“The literary scene, as always, had its fair share of expectations from writers and other stakeholders in 2015. But a closer look at the events that took place during the period shows that there were more disappointments than triumphs” Chux Ohai writes in an articles shared on punchng. He cites clear examples to drive home his point.
For example, for the second time running, the 2014 Etisalat Prize for Literature, the first Pan-African literary prize for budding fiction writers of African origin, eluded new writers from Nigeria.
Contrary to the expectations of members of the literary community in the country, the prize was awarded to another South African author, Songeziwe Mahlangu, for his novel titled, Penumbra, in a colourful ceremony that was held in Lagos in March.
Mahlangu dusted off a close challenge from compatriot, Nadia Davids, and Nigerian writer, Chinelo Okparanta, whose books titled An Imperfect Blessing and Happiness Like Water, respectively, were also named on the final short list for the prize.
Again two Nigerians, Chigozie Obioma and Ifeoluwapo Adeniyi, were named on the long list for the 2015 edition of the prize with their works titled, The Fishermen and On the Bank of the River, respectively. But, just as other Nigerians hoped for a better result than previously experienced, the final list for the prize was announced and painfully showed that both Nigerians did not make it.
In spite of that disappointing outing, the literary community was elated when Obioma’s novel made the long list for the prestigious MAN Booker Prize. Also, Segun Afolabi and ElNathan John were shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing. But none of them emerged the winner.
The development does not only question the quality of new writing in the country, it implies that a lot more work has to be done to help Nigerian writers regain their pride of place on the literary turf in Africa, even globally.
Later in November, the Association of Nigerian Authors held its 34th International Convention in Kaduna. In comparison with previous editions of the event, the convention turned out to be one of the poorest ever organised in the history of the association for some reasons.
Beside, the lacklustre preparation of the local organisers, attendance was relatively poor and for the first time in the history of ANA elections, money was freely exchanged for votes.
A shocking dimension to the event was the deployment of about half a dozen armed policemen in the venue of the election. The immediate past President of the association, Prof. Remi Raji-Oyelade, claimed responsibility for inviting the police to prevent the outbreak of violence during and after voting. Apparently the former President of ANA was compelled by the tension and hatred that characterised the pre-election campaign to make the move.
Literary productivity received an unexpected blow when the Advisory Board of the Nigeria Prize for Literature announced that there was no winner in the 2015 edition of the award.
At a press conference held at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers in Ikeja, Lagos, the head of the panel of judges for the prize, Prof. Uwemedimo Iwoketok of the University of Jos, said that out of 109 entries received for the 2015 prize, 89 entries, which represented 81.6 per cent of the total number received, failed to meet the preliminary criteria for assessment.
Listing the criteria used for assessing the entries as including language and diction, theme and content, social relevance, style, quality of production and originality, she said, “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 do not reflect the above qualities to an acceptable degree. Many of them show very little or no evidence of good editing.”
Following the verdict, there were mixed reactions from members of the literary community across the country. While some writers and literary enthusiasts seemed to approve of the decision, others roundly condemned it.