By Anote Ajeluorou
Continent-wide biggest literary award, the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa had its 2012 winner decorated last Saturday in a glittering ceremony at The Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos. The event had players from Lagos business and financial industries in attendance including two executive governors.
Former Ghanaian President Mr. John Kufour, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Governors Babatunde Fashola and Ibikunle Amosun of Lagos and Ogun States and former governor of Cross River State, Mr. Donald Duke witnessed the crowning of Africa’s literary laureate.
The Dr. Ogochukwu Promise-led Lumina Foundation, organisers of the prize, did not leave anything to spare to make the fourth edition of the prize sponsored by telecommunication company, Globacom Nigeria Ltd a success.
A South African journalist Sifiso Mzobe won the US$20,000 prize with his first novel Young Blood. His work beat Nigeria’s Prof. Akachi Ezeigbo’s Roses and Bullets and fellow South Africa’s Bridget Pitt’s Unseen Leopard. With his winning Mzobe has joined four other laureates of the prize designed to generate excellence in book-writing and literature on the African continent.
And Mzobe declared after receiving the prize, “I know it’s a difficult task in a continent with so many voices. I thank the Lumina Foundation for encouraging literature in Africa. We have so many stories in Africa waiting to be told. I thank Soyinka for his courageous life and example of bravery and tenacity. He inspires people like me to go into writing. In Africa, we will continue making changes!”
Other previous winners of the biennial prize include Sefi Atta (Everything Good Will Come - 2006), Nnedi Okoroafor (Zara the Windseeker – 2008) and 2010 joint winners, South Africa’s Dr. Kopano Matlwa (Coconut) and Nigeria’s Dr. Wale Okediran (Tenants of the House).
Of the five judges, only two – Nigeria’s Prof. Olu Obafemi and South Africa’s Liesl Louw – were present to announce the winner. Three others – North Africa’s Eid Shabbir, West Africa’s Dr. Awo Asiedu and Jonathan Moshal – did not make it.
CHAIRMAN, Board of Trustees of The Lumina Foundation, Mrs. Francesca Emanuel, welcomed dignitaries and restated reasons for instituting the prize to include “appreciating and promoting great African authors and according them the recognition they deserve among renowned authors worldwide and to celebrate awesome create works in all their cerebral grace, liberating qualities, and honour and recognition they bring to a myriad of people of diverse cultures and languages”.
She also expressed the hope that “The Wole Soyinka Prize for literature in Africa will continue to stimulate intellectual discourse on literature in all our exchange programmes. We are thankful that the prize is steadily growing in prominence: It is notable also that our judges are distinguished literary intellectuals from five different Anglophone and Francophone African countries.
“Through The Lumina Foundation, the prize provides administrative support for a wide range of knowledge-based and charity-driven projects such as the Mobile Library Scheme that extends the gift of books to the less privileged, specifically children in various localities. At the moment, we operate in targeted Lagos districts such as Ijora, Bariga, Ojuelegba, Ajegunle, Ketu, Okoko-maiko and Mushin. Our scheme will over time be extended to other states and other countries as the resources within our disposal permit. Till date, we have formed 63 Wole Soyinka Reading Clubs in 63 schools across Nigeria. We have established 84 Libraries in homes, offices and schools, through which we encourage people to read at least a book a week.
“We have commenced Monthly Readings of works by excellent writers, each event facilitated by our friends in the media”.
On his part, Soyinka commended The Lumina Foundation for instituting the prize. He said he was not part of the organisation process or its board but said it had his full support. “I give 100 per cent support to the work of this organisation in promoting literature and in restoring the reading of books, especially when books are being threatened; libraries in Timbuktu are also being threatened by the primitivists in Mali; it’s a time to be more aggressive in promoting books.
“Also, thugs have taken to bombing telecommunications masts in Nigeria; I sympathise with the telecommunication companies., especially the monopoly of NITEL, which has been broken. This is to tell government that the battle line has been drawn. This nation is at war!”
Soyinka also commended Globacom Nigeria Ltd for support the prize instituted in his name.
Globacom chairman, Dr. Mike Adenuga Jr., who was represented by the company's National Sales Coordinator, Mr. David Maaji, commended the organisers of the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa for keeping the flag flying very high since the prize was established in 2005 as a biennial award for the best literary work produced by an African, adding that it has, within its short life span, carved a niche for itself in the literary circle by recognising and encouraging professionalism and excellence. He stated that "the association between Globacom and the Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka was premised on the similarity of our aspirations and characteristics in terms of developing a strong, virile African society".
He further said the company’s involvement in the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa was a further demonstration of Globacom’s irrevocable commitment to giving value to our subscribers as well as contributing to the intellectual development of the communities where we have our footprints”.
Also, chairman of the literary prize award night and former Ghanaian President, Mr. Kufour, praised Africa’s first Nobel Laureate as an excellent fellow who set the pace for other giant strides the continent has made in the last few decades to reposition it in a better footing in the comity of nations.
In a paper titled ‘The Pursuit of Excellence: The Wole Soyinka Example’, Kufour traced the historical woes Africa had suffered in the hands of outsiders and its steady steps towards self-discovery and recovery. “Africa, which until this dramatic achievement (Soyinka’s winning the Nobel Laureate in 1986) had been on the margins of the literary world, suddenly attained centre-stage. Commentators were stopped in their tracks and they began to look at Africa again as a possible reservoir of great possibilities”.
Kufour said Soyinka’s sterling achievement was to initiate a sort of renaissance that was to happen to Africa in the coming years following his being crowned Africa’s literary king. According to him, “Africa, in all its diverse spheres of developments, is yearning for champions like Soyinka… He transcends the entire areas of society right down to the grassroots. This is what makes him the leader, influencer and examplar of society not exclusive to Africa. He is, indeed, inter-generational and a global citizen.
“And Africa, the rising giant, needs such achievers to hasten its awakening and full maturation within the global society”.
The Ghanaian former President also commended The Lumina Foundation for organising a continent-wide literary prize to reward the best writers. He enjoined the prize winner to be proud for being adjudged the best and acknowledged for following in the footsteps of Africa’s literary colossus – Wole Soyinka!
Fashola and Amosun also commended The Lumina Foundation for the prize initiative and pledged their support.
CEO of The Lumina Foundation Dr. Promise expressed heartfelt gratitude to guests, sponsors, and judges for making the prize a reality.
ON the performance side, the masked musician, Lagbaja serenaded with his old tunes that easily distinguished him from the crowd. Starting from among the audience, he blew on his saxophone till he went up stage and thrilled. But his was not before Footprints of David, the children’s arm of Segun Adefila-led Crown Troupe of Africa had performed. The all-female choral group, Nerfettiti first sang the National Anthem before Footprints of David and them Crown Troupe did a skit on reading, politics without direction and its effect on the general populace and education.