Eighty Five days. Just 85 days, that was all Soji Cole had to wait for him to join the league of millionaires made by the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Limited, sponsors of Nigeria Prize for Literature.
From July 26, when Embers was longlisted, the expectation had heightened for the academic, who has battled all through his life to prove the ‘prophecy’ that he would “never make it from books.” But on Friday night, the wait ended, as he beat two other accomplished writers, Akanji Nasiru and Denja Abdullahi, to win the prize.
By winning, he becomes the 14th winner in the 14 years that the company has given out this award. Before now, $780,000, which in today’s Naira market (1 USD = 362.17 NGN), is about N282,492,600 million, has been given out. With Friday’s award, the company has produced 14 millionaires in the literature category.
At a gala held at the Eko Hotel, Lagos to announce the winner, Emeritus Prof. Ayo Banjo, head of the prize’s advisory board, said these works were assessed based on three criteria: work as dramatic literature, theatre and authentic Nigeria literature.
Prof. Isidore Diala was declared winner of the Nigeria Prize for Literary Criticism. He had won the prize in 2014.Last year, Ikeogu Oke’s The Heresiad won the award. He got $100,000 in the process. In 2016, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s Season of Crimson Blossoms got $100,000, while Sam Ukala’s Iredi War was rewarded with $100,000 in 2014. For Tade Ipadeola, his 2013 effort, The Sahara Testaments, got him $100,000. The same as Chika Unigwe’s On Black Sisters’ Street in 2012 and Adeleke Adeyemi’s The Missing Clock in 2011. Esiaba Irobi’s Cemetery Road (2010) and Kaine Agary’s Yellow Yellow (2008) won $50,000 each.
In 2007, Mabel Segun’s Readers’ Theatre: Twelve Plays for Young People and Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo’s My Cousin Sammy shared the $30,000 at stake. The same amount Ahmed Yerima got for his Hard Ground in 2006, while Gabriel Okara’s The Dreamer: His Vision and Ezenwa Ohaeto’s Chants of Minstrel Poetry shared $20,000 in 2005.Between 2008 and 2018, there had been, at least, 1,332 entries.
Between these years, drama has recorded the least number of entries compared with prose. While drama had 93 (2010), 124 (2014) and 83 (2018) prose has 149 (2008), 214 (2012) and 173 (2016).Except for drama, all the other genres have had no winner declared at one time or the other — 2004 (Prose), 2009 (Poetry) and 2015 (Children Literature).
Prof. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo’Promise Ogochukwu, Bina Nengi-llagha, Prof. Ahmed Yerima, Omo Uwaifo, Obari Gomba, Soji Cole and Jude Idada have been long listed more than once.