioning and enthroning a new society in place of the current one. Aderinokun commended the writers for their feat, and also praised Nigeria LNG for its support for literature over the years, describing it as uncommon interest.
According to him, “What Nigeria LNG is doing is uncommon. If it was common, we would have about 10 corporate bodies that make humongous profits doing the same thing. Yet, it has always been the Nigeria LNG that has been supporting the creative arts consistently”
While admonishing the laureates on their role as artists and conscience of society, the legendary Dame of Nigerian stage and screen, Ajai-Lycett, called on Nigerian playwrights and theatre practitioners to take their works to the streets through live performances in order to pass across salient messages to the audience, saying that the motives and kind of messages being passed by Nigerian writers should suit present-day realities in response to current realities. She noted that theatre still remains the best channel to reach out to the people in order to educate, inform and bring about all-round development.
“Thank you to our noble laureates for the work you do and to NLNG for making this possible. I hear you lamenting the paucity of performances. I will like all of you to interrogate why we are not having enough theatre. It is not because corporate bodies don’t want to support us, but because our approach to entertainment is still out-of-reach. This is some thought I want you to have. Your writings, your ideas should interrogate the conditions in our country. And if you are looking for a channel to get to a wider audience, theatre is where you do that.
“There is a misconception that theatre is for the middle or the upper class. I don’t think so. In my time, I have performed at Mushin, Oshodi, in the streets. The job of an actor is not to prance around on screen but to reach people. It is about dialogue; it is about communication. You have to worry about how your work reaches people, because our job is to change our world. That’s what you are writing about. Is it too much to ask?
“I don’t think it is arrogant for me to think I want to change the world. I think you should be aggressive about getting your work to reach people. It is your job to motivate, galvanise, and I dare say to politicise them. It is not about seeking fame nor wealth. If you do what you have to do, wealth, fame and recognition will chase you.
“So join me in this fight to let people know that we are in the business to change the paradigm, to change our world.”
Other dignitaries who graced the event included Chairman, Nigeria Book Fair Trust, Mr. Dare Oluwatuyi, Chairman, CORA board, Chief Kayode Aderinokun, Dr. Kolade Mosuro of The Booksellers Ltd, President of Network of Book Clubs and Reading Promoters in Nigeria, Mr. Richard Mammah, Eriata Oribhabor, Benjy Okoh, Akeem Lasisi, Servio Gbadamosi of Winepress, among others.
The winner of The Nigeria Prize for Literature 2023 will be announced in October.