By Anote Ajeluorou
Belgium-based Nigerian writer, Chika Unigwe, winner of The Nigeria Prize for Literature 2012 in the prose fiction category, will be honoured at her alma mater, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), Enugu State on Tuesday, January 29, 2013. The event will hold at Princess Alexandra Auditorium of the university.
Unigwe had her first degree in English Language and Literature at the same university. She is also the author of Phoenix and several other short stories. On Black Sisters’ Street is the title of the winning work. Her forthcoming works is titled Night Dancer.
Awarding Africa’s most prestigious literary prize worth US$100,000 and sponsored by gas company, Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG), to the winner at her roots is part of the innovations that organisers have made to reposition the prize and endear it to the literary community and the reading public at large.
Also, a statement from the company’s media officer, Anne-Marie Palmer-Ikuku, said Unigwe would also be hosted to reading sessions in Lagos in the days after receiving the prize. Her first stop will be at Bogobiri in Ikoyi on January 31 at 6pm. On February 1st, Unigwe will also read at Bookville, Opposite Federal Secretariat building, Ikoyi at 4pm. She will round off her reading tour the following day, February 2nd at Debonairs at 4pm.
Unigwe beat two other writers - Olusola Olugbesan’s Only A Canvass and Ngozi Achebe Onaedo’s The Blacksmith’s Daughter – to emerge winner.
Unigwe’s winning work On Black Sister’s Street opens the raw wounds of female trafficking for prostitution purposes still rampant in some parts of Nigeria and Africa generally, as a means of escaping the economic hardship prevalent on the continent. The Belgium-based writer’s work explores the dark under-world of the criminal ring that profits from this obnoxious trade in feminine flesh and some of the unfortunate ends of the victims.
Unigwe’s novel does not look away from the grim fatality of the sex trade, its trauma on both the women being trafficked and their families and its corrosive effect on society at large. On Black Sister’s Street, like Wale Adenuga’s current ‘Super Story’ series, Itohan: A Call to Action, lends a portent weapon to several efforts aimed at stemming the tide of the evil trans-border sex slave.
Members of the panel of judges that decided the 2012 prize included Prof. J.O.J. Agbaja, Prof. Angela Miri, Prof. Sophia Ogwude, and Dr. Oyeniyi Okunoye. The panel had the Provost of the Colleges of Humanities at Kwara State University and Fellow of the Dubois Institute, Harvard University, Prof. Francis Abiola Irele.
Undoubtedly, bringing Unigwe back to her old university to receive her prize is a major first by the prize organisers in deepening its value. It would be a big boost for both students and staff of the Department of English and Literature of UNN and the university community generally. Particularly for the students, Unigwe’s prize will serve as a perfect exhibition of excellence for which they must aspire.
Also, Unigwe is the second winner since opening up the prize to include Nigerian writers living abroad. Coincidentally, the first Diaspora writer to win the prize two years ago was also an alumnus of the sane department as Unigwe. Former U.S.-based Esiaba Irobi won in the drama category with his combative play Cemetery Road; he died in Germany before he was announced winner.
Nsukka, indeed, can be proud of its products and honouring this year’s winner in rustic Nsukka university town will further raise the profile of the university, as a center of literary excellence, a tradition it must continue to uphold for generations to come.
ALSO, among the innovative ideas being brought to improve the prize, organisers announced recently in a parley in Lagos was to bring an external consultant from outside Nigeria to complement judges’ efforts, especially when the final three writers would have been announced and shortlisted. Prize board chairman and emeritus professor, Prof. Ayo Banjo had said at the forum said that the initiative would give the prize both international status and enhanced credibility.
More than this, he also noted the move would help obviate the notion of ‘ghetto’ judges sometimes cynically ascribed to the judges usually made up only of university professors from some quarters. It would seem integrating non-university professor among the judges is about the only idea yet to be assimilated into the prize regime in spite of arguments so far made for it. An external consultant is just about the way the board is ready to go for now.
Another novel idea to the prize regime also announced recently was the ‘Critical Essay Prize’ worth N1 million. This prize will be awarded for a critical essay or review of a Nigerian literary work each year, but which must be published in a renowned international journal by Nigerian critics both home and abroad. According to organisers, the Critical Essay Prize takes cognizance of the pivotal role critics play in the evolution of literary creativity. The prize will indeed serve as a further boost to Nigerian literature, organisers envisage.