(Being a speech given today at the World Press Conference of the NLNG Nigerian Prize for Literature 2015 Award by Emeritus Professor Ayo Banjo, Chairman, Advisory Board, Nigerian Prize for Literature)
The Nigeria Prize for Literature sponsored by Nigeria LNG Limited was instituted in 2004 with the aim of promoting literature and recognizing excellence. The initiative has witnessed steady progress since inception. The prize rotates among four genres namely – Poetry, Drama, Fiction and Children’s Literature. The 2015 The Nigeria Prize for Literature competition is for Children’s Literature.
The Nigeria Prize for Literature has since 2004 rewarded eminent writers such as Gabriel Okara (co-winner, 2005, poetry), Professor Ezenwa Ohaeto (co-winner, 2005, poetry); Ahmed Yerima (2006, drama) for his classic, Hard Ground; Mabel Segun (co-winner, 2007, children’s literature) for her collection of short plays Reader’s Theatre; Professor Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo (co-winner, 2007, children’s literature) with her book, My Cousin Sammy; Kaine Agary (2008, prose); Esiaba Irobi (2010, drama) who clinched the prize posthumously with his book Cemetery Road; Adeleke Adeyemi (2011, children’s literature) with his book The Missing Clock; Chika Unigwe (2012, prose), with her novel, On Black Sister’s Street; Tade Ipadeola (2013, Poetry) with his collection of poems, Sahara Testaments and Sam Ukala (2014, drama) with Iredi War. In 2004 and 2009, there were no winners.
Perhaps at this point, it is necessary to explain very briefly what children’s literature entails. Children’s literature reflects the cultural milieu, norms and values of any given society. It molds, teaches, corrects, entertains and crucially inspires the next generation of readers and writers. In most of the entries for this year’s contest, it was discovered that inappropriate prominence was given to the following: violence, eroticism, mediocrity, cheating in examinations, bullying, exploration in mysticism and negative peer-pressure.
A distinction needs to be made between children’s literature and literature about children. Children’s literature should be a creative works of aesthetic and social values for children.
This year, 109 entries were received. Eighty-nine (89) entries did not meet the preliminary criteria for assessment. This number represents 81.6% of the total number of entries received for 2015. The percentage by any standard is worrying; especially as there is a paucity of literature for children. Creative writers are urged to pay particular attention to children’s literature because this is the fundamental stage for child growth and consequently national development. In this year’s competition, the following criteria were used for assessing the entries: language\diction, theme(s)/content, social relevance, style, quality of production and originality.
Language plays a major role in literary production. Creative writers are normally expected to pay special attention to the use of language, particularly so with regard to children’s literature. The Nigeria Prize for Literature demands stylistic excellence as manifested through an original and authoritative voice, narrative coherence, and technically accurate writing. Unfortunately, the entries this year fall short of this expectation as each book was found to manifest incompetence in the use of language. Generally, published works are expected to be attractive, attention-catching and of good quality. The entries assessed for the 2015 The Nigeria Prize for Literature competition did not reflect the above qualities to an acceptable degree. Many of them showed very little or no evidence of good editing.
In view of the above assessment, it is clear that no entry met the standard expected of a good literary work of children’s literature. Therefore none of the entries is found suitable for the 2015 The Nigeria Prize for Literature Award.