The Advisory Board of the Nigeria Prize for Literature has announced writer and journalist, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, as the winner of the 2016 edition of the prize after a nine-month long process of adjudication.
Chairman of the board, Emeritus Prof. Ayo Banjo, made the announcement at a meeting with journalists in Lagos on Wednesday.
Ibrahim’s novel, Season of Crimson Blossoms, beat 172 other entries, including the works of close contenders, El-Nathan John and Belgium-based Chika Unigwe, to emerge winner of this year’s competition in the prose fiction category.
In his report, Banjo said, “It was a strong field this year. The shortlisted entries were very strong and the board had no difficulty in accepting the recommendation of the panel of judges, considering the subject matter and competent manner in which the winner demonstrated the execution of his work.”
He described the winning novel as “a skillful and sympathetic narrative handling of a most psychologically and emotionally painful” encounter between an aging widow, who seeks release from her culturally imposed sexual repression, and the young leader of a group of dealers in hard drugs.
Still on the summary of the novel, Banjo continued, “In the background, the violent history of ethnic hatred and conflicts in Jos is placed within the larger context of contemporary Nigerian history with its complex and sometimes violent intertwining of politics, religion and culture.
“The novel moves from its evocative and passionate first sentence through a web of anxious moments to a tragic and painful conclusion with hardly a moment of respite. All through it projects the implications of certain social issues for a younger audience – key issues such as early marriage, drug abuse and the impact of relationships on human action. It is a novel whose narrow domestic action has a wider universal relevance beyond its immediate setting.”
Reacting to the verdict, the General Manager, External Relations at the Nigeria Liquefied and Natural Gas Company Limited, sponsors of the literature prize, Kudo Eresia-Eke, noted that the quality of entries in the 2016 competition had said a lot for the development and progression of Nigerian writing. “We are very proud of the quality of the entries received. Let me reiterate very clearly that we will continue to support the integrity and excellence, which are some of the pillars that we have built the NLNG’s success as a company on,” he said.
The Nigeria Prize for Literature is awarded with a cash prize of $100, 000 (N31m at the official exchange rate). Ibrahim’s maiden short story collection, The Whispering Trees, was longlisted for the inaugural Etisalat Prize for Literature in 2014 and the title story was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing.
The panel of judges for the 2016 prize comprises Prof. Dan Izevbaye, who is the chairman; Prof. Asabe Usman Kabir of the Usumanu Dan Fodiyo University, Sokoto and Prof. Isidore Diala of the Imo State University, Owerri.
The panel had, through the Advisory Board, released an initial shortlist of 11 entries in July and later in September, a final shortlist of three entries. The three shortlisted entries, in alphabetic order, were Born on a Tuesday (Elnathan John), Night Dancer (Chika Unigwe) and Season of Crimson Blossoms (Abubakar Adam Ibrahim).
Last year, the literature prize, which focused on children’s literature, was not awarded due to what the judges, led by Prof. Uwemedimo Iwoketok of the University of Jos, described as the inability of the entries to manifest competence in the use of language.
In its 13th year, the Nigeria Prize for Literature has since 2005 rewarded about 11 Nigerian writers, including the last winner, Sam Ukala, Tade Ipadeola, Chika Unigwe, Gabriel Okara, late Ezenwa Ohaeto, Akachi Ezeigbo, Mabel Segun and the late Esiaba Irobi, among others, across the various genres.
Contrary to speculations, there is no indication that the sponsors will cease to provide funding for the prize anytime soon. Responding to a question from a journalist at the press briefing, Eresia gave the assurance that the prize would continue to exist and the NLNG would not withdraw its support for literature, in spite of the economic recession in the country.