How COVID-19 pandemic deprived Nigerian writers of NLNG’s N378.49m

Prof. Ayo Banjo (right) receiving 2018 entries for The Nigerian Prize for Literature from Mr. Tony Okonedo

On Friday, August 7, 2020, the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Limited, sponsors of Nigeria Prize for Literature, announced postponement of the 2020 cycle of the Nigeria Prize for Science, The Nigeria Prize for Literature and The Nigeria Prize for Literary Criticism to 2021.

The prizes are administered, on behalf of Nigeria LNG Limited, by the Nigerian Academy of Science and the Advisory Board for Literature made up of members of Nigerian Academy of Letters (NAL) and the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA)

The prize rotates among four literary genres — prose fiction, poetry, drama and children’s literature. This year, the competition was for Prose Fiction.

With The Nigeria Prize for Literature, it is expected that the quest for a prestigious prize will improve the quality of writing, editing, proof-reading, and publishing in the country with far-reaching positive effect on print and broadcast journalism.

The competition this year was open only to published works by Nigerian writers irrespective of place of residence and it carried a reward of $100,000.

Guidelines for entries include, 12 copies of the entry and, if available, an e-copy, with evidence of Nigerian citizenship (photocopy of Nigerian passport or National Identity card), submitted either by author or publisher, in accordance with the genres in competition. No book published before January 2016 would be accepted, while an author was expected to submit only one published work. Mere manuscripts were not considered. No book previously submitted for this competition was expected to be re-submitted, even if major revisions have been made or a new edition published. The prize will be awarded for no other reason than excellence.

No member of the Advisory Board or Panel of Judges can enter their work(s) for the award in the period in which they are serving and two years, thereafter. No entries will be entertained from members of NLNG staff and their families. Failure to meet all stated conditions above will lead to disqualification of the entry

The appointment of judges was done to reflect the genre in competition for the year. Persons appointed as judges have wide experience, peer recognition, good public image, and command respect nationally and internationally. The judges include: Professor Mary Kolawole – Chairman; Professor Tanimu Abubakar – Member and Dr. Solomon Azumurana – Member. The outcome of the process as approved by the Advisory Board shall be final.

According to Mrs. Eyono Fatayi-Williams, General Manager, External Relations and Sustainable Development, NLNG, “the decision to postpone the three Prizes this year was reached after assessing the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) on the Prizes’ cycles.”

She said the Prize circle started in February, but things didn’t work out as expected. She said submission process was disrupted by the pandemic, therefore, making it “difficult and impossible” to carry on with the adjudication process.

“We had a lot of consultations with the advisory boards and struggled with the decision but the overriding focus of the award was safety.”

She concluded, “the competition, alongside entries submitted for all the prizes this year, will now be carried over to 2021. The Calls for Entries for the three prizes were published in February 2020 with prior deadlines set for March 31, 2020 and April 30, 2020 for the literature and literary criticism prizes, and the science prize respectively.”

On the entries that were submitted for this year’s awards, the Manager, Corporate Communication and Public Affairs, Sophia Horsfall, said it would have been hasty to go on with the process considering how the world was locked down for a greater part of the year. “We will review situation to ensure fairness and validity of process.”

Already, plans are afoot to promote last year’s winner, Boom Boom by Jude Idada as well as keeping the prize alive. There will be webinar engagements and other virtual interactions.

Initially loathed for excluding Nigerian writers abroad, and coming from a parastatal established by General Ibrahim Babangida, who was hated for annulling the ‘assumed’ freest and fairest election conducted in the country, now it’s one of the most sought after Prizes on the continent. It’s, however, a pity that only Nigerian writers are allowed to enter for it.

Admittedly, the prize got off to a wobbly start. Established in 2004, and its subsequent awards in 2005 to 2007, which are seen as ‘retirement benefit’ to already older-generation writers, the awards scheme has cleared its initial baggage. It is one of the most respected literary prizes in the world.

In its 16 years existence, the company has given out $980,000, which in today’s Naira market (1 USD = 378.4979), is about N370,927,942 million. The Prize has produced 15 millionaires.

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