Editor’s note: Today, at Sheraton Hotel, Ikẹjà, Lagos, the winner of the 2016 Nigeria Prize for Literature was announced as Abubakar Adam Ibrahim for his novel Season of Crimson Blossoms (Parressia, 2015) and for the “competent manner in which Ibrahim demonstrated the execution of his work.” Here is the full speech given by Emeritus Professor Ayọ̀ Bánjọ, the Chairman of the Advisory Board for the Prize, on the justification for the prize, and other commentary on the whole judging process.

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GENERAL COMMENTS ABOUT THE 2016 COMPETITION BY PROFESSOR AYỌ BÁNJỌ

The Nigeria Prize for Literature is an annual competition which awards annual prizes to winning entries in the literary genres of Prose Fiction, Drama, Poetry and Children’s Literature on a rotational basis.

This year, the genre in focus is Prose Fiction. The following advertised rules were applied during the process of short listing and selecting the winning entry.  

Eligibility: The competition is open to all Nigerians anywhere in the world. This does not mean that writing about other peoples and cultures in a foreign setting is acceptable.

Relevance should be interpreted as consistency with the goals and aspirations of the Nigerian nation and its peoples – specifically, respect for their traditions and their identity as Africans.

Publishing: The prize is meant to encourage local publishing and book distribution, among other goals. Books published outside the country are eligible for entry. Only properly published texts are acceptable. However, efficient editing and good presentation of text are considered essential parts of publishing and are taken into account during the process of evaluation. The quality of the language is important, and errors of style and grammar are  considered major blemishes; these errors may not pass as typographical errors.

Genre: for this year’s competition, a basic distinction is drawn between fiction – that is imaginative prose which may incorporate factual materials and non-fiction like history, biography and sociological tracts which sometimes feature in the submissions for the competition.

This year’s completion has attracted a strong field with such high quality that even without this current shortlist of 3 books there would have still been a winner.

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COMMENTS ON SHORTLIST OF THREE BOOKS

All the three shortlisted texts cover a wide range of urgent societal and cultural issues such as the status of women in a patriarchal society, the education of youths, the search for identity, the danger of youth unemployment, corruption, insurgency, religious hypocrisy, migration, broken homes and single parenthood and attendant impact on women and children who are usually at the receiving end of most of these problems.

  • Chika Unigwe’s Night Dancer, tells the familiar story of the continuing marginalization of women in Igbo society. The author shows a strong awareness of this context by  the flavoring of the narrative with linguistic and cultural insertions. The novel tells the story of Mma, a young woman’s anguished search for her roots from the opening of the novel when she feels that she has been denied by her mother, until she gradually discovers that her mother had been deeply hurt by both her matrimonial and maiden families. In the course of Mma’s adventures in excavating her identity and her mother’s past, she is predictably confronted by the same cultural inhibitions that her mother had rebelled against. Mma’s own denunciation of those traditions and her belated adulation of a mother she had despised at the beginning of the novel is a slow and painful process of discovering the truth of her family background, and a radical change in her perception and understanding of this background. All this is aimed at validating Unigwe’s passionate call for the extension of the frontiers of women’s space in society.
  • Elnathan John’s Born on a Tuesday is a book about contemporary Northern Nigerian Society as seen through the eyes of a young man. The narrative is told from within a deviant community seen through the first person consciousness of street boys, popularly described as al-majiri. Virtually abandoned by parents and community the  young boy, who tells the story in his own words, finds his survival through a brotherhood of other street boys. Their small outcast community is exploited by politicians and the brutally victimized as scapegoats by law enforcement agencies.  They inevitably patronized and taken over by leaders of religious sects and become a source of recruitment terrorist groups. One of the strong points of the novel is its insight into the social mechanisms that lead to national crisis and terrorism or the social processes that give rise to religious fundamentalism and political hypocrisy, corruption and exploitation.
  • Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s Season of Crimson Blossoms is a very skillful and sympathetic narrative handling of a most psychologically and emotionally painful between an aging widow, who seeks release from her culturally imposed sexual repression, and a young outcast leader of a group of “weed” – i.e. hard drug – dealers who are ready thugs for politicians. In the background as immediately cause of the widow’s troubles, is the violent history of ethnic hatred and conflicts in Jos, 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 its projects through is main action, the implications of certain key social issues for younger audience – key issues such as early marriage, drug abuse and impact of relationships on human action. It is a novel whose narrow domestic action has wider universal relevance beyond its relevance for its immediate setting.

On behalf of the advisory board of the Nigeria Prize for Literature and of the judges and international consultant, I have the pleasure of announcing as the winner of this year’s entry, Season of Crimson Blossoms by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim.

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The award ceremony will take place early next year.

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