April 15, 2024

Women versus men: How they stand as winners of The Nigeria prize for Literature

  • March 29, 2024
  • 5 min read
Women versus men: How they stand as winners of The Nigeria prize for Literature

By Anote Ajeluorou

THE Nigeria Prize for Literature is 20 years! Hurray!! This is a significant milestone worth celebrating for a prize that has put smiles on the faces of some Nigerian writers, and continues to do so as the prize matures. While the celebration continues, it’s worthwhile to note some of these milestones and make projections into the future. Like any other prize system, The Nigeria Prize for Literature is an equal opportunity asset, and Nigerian writers, male and female, have had a shot at besting each other. This is not surprising. From earliest of times, women writers like Mabel Segun and Molara Ogundipe, who probably sat in the same class with such prominent writers like Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Christopher Okigbo and JP Clark have shown that the creative muse is genderless and have gone on to produce worthy literature.

For The Nigeria Prize for Literature, female writers have also held their heads high. However, they weigh far less on the scale in terms of more wins than their male counterpart. Out of the 17 winners so far in the prize’s 20 years, only five are women with 12 being male writers. Two women and two men have been joint winners. Although instituted in 2004 with prose in focus, no winner was declared that year. But things changed in 2005 for poetry genre, when Prof. Ezenwa Ohaeto and Gabriel Okara jointly won with Chants of a Minstrel and The Dream, His Vision. All male. The story wasn’t different in 2006 for the genre of drama, when Prof. Ahmed Yerima won with Hard Ground.

But women came into their own in 2007 for children’s literature, when Mabel Segun and Prof. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo jointly won with their works – My Cousin Sammy and Readers’ Theatre: Twelve Plays for Young People. Not surprising because women and children have special relationship that obviously got transferred into the creative process. But this was not to be in subsequent winnings, when in 2011 also for children’s literature, The Missing Clock won it for Mai Nasara (Adeyemi Adeleke) won to also establish that an unmistakable bond also exists between fathers and their children. The next prize for children’s literature didn’t favour women either, as a male Jude Idada won it in 2019 with Boom Boom.

Gomba 1 E1695172557565

Who succeeds Dr. Obari Gomba?

So what happened to the women and children? Has the umbilical cord snapped for the beard to hold sway?

But in 2008 for prose category, a woman, Kaine Agary, would restore female power when she won with Yellow Yellow. 2009 drew blank for poetry, as no winner was announced, although the longlist was an all-male affair. But men’s dominance would be restored in 2010 when Cemetery Road won the drama prize for Esiaba Irobi, but Dr. Chika Unigwe would challenge strongly for 2012 for the prose genre as she won with On Black Sisters Street to restore confidence in the ‘female’ muse. Unigwe beat Ngozi Achebe (Onaedo: The Blacksmith’s Daughter) and Olusola Olugbesan (Only a Canvas). But male firepower was overwhelming for Iquo Diana-Abasi, the lone female cast in the 2013 longlist for poetry, as Tade Ipadeola took the diadem with The Sahara Testaments. Ipadeola beat Promise Ogochukwu (Wild Letters) and Chidi Amu Nnadi (Through the Window of a Sandcastle) to clinch it.

Women have challenged badly for drama genre since inception. In 2014, Prof. Sam Ukala took it with Iredi War. 2015 drew blank for children’s prize, as the prize winner had no winner, but women would still not make any showing in 2017 for the genre of poetry, as Ikeogu Oke won with The Heresiad in a contest that starred Dr. Ogaga Ifowodo (A Good Mourning) and Prof. Tanure Ojaide (Songs of Myself: Quartet). As usual in 2018 for drama, Soji Cole snatched it with Embers in a contest with two other man – Denja Abdullahi (Death and the King’s Grey Hair) and Akanji Nasiru (The Rally).

Idada took it in 2019 with Boom Boom, but the female muse charged back in 2021 for the prose genre, when The Son of the House won it for Cheluchi Onyemelekwu-Onuobia in a shortlist of two females to one male – Obinna Udenwe (Colours of Hatred) and Abi Dare (The Girl with the Louding Voice). For the genre of poetry in 2022, Nomad won it for Romeo Oriogun by beating Sadiq Dzukogi (Your Crib, My Quibla) and Su’eddie Agema (Memory and the Call of Waters), just as Dr. Obari Gomba won it with Grit in 2023 after besting Henry Akubuiro (Yamtarawala – The Warrior King) and Abiden Ojomu (The Ojuelegba Crossroads).

So far prose seems to have favoured the female writers more than the other three genres of drama, poetry and children’s literature, with women taking the latter only once – Segun and Adimora-Ezeigbo. For prose, Agary, Unigwe and Onyemelekwu-Onuobia blaze the trail.

This year is for children’s literature. Will a woman take it to re-establish mother-child bond? Or will it be another male writer asserting DNA right over children? With only a few days to go before end to submission on April 2, 2024, it’s anyone’s guess where the pendulum will swing in what is clearly paternity supremacy in the life of a prize that is making millionaires out of Nigerian writers!

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