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art. language. travel

 The Nigerian Prize for Literature: Children’s Fiction 2015

(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.

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The Conversation: Diss(cuss)ing Sexism

11863369_10207030148087504_347744263677818436_nLast Sunday, Joy Isi Bewaji, author of Eko Dialogue, hosted the fourth edition of The Conversation, a public town-hall-style interaction on various issues, at Colonades Hotel in Lagos. The first edition held in Lagos, the second in Abuja, the third was held in Ibadan this last July. This edition was to discuss sexism in Nigeria and its implications for both men and women. I was one of the panelists, along with lawyer Ayo Sogunro, actor Femi Jacobs, and Bimbola Amao. In attendance were men and women from all walks of Nigerian life: journalists, artisans, housewives, young single women, married men and women, writers, and all. This was my first time in one of these events.

12002902_10207030203408887_7899856583509023853_nWhat is sexism? How sexist is the Nigerian media? How sympathetic or sensitive is society to the issues of Sexism as it affects the woman? What are the dangers of sexism in marriage? etc. These are some of the questions posed by the convener, and discussed by the panel and the audience. And, in just a few minutes into the event, a series of personal experiences started pouring in from around the room detailing the crap that Nigerian women put up with on a daily basis: a deadbeat but egotistic husband who prevents his wife from excelling, a caring but misinformed mother who hands over her daughter, at 19, to a man whom she had never met, or loved, to marry just so she could boast of having a daughter in a marriage, a young lady who is kept from going to school to pursue her degrees because of her husband’s patriarchal (and religious) conditioning, another who is struggling in a marriage where the balance of power (and finances) is tilted against her even after she had supported the man with her own income when she had the means. In the workplace, someone who didn’t get a job because she was pregnant at the time of the interview, and many more who were (and would be) denied jobs just because they were female and thus “emotional” beings.

12020022_10207030163607892_2268462496907388402_nThere were many more, not just from the panelists who in a few instances disagreed on the cause of and the solutions to many of the issues. (Is religion a force for good or for ill in these matters? Yes? No? Ayo Sogunro argued, correctly I believe, that our imposition of a foreign belief system on what was a fairly equitable traditional family system complicated our gender relationships and gave excuse to men to relegate women into subservient roles because “the bible said so” or “it’s written in the Qur’an”. Femi Jacobs disagreed, crediting religion with all the good in the world and absolving it of the resulting ill. The followers of the faith, in his opinion, are the ones most responsible for the interpretation of simple harmless injunctions. This isn’t satisfactory, I argued, citing examples in Catholicism where divorce is frowned upon, and Islam where female genital mutilation is – in some cases mandatory. We cannot always separate religion from much of the problems we have with oppression and inequality in marriage, I said. It’s called “Man and Wife”, after all, and not “Husband and Wife”, where “man” is the default and “wife” is just something he possesses.

12036435_10207030190528565_3023491193859455679_nThere were also some personal disclosures by some of the women which elicited winces of discomfort, despair, and eventual vocal disagreement by the panel as well as some other members of the audience: should women refuse to hire other women because, in someone’s words “women are emotional, can be petty, and are often unprofessional”? As I responded, hopefully with as much incredulity as I felt, “What would you say if a man had said that???” In discussions like this that can sometimes move fluidly from the solid grounds of rejecting discrimination on the basis of one’s gender to the murky waters of self-righteous recrimination of other members of that same gender for being the real reasons why they have what’s coming to them, it’s always important to be on guard. It is particularly so for women who eventually become victims of these prejudices when they become accepted as fact by the general publc.

12043193_10207030221529340_2326122176500313160_nWhat my experience of participating in the conversation tells me is that a lot more needs to be done. Sexism is discrimination against someone on the basis of prejudiced opinions, summaries, and conclusions about their gender without giving them a chance to prove themselves. Simple. Not giving someone a job because they’re thought to be incompetent before they are tested is sexist. Assuming that all unmarried young women are incompetent is sexist, even if many of them are (and I don’t believe that this is the case). Not employing young women with boyfriends (because they often can’t focus on their work because of their love life) is sexist too – and many more. These are sexist even if the person doing this is a woman! There will always be other avenues to talk about how young women (and men) in Nigeria could improve their competence in the workplace so they’re not mistreated at work. But in a gathering to discuss how to remove that kind of mistreatment, the focus on the victim seemed a tad out of place.

10474209_10207030177568241_4606936268499671400_nIn all, the event was notable – for me – in the the openness with which the women (and men) present spoke about what were intensely personal issues and encounters in their marriage and their daily lives. These were information that couldn’t have been easy to elicit from anyone, but were freely shared in order to illustrate a point, refute another, or help others learn from past mistakes. This is where the convener, Joy Isi Bewaji gets an A+. For creating an avenue for women to share and learn from each other, provide support, and encouragement, proving that there is no knowledge that is not power, I salute her. As the diversity on the panelists’ table shows, it is not for women alone either. Men, hopefully, took away more than just the guilt of having been in a privileged position that has trampled on women’s rights for generation, sometimes non-deliberately. They also learnt about what they can do to make the future a better one for women, for their sons and daughters, and for themselves.

12046730_10207030215049178_7601876848935760155_nLike Oprah Winfrey who one may guess that Ms Bewaji aspires to surpass in her responsiveness and attention to human-angle issues around the country, especially regarding women, Joy is passionate about what she does, and has achieved success for doing them. At the end of the event, she presented a sum of 50,000 naira ($250) to three women each who, though indigent, had inspired her over a period of time with their strength and innovativeness. The money, according to her, came from donors. Days after the event, we learnt that 85,000 naira (>$400) more was raised – also through anonymous donors – for one of the struggling women at the event who had passionately told a story of her survival through a horrible marriage. The money can never be enough to solve problems that have roots in our evolution, cultural conditioning, and history, but it can have practical implications for someone living in poverty who however has the zeal, the smarts, and the ability to innovate and pull herself up. This is a great thing, and we need more of it.

It took over three hours, then the event ended. There will be many more in the future, Ms. Bewaji said. And to that, we say, amen.


All photos courtesy of Joy Bewaji’s Facebook page where you can see the other pictures, along with more smiling faces than I cared to put up here due to the limits of space.
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The Emptying Vessels of Lagos

On my way to work the other day, at the Oando Roundabout, one of the many along the Lekki-Epe expressway, I overheard a couple of traffic cops complaining about the drivers on the road. They spoke loud enough for drivers in each of the cars nearest to them on the road to hear, if they paid attention, as I did. They gesticulated as they spoke, complementing each other’s point within the same discussion. By the time I got close enough to them within the creeping traffic, all I could hear was “See them, all these cars, there is just one person in each of them!” I recognised it immediately as the same sentiment I’d harboured for a while, about the typical unwillingness of Lagosians to carpool. I also noticed that, like many of the drivers on the road that morning, I was also alone in my vehicle.

The Lekki-Epe expressway is a tar stretch of 49.5 kilometres starting somewhere around old Maroko (now called Sandfill) and ending, across the Lagos Lagoon at Epe. The road was constructed in the 80s during the last civilian administration before the military took over in 1983, but expanded recently when civilian rule returned to Nigeria in 1999 during the tenure of Bola Ahmed Tinubu. The expansion turned what was, at the time, a narrower town road into a wider stretch able to accommodate more vehicles commuting everyday to work at the Victoria Island end from deep into the Lekki peninsula. Lekki itself, like Manhattan in the United States is as much a peninsula as it is a mix-bag community of mostly middle and upperclass people (but with a considerable mix of lower class, indigenous people, itinerant service workers from out of state, and other ethnic Lagosians).

The House on the Rock Church, Lekki (pictured left, by the flag) was constructed with millions of dollars, and caters to the creme of Lekki middle and upper class Christians.

To claim to “live in Lekki” for most Lagosians and Nigerians is to claim a status that marks one as different from the masses. The image conjured is usually one of affluence: two to three cars for one family, a big house fully owned or at least rented at a high cost, a job in a prestigious bank or financial institution at the Marina or Victoria Island end of the Lagos island, and children who live either abroad, or who attend some of Nigeria’s most expensive schools. The perception is however unwarranted, of course, as many who live in Lekki (and yet work in low paying jobs, live in streets that get flooded whenever it rains, and typically take public transportation everyday to get to work) will attest. There are many “Lekkis”, from Lekki Phase 1, where the rich supposedly stay, and where rent for a three bedroom apartment start from two and a half million naira ($12,500) per year, to Jakande, halfway on the expressway, where rent is a little more affordable, but still higher for many average Nigerians (800,000/$3500) to Sangotedo, and beyond where many who can’t afford more than 400,000 naira per year ($2000), and lower, take residence. Like Manhattan, living on the Upper West Side is not the same as living in Harlem. Same borough. Different experience. (Certainly, different expenses).


On a typical evening, as in the morning for the other side of the road, hundreds of cars stretch as far as the eyes can see. (Photo taken at Jakande area)

What is true and indisputable about the peninsula today however was what was confirmed to me on that morning ride: there are too many cars on the road. In a recent news report, the number of private cars on Lagos roads was put at 600,000, with another 120,000 accounting for motorcycles. This is for a state of a population of about 9.013 million people. I don’t have a figure for the number of public transportation we have on the road, and we don’t know just how many of these vehicles ply the Lekki-Epe expressway, but what we see every day on the way to work, where a trip that should otherwise last for six minutes (Igbo Efon to Ikate, to use the example of my route) on a Sunday usually takes fifty minutes on a Monday morning, and the number of people we still see at bus stops every morning looking for rides to work way past the 8am opening hours, tell us that there is not an efficient ratio between the number of cars available and the people who need or use them. The is so much wealth, but little value.


Another view of the road at around 4pm in the afternoon. Motorists, most of them private cars, carrying less than two people in many cases, file behind each other for stretches of kilometres.

The Ibeju-Lekki local government that covers most of the area accessible to this expressway has a population of 117,481, out of which one can guess that more than a quarter of the adult residents have private means of transportation sometimes for themselves and for their spouses (and in some cases another one to pick up and drop off their children in school). This, ordinarily, shouldn’t be a problem in a free market, capitalist, democracy. The problem comes from what this has meant for city planning, the climate, sustainable development, ease of access for commuters, the road itself, and wellbeing in general.

Living in big cities has likely always had its drawbacks much of which relate to the level of noise and environmental pollution. In the case of Lagos however, much of it seem preventable and at the same time sadly inevitable. By having too many cars on the road most of which have the passenger seats empty, traffic jams increase, preventing most people from getting to work on time (except they have to wake up as early as 3.30am, like many of my colleagues do, thus reducing their quality of life, and costing companies millions of naira every year in wasted work hours otherwise spent in traffic, morning or evening), we pay a price in more ways than one. The traffic jams affect everyone including those in private transportation. A road that can currently take four to five cars at its widest, wear and tear increases as well as other maintenance expenses accruing to the state due to use, and may even break down into disrepair. More than that, more cars equal more carbon emission, damaging the atmosphere and endangering inhabitants, many of whom are already unhealthy from a sedentary lifestyle encouraged by private cars. 

There are many solutions to the problem, but the state government will need to step up. For one, the Lekki-Epe Expressway, by now, should have ceased being the only access road across the Lekki peninsula. A beach-side road from Victoria Island, said to have been under construction for a number of years, needs to be completed as soon as possible. So are the number of inside connections that can take a commuter from Lekki Phase 1 to Ajah without having to get on the expressway. These routes haven’t been developed because the government hasn’t invested enough in making the constructions needed to connect these barely motorable inside roads. And, away from cars, where are the safe bicycle routes that commuters can use, satisfying one’s exercise and transportation needs at the same time? New York has more people, and more cars, yet there are spaces for cyclists to ride. Where are the large commercial ferries subsidised, perhaps, by the government, to move large quantities of people from Epe to Victoria Island without fuss? Where are the trams and in-city trains? Also, what about policies that encourage carpooling where, for instance, cars with at least three people inside it will get a free or reduced pass through the toll gate, or at worst expedited passage?

From my experience as a commuter without a private means of transportation, I can attest to the goodness of a number of Lagos residents many of who will stop to give strangers a free (or even reduced cost) ride towards their destination early in the morning or in the evening. I have given many such free rides myself, particularly when it rains. However, this is not, and should not be enough. There have been other solutions, including the new ride-share services like JeKaLo and GoMyWay which are both Nigerian solutions to allow the private owner to carpool with vetted strangers for a small fee. I haven’t used either of them so I can’t speak to their safety or otherwise, but their continuing success through use points to the fact that they are meeting a need and solving some of the problem. Services like Uber, Lyft, etc are also playing a part in reducing the number of private cars on the road by allowing their owners use them for public transportation during their free hours.

We need many more ways of solving a problem that seems – with the number of newly imported cars entering the city every month – to be on the way to only get worse. As for me, I’d keep taking occasional opportunities to trek and explore the outdoors, saving car fuel in the process and stretching my legs. I’d say let’s look away from cars totally, but this is Lagos, the city of statuses and egos. That would take a very long time.

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Blogging in Klieg Lights

A while ago, while pondering the changing landscapes of contemporary media, I suggested that many things have irrevocably changed enough to warrant a different attitude, especially by prize-giving bodies, towards alternative media and publishing outlets. I must have said it in many other different ways afterwards. It was true then as it is now, that the democratisation of the media which has given rise to many new voices and expressions that would otherwise remain silent has not received much of its due respect from the traditional gatekeepers.

A number of times on this blog and elsewhere, I’ve made a case for blogging as “the future, or at least the way to it.” I believe this to be true, although the Booker, The Nobel, among other literary prizes have however not yet taken any relevant cues from this reality enough to change the traditional nature of their annual winner selection. Rational people expect the changes to be slow. However, great, brilliant and beautiful work is still being done everyday on web platforms by writers who either can’t find publishers, or don’t think that the traditional route of print publishing is effective in reaching their audiences. The earlier we begin to recognise them in spite of their refusal or inability to comply with traditional methods, the better. The world is now a different place.

cnn_aja_logo_2015_rgbI want to say though – some of you probably know where I’m going with this – that I’ve received recently some encouraging validation for that aspiration. This blog has been nominated for the CNN/Multichoice African Journalist of the Year 2015 for a travel report I did for this blog a while ago.  (I’ll tell you which one it is, shortly). And for that, I’ve been invited for an all-expense paid to Nairobi, Kenya – this October – to writing workshops, networking, and the gala night to hear the name of the winners. (I also found it incredibly gratifying to be returning to Kenya exactly ten years since my first visit in March 2005. Yay for travel, nyama choma, and meeting old friends. Habari yenu, Kenya!).

More enchanting for me, however, is a possibility for the future. We’ve seen it with Uber successfully subverting the idea of organised traditional taxi service, and of AirB&B helping people turn their home and apartments into “hotels” without having to get a licence or own properties like the Hilton or Trump. It has happened with radio vs podcasts, and with music companies vs Pandora, Spotify, etc, and with e-Books helping writers reach their audiences faster and more affordably. Everywhere we turn, new ways are challenging the old and forcing us to negotiate the world in a lot of different, less cumbersome ways. I see blogging in the same way: a platform that is accessible to all, can be set up at no cost, and yet can be incredibly powerful in transmitting and interpreting the human experience across boundaries like never before. This has certainly been my experience here and it’s hard not to be excited for the attention of traditional media giants, CNN and Multichoice, to this new reality.

As for you, dear readers, whose constant presence in my analytics make sure that I keep coming back here, it’s all your fault! So, thank you! Now, let’s go have some East African fun.



Blog, Writing, and Real Life (October, 2009)

A Case for Blogging (June, 2010)

Book, Blook, Bloog, Blog… (October, 2011)

A Little More than Fun (December 2012)

Blogging and Other Botherations In Saraba Issue 7b. Page 10 (December, 2012)

An e-Book is a Book (September 2013)

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Interview with Eghosa Imasuen


eghosaYes. It is perilous. I only had a view of this, barely, because I was a backseat driver, one of those authors who always chided the publisher for not enough publicity, do more, do more. But now that I have taken the wheel, at the firm that published my first two novels, no less, I see things a bit more clearly. It is a difficult business. Both for the pocket and soul. The pirates dictate how you price your books. You are in competition with yourself. Cost of finance in high in Nigeria. There are issues with power and noisy generators that affect productivity in the editorial department. Then there is what reading reams and reams of bad submissions does to someone. It is killing; bad writing kills me.

– Read the rest of the interview on Brittle Paper

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