* Umez wins literary criticism prize
By Anote Ajeluorou
A professor of law at Babcock University, Ogun State, Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia, was declared winner of The Nigeria Prize for Literature 2020/2021 season for prose fiction worth USD$100,000 on October 30, 2021 at a ceremony in Lagos. She won with her novel The Son of the House. Declaring Onyemelukwe-Onuobia winner was the chairperson of the prize’s Advisory Board and past winner in the children’s category, Prof. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo. Also, a member of the Advisory Board, Prof. Olu Obafemi, had earlier announced Uchechukwu Peter Umez as winner of The Nigeria Literary Criticism Prize worth N1 million.
According Adimora-Ezeigbo, “After a careful scrutiny of the three novels, the panel of judges and the Advisory Board have, in consideration of its profundity of technique and subject matter as a Nigerian family saga, its thematic depth and social relevance as a commentary on the diversity of collective experiences that shape, hold and mar families in postcolonial Nigeria, and its feminist undertones, found Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia’s The Son of the House outstanding, and declare it thewinner of the 2021 Nigeria Prize for Literature.”
For the literary criticism prize, Obafemi had declared, “The judges have therefore recommended, and the Advisory Board has ratified, that The Nigeria Prize for Literary Criticism 2020/2021 be awarded to Uchechukwu Peter Umezurike for his critical essays – “Self-Publishing in the Era of Military Rule in Nigeria, 1985 – 1999”, “Postcolonial Ogres in Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s Wizard of the Crow”, and “Land of Cemetery: Funereal Images in the Poetry of Musa Idris Okpanachi”.
A little earlier, Adimora-Ezeigbo said the last three novels in contention Abi Dare’s The Girl with Louding Voice, Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia’s The Son of the House, and Obinna Udenwe’s Colours of Hatred “are axioms of a profound ‘paradigm shift’ from the preoccupation of the Nigerian novel with collective, nationalist issues to an interrogation of the permeation of the notion of ‘the end justifies the means and the autonomy of the self or primacy of individuality in defining and pursuing what best serves its immediate interests. This portrait erases the efficacy of the moral distinction between the urban (loose and corrupting) and the rural (serene and authentic) in the designation of the postcolonial space or setting by first and second generation of Nigerian writers. In aesthetic terms, the entries have, in divergent ways, been influenced by or constituted out of an interface between creative writing, film, home video and romance.”
She also gave a brief insight into what the three writers set out to do in their works, when she said, “Abi Dare’s The Girl with the Louding Voice was published in 2020 by Sceptre. It is a narrative that tells the story of the plight of a girl-child, a valuable commodity who is sold into marriage at an early age. The heroine, Adunni, is forced by poverty and the death of her mother to drop out of school. She is married off to an elderly polygamous man with a view to raising funds for her father’s survival. The novel also tackles the issue of early marriage, child sexual abuse, childlessness in marriage, and domestic violence on one hand; and on the other, the urgent need of female bonding or sisterhood in transcending the constraints that have been placed in the life of women by men.
“Onyemelukwe-Onuobia’s The Son of the House was published in 2019 by Parresia Publishers. The novel presents the predicaments of two women, Nwabulu a one-time housemaid and a successful fashion designer; and Julie, an educated woman who lives through tricks, deceits and manipulations, as they meet in captivity. Both women decide to tell each other their stories. They soon discover that their lives had crossed at different points. The subject matter of the novel is developed through the rupture of traditional plot and the mediation of a single narrative voice. It is made up of a prologue and a three part story moments, each dominated by multiple points of narration. The Son of the House is an experimental novel with a complex plot structure made up of a main plot and several subordinate plots that intercept.
“Obinna Udenwe’s Colours of Hatred is a plot-driven detective story and published by Parresia in 2020. The novel is a confessional that centres on the story of Leona of the Dinka tribe and her involvement in the killing of her father-in-law. It is a whodunit, which through introspection and re-telling explores issues of love, hatred, war, revenge, oppression, extra-judicial killings, military rule, displacement and exile with their attendant tensions that leave scars on people and homes. In this context, the novel draws substantially from the tradition of modernism and deploys investigative techniques of detective narratives and flash backs to account for what has happened.”
EARLIER, the Managing Director/CEO, Nigeria LNG Limited, Dr Philip Mshelbila, while addressing guests at Eko Hotel venue of the award ceremony, said it was important to court the thinkers and visionary men and women who dream up the ideas that drive society forward, saying it was why the company he manages spends lots of money to keep both literature and science prizes going.
According to Mshelbila, “For us to create a better society, we need the imaginative power of the fiction writer to dream up the impossible; we also need the scientist using the scientific method to find the best and most efficient way to make that dream a reality. The interaction of these two sets of minds continues to drive the development of modern society. Their position is so important that visionary policy makers must seek them out, encourage and promote them and their works. If we truly want our country Nigeria to experience growth in its education, economy, technology and industry, we must court them, love and make them productive and regenerative. That is why in NLNG, we have, since 2004, spent tens of millions of dollars to ensure that these groups of special minds never give up on their efforts and never give in to the emptiness that their solitary journey into the search for the unknown sometimes presents them with.”
While congratulating the eventual winners of both The Nigeria Prize for Literature and The Literary Criticism Prize, Mshelbila could not help lamenting the inability of the Advisory Board for The Science Prize not to award its own prize because of poor quality of entries for the prize this year.
“Not delivering a winner in science is painful, not just to us in NLNG, or to the Advisory Board for the Science Prize, but also to those who sent in entries, Mshelbila lamented. “It should induce a national feeling of despondence. And it should be a call for us all to rethink the place of science in our curriculum. Science should not belong to the classrooms alone. We all must support its growth and development. I will, therefore, encourage venture capitalists, captains of industry, chambers of commerce and other consumers of innovation to fill this gap by adopting science departments of universities and research institutes in their various communities as part of Research and Development departments. Companies that do not have such Research and Development (R&D) departments could align with the universities as progress partners. That demonstration of care will motivate scientists and researchers to endure the loneliness and long hours it takes to break new grounds in science and technology. And, I dare say, we will have more entries for this great prize than we get every year. All these will have a positive exponential effect on science, research and innovation in the country.”