The Jury's Report Of The 2017 NLNG Literature Prize (Poetry) | The Arts-Muse Fair

A total of 184 poetry collections were received for this year’s competition.

The seriousness with which the NLNG literary prize is received by the teeming population of writers in Nigeria is a sign that the expectations of writers swing beyond the prize itself to that of portraying their creativity. The prestige, associated with the prize saw the 184 entrants of collections of poetry in various sizes and of diverse themes setting out for the stiff competition. At the beginning, the initial weeding was carried out following one of the primary criteria; quality and validity of publication year.  

A total of 101 collections were disqualified at the initial combined sitting of the Advisory Board and the panel of judges for not meeting the basic and fundamental guidelines. 83 closely screened entries were left in the competition and the judges were given a month to come up with the long list of 50 and 25 simultaneously. The next step was to synchronise the shortlist of 11 which the panel carried out in accordance with the set criteria approved by the Advisory Board.

The meeting which saw the emergence of the final list of 3 was long and the scrutiny all encompassing because the panel did not just focus on the quality of production but more on relevance to contemporary Nigerian Literature. The succinct development of Nigerian literature from the classical tradition is something the panel consider an act of brevity and enriching to contemporary Nigerian literature.

At this final phase, we examined the strengths of each of the three books on the final list namely: Ogaga Ifowodo’s A Good Mourning, Tanure Ojaide’s Songs of Myself: Quartet and Ikeogu Oke’s The Heresaid.

Ogaga Ifowodo’s A Good Mourning published by Parresia Books, focusses on the tragedy, ambiguity and contradictions of human experience recreated from poetic vision and language. The work has been likened to “an itinerary that shifts from one notorious platform of human bestiality to another — from the Slave Trade to the Holocaust, the theatres of war in Palestine and the Congo, and the genocide fields of Rwanda and Darfur and so on”.

Songs of Myself: Quartet by Tanure Ojaide published by Kraft Books Limited explores paradoxes in contemporary times presented in discursive lyricism. It reflects the journey to the deepest vicissitudes of the adventurer himself. Ojaide’s volume directs a vigilant gaze toward the artist, society and the world at large. In its breadth and sweep, it undergirds and reiterates the rich linguistic resources available to the artist from indigenous sources.

Ikeogu Oke’s The Heresaid published by Kraft Books Ltd, employs the epic form in questioning power and freedom. It probes metaphorically the inner workings of societies and those who shape them. The volume addresses the question of freedom in all its ramifications.

In assessing and ranking the three works, the judges paid close attention to maturity and depth of vision in the execution of themes, and considered the collections holistically rather than scoring high for one or two poems. After much consideration of these criteria, the competition was narrowed down to between Tanure Ojaide’s Songs of Myself:Quartet and Ikeogu Oke’s The Heresaid.

Oke’s poetry collection reveals a conscious/deliberate manipulation of language and philosophy in the style that reminds us of the writings of great Greek writers of Homeric and Hellenistic periods. Ojaide’s collection refreshes in its day to day experiences of the ordinary man/writer, his travels and other cross-gender exploits. The collection explores paradoxes in contemporary times presented in discursive lyricism. Ikeogu stylistically reaches out to classicism, and Ojaide, to traditional quintessential orature. 

Both seem to complement each other and collectively reveal and reflect the highest level of poetic craftsmanship in Nigeria. The two authors and their works demonstrate the scope and scale of ambition which The Nigeria Prize for Literature deserves. In their respective ways they push and extend the boundaries of the practice of the art of poetry and of poetry’s engagement with society.
The judges found this seeming complementarity quite appealing and considered recommending both works as a tie for the award.

However, the judges went further to apply decisively and scrupulously the Assessment Criteria for the 2017 The Nigeria Prize for Literature competition in their minutest detail thus:

Assessment Criteria for 2017 The Nigeria Prize for Literature competition

  1. Scope  
  • Themes/subjects with regard to relevance to society
  • Time (historical, contemporary and topical)

2.      Maturity and depth of vision
  • Seriousness of content
  • Handling of language

3.      Unity and coherence of content

  1. Thematic engagement
  • Artistic commitment
  • Social commitment
5.      Creative use of language
  • Mechanical correctness of use of language
  • Diction
  • Imagery and other poetic devices
  • Contribution to Nigerian Literature
  • Content
  • Technique

6.      Quality of production
  • Physical
    – Quality of binding
-Print quality, choice and size of font, readability.

After diligent considerations and critically objective application of the guidelines and criteria, the judges decided to recommend Ikeogu Oke’s The Heresaid as the 2017 winner of The Nigeria Prize for Literature. This decision is based on its apt topicality, relevance, artistic heft and the pursuit of artistic provenance. In a world of increasingly threatened by encroaching totalitarianism and even bare-faced tyranny and intolerance, the wit, wisdom and message of the The Heresaid are infinitely crucial.

It is our hope and goal that the kind of vibrancy which we have found in the collections of poetry submitted is a vital evidence that NLNG is making unprecedented difference in the intellectual development of Nigeria and Nigerian today.

 The 2017 Literary Criticism Competition

The Panel of Judges for the Poetry competition was also charged with the task of assessing the entries for the 2017 Literary Criticism Prize. Compared to the 184 entries received for the Poetry competition, the Literary Criticism entries numbered a paltry five! Of these five, three were disqualified. The guidelines for submission specified that the essays to be submitted must be written not more than three years prior to the year of competition namely nothing published before 2014. The three disqualified essays were published between 2010 and 2012 contrary to the stipulation in the guidelines. The judges considered just two essays abysmally inadequate for a competition of this magnitude. Therefore, no recommendation is made for this award in 2017. The judges wish to further draw the attention of tertiary institutions in Nigeria to the paucity of the responses to this competition as a direct reflection on those tertiary institutions particularly the universities. It is our hope that responses will be a lot better in future from professors and lecturers in our more than one hundred universities in Nigeria. It is a challenge that they should be glad to embrace!

Prof Ernest Emenyonu  (Chairman, Panel of Judges)
Dr Razinatu Mohammed
Tade Ipadeola
Prof Abena Busia (External Consultant)

Prof Ayo Banjo (Chairman, Advisory Board)
Prof Ben Elugbe
Prof Jerry Agada