Preemptive Essay Writing Competition:
Another Dimension to Reality Show
By Natasha Bassey
Wednesday June 16 started out on a mild note. Not sunny and with a hint of slight showers that was to come. The rain, however, allowed for the arrival of the five finalists and the crew to The Place Hotels, Ajao Estate, Lagos, where the final of the essay competition was held. The event was set up in the context of a pseudo-reality television show. The technical crew from Zmirage Multimedia Limited arrived to set up lights, sound and the stage set; they got to work around 8am, creating the ambience for the show.
The producer, Lillian Amah Aluko was on hand at that time as well to ensure that preparations were made adequately to ensure a smooth running of the show. The narrator, Tina Mba, who would act as the voice of the competition was also ready. The five finalists — Mr. Lawrence Wakdet, who had come in the previous night all the way from Jos, Plateau State; Mr. Emmanuel Ugokwe traveled all night from Port Harcourt; Mr. John Okunola came from Ibadan and Miss Natasha Bassey and Mr. Gbenga Adeniji, both from Lagos — all converged at the venue before 11am while two of the judges, Mr. Ropo Ewenla, Miss Pamela Braide had been in the venue, awaiting Mr. Sylvester Odion Okhaine, who – had earlier asked for permission to come in a bit late - arrived a few minutes after 12 noon.
However, though the hotel itself was easily accessible by okada (commercial motorcycle), it was a bit difficult to reach by persons coming in private cars, with the roads in bad conditions and the route to the hotel a bit winding.
The cost of transportation for some persons was high. One of the contestants claimed to have spent N3000 to get to the venue.
By about 1pm, with lights up and running, the set in place and the sound set up, the cameras were ready to roll as the pseudo-reality show commenced. It started out with the narrator introducing the judges as well as the contestants. The time had finally arrived as the contestants were ready for the writing proper.
The judges asked the contestants if they had any questions, and instructed that the contestants had an hour to write the 1000-word essay, with a fringe time of 15 minutes.
With hearts beating and brains working feverishly, pens and laptops ready to go, the competition commenced with a synchronization of time for the contestants so that everyone started at 1.06pm.
The narrator was a constant presence - the way invigilators usually do in examination hall - as she strolled among the contestants, checking to see what they were writing and commenting, probing their ideals and looking to see who was doing what?
Halfway through the essay writing, the contestants were asked if they wanted a short break, and when all declined the writing proceeded. The sounds in the room were that of frantic tapping of keyboards and the scribbling on papers without minding the sweat dripping from the brows as a result of the heat generated by the Television lights mounted at corners of the room. Also, the three cameras mounted in the room were at work taking in all the expressions from the furrowed eyebrows and the adjustment of sitting positions.
At 2.06pm, the competition was called to a close. The fringe time of 15 minutes was given so the camera angles and group shots could be adjusted and taken.
A break was taken from recording at this point as the judges collected on jump disc (computer flash) essays written on laptops and the hard copies of handwritten pieces from contestants who wrote in long hand.
The first session was over and what was remaining was for the contestants to await with apprehension the results of the competition.
THE second half of the pseudo-reality television show started about 4pm. The contestants were seated and awaiting the results. But before it arrived, the narrator came on and had interviews with the contestants, trying to ease their apprehension and make them feel comfortable as the atmosphere was charged.
With the interviews over and the judges back on set, the hearts of the contestants were beating palpably, their faces set to frowns as some of them held their breath. The contestants were moved from the table where they sat to write the essays to a couch, just beside where the judges were stationed; the narrator sandwiched between both set, and acting as a middleman. One by one, the contestants were called to stand up and each judge gave their opinion on the three categories of the essay, the structure, style and content, stating the weak points in each essay and the strong points, if any. This gave the contestants an idea of what the judges thought of each essay.
Finally, the moment of truth arrived, the time for the judges to give the scores in each category. The tension heightened as the judges gave each contestant a breakdown of the scores based on style of writing; content and effectiveness of language deployed.
With the contestants holding their breaths the final scores were given;
Natasha Bassey — 5th
John Okunola — 4th
Emmanuel Ugokwe — 3rd
With just Lawrence Wakdet and Gbenga Adeniji remaining, the question was who would win and who would be the runner up. Amid applause and celebration; Lawrence Wakdet was announced as the 1st runner up; while Gbenga Adeniji was announced the winner of the Project Preemptive Essay Writing Competition.
Prizes were announced for the five finalists: the fourth and fifth got consolation prizes of N25, 000 each; the third got N50,000 and the second N75, 000. The overall winner got N100,000 and a chance (if he has a visa) to see the play Preemptive on July 2 at the Shaw Theatre in London. All the five contestants will, however, see the play at venues in Nigeria.
The show was wrapped up at about 8pm amidst celebration for the winner and handshakes all round. The judges congratulated all the contestants and urged all of them to keep up the writing culture as it is a slowly dying art.
Why We Took Part In The Essay Competition, By Finalists
Actress and TV presenter, Tina Mba spoke to the five finalists at the ‘Sit-In Reality Show’.
Tina: Tell us about your educational background
I am JOHN OKUNLOLA. I attended Obadeyemi High School for my secondary education. Thereafter, I proceeded to Osun State College of Technology to study Accountancy. Later on, I went to Olabisi Onabanjo University to study Mass Communications; currently I’m a Master’s degree student at the University of Ibadan studying Peace and Conflict Resolution.
Tina: Yes, very apt. Ugokwe tell us, about yourself.
I am EMMANUEL UGOKWE; I was born in Imo State. My father was a trader. I’m based in Port-Harcourt and I’m the nineth in my family. I attended Kenneth College of Technology. In 2005, I attended the University of Nigeria.
Tina: Mr Adeniji, tell us where you’re from, and what are your interests.
My name is GBENGA ADENIJI; I’m from Ogun State, but I was born and bread in Lagos state. My interests are reading, critiquing and travelling.
Alright, did you think you would get to this point?
Gbenga: Well, I must confess to everyone that in a competition like this, there are two sides to a coin; the losing side and the winning side. So, I just have the feeling that I should do my best, and if my best is good enough then…
Tina: So, your best paid-off; you are one of the five. Mr. Wakdet, give me your favourite quotation in the World.
Wakdet: I like the saying by Edmond Pike, the British statesman, who said “All that evil needs to succeed is that we men do nothing”. That’s my favourite quotation.
Tina: And in relation to the essay writing competition, did the quotation inspire your thought in the process of writing this essay?
Wakdet: Yeah, definitely. I mean we are talking about the use of Arts and Culture, globally. Some of the issues of terrorism that we have all over the world... Where I come from, Jos; there is recurring crisis, lots of killing; there was genocide recently; a whole village was virtually wiped out. I feel that I really need to do something as my own contribution in a little way. So, participating in this essay has made me like i have contributed.
Tina: Natasha, You are the only Juliet in the midst of four Romeos.
Natasha: Yes, the only woman...
Tina: As the only female here; how do you feel?
Natasha: emm…As I sit here and realise that I’m the only female here, well, I feel that more women should write more. This sincerely means that women are not writing enough. I think more women will have to work hard to be in the midst of things like this...
Tina: I also learnt that you are a would-be corper. You’re looking forward to service and you’re hoping to serve where...
Ok, Mr. Okunlola, If you win the price for this competition, what will you do with the money?
John: I told you earlier on that I am doing my Master’s at the University of Ibadan; a large chunk of the money will go on books and probably my project, because I’m through with my first semester; I only have three courses in my second semester, so I will be starting my project. So, I wish that I emerged the winner.
Tina: I hope so too. I wish all the best.
How We Ran The Preemptive Contest, By Coordinator
Actress, TV personality, Lillian Amah-Aluko, who produced the Sit-in Writing Reality Show’ engaged the Coordinator of the Project Preemptive Essay competition, Jahman Anikulapo on the set of the show. Excerpts
As coordinator of the jury on this show, how did you select the judges?
Well, when Project Preemptive came, I had to go back to the the executive producer Alhaji Teju Kareem, that I really want to get to the depth of the idea itself; what exactly are we trying to achieve? Because we could have selected anybody to be the jury; we could have gone to schools to pick lecturers or teachers and …, but the dimension of the theme, which has to do with preemptive strike. It means you do not need people who are just academics in literary studies, but you need people who actually work on the fields. I consulted with him over a whole weekend; we had a lot of argument about the people I mentioned and he asked me to defend them. I had to decide that … I think somebody who is vast in theatre and who actually understands the field of theatre and popular culture, and that was how we came about the person of Mr. Ropo Ewenla; because popular culture is not an area where we’ve really been investing a lot of academic studies, and I know this is what he has been doing, at least I know he earned his Master’s on that and that he’s working on his Ph.D in the same field. And I know he’s been concerned about how culture intervenes in the affairs of the society; so that was how we picked him.
Now we talked about how conflicts relate to women and children, for instance; and I’ve always known even before I met her that Pamela Braides, who is somebody I really respect, in the sense of the kind of things she has done; she has written articles, she has performed it on stage, she sings, she’s an actress, she’s an essayist. I know she works particularly in that field; she’s particularly concerned about issues about women and children; and when it comes to conflict as it saffects women and children; there is someone for that also; and how we can properly situate women in the society and children;so we say let’s picked a social worker, who is vastly experienced in that field.
Then, we talked about Dr. Sylvester Odion Akhaine, and we are talking about Peace/conlict resolution and the rest of them, and I know he earned his Ph.D on demilitarization. Of course, when we talk of conflict in Africa it is always tied to the idea of military intervention. Not just about our contemporary politics. Let’s get back to our history; most of the towns and communities were founded by warriors. You talk of places like Ibadan, Abeokuta… The people always moved from one place to another to form their own communities…
So, we thought of someone who understands the mores of our national etiquette, social etiquette and somebody who has written about it, someone who has worked in that area; and we thought of Dr. Sylvester Odion Akhaine, who even runs a centre called CENCOD (Centre for Conflict Resolution and Demilitarization).
That was how we came about the three people such that if the contestant is writing from the perspective of a theatre artiste or literary study, there is someone for that; if he is writing from the perspective of women and children, there is somebody for that; there is somebody on popular culture -- how popular culture can midwife conflict resolution…
Now, back to Project Preemptive, tell me a little bit about it...
Project Preemptive, you know it looks like a very abstract field, but when you get into it, you discover it is something that touches the core of our society and social relationships. Why do we talk about conflict all the time? I work with a newspaper company and I edit a title and I’m always like: ‘why do our newspapers scream? We don’t even speak about life anymore; everything is about conflict – militancy and insurrection in the Niger Delta; about the conflict in Jos, in Ogun state etc. Conflict has become a staple; it is part of our national life. I want to imagine that in most of the families, father and children are always at conflict all of the time… I mean, it’s war all the time.
All of us have been brought up in that orientation. So, preemptive strike should be something that concerns all of us. That is the way I interpreted Project Preemptive, that, it is something that should come as an intervention in our lives, so that we begin to re-examine our social relationships.
Why should conflict be the only thing we ever get to discuss? Why is it that we don’t celebrate life anymore? If you check our literature, our drama, our plays... they are all about conflict. People no longer write love poems, and we were told that our fathers used poems to win our mothers. Project Preemptive is an intervention; a refinement of our contemporary psychic make-up. You know when you detune something…
In other words, Project Preemptive is not the end of the journey…
Yes, Project Preemptive is just the beginning. In fact, it is just the first step; it ought to stimulate further debate, an action… and our leaders, followers and people are being drawn to follow. They have to redefine their psychological make-up. Why do you read the Bible and the Quran, when you know you will still go out and kill somebody? Why do you bother to wake-up in the morning and say “good morning” when you know you will still kill your neighbor? Why do you smile to someone you will kill tomorrow? That is the kind of question Preemptive is asking us.
Briefly, on the journey to the last five, how was it? I learnt you had over 25 entries; but you came to the last five, so how was it?
When the idea was first brought to me, I asked the executive producer: ‘why are you thinking about me?’ Because I will like to work in another form, but he said he knew this is the kind of thing you like to do. I like to bring groups together, bring people together. I mean, that’s the way I’ve worked in an organization called CORA. People say we are just talking, we do not do anything and we replied that “we just want to talk”; it is because we are not talking, that is what leads to conflict. I’ve been in Sierra Leone at a point and had the opportunity to ask a fellow that: ‘why are they so aggressive?’ Anytime someone says something they just want to hit or slap the person; he said “I use my fist because I cannot communicate with that person”. I think that is instructive.
So, when I was called on this project, I concluded, we want to see how we can use dialogue to encourage a more peaceful co-existence. We could start from a very little thing like an essay competition, like the executive producer had projected. We took the idea of Preemptive and spread it to different fields. If there will be performance, there should be the discussion because it is possible that people will just come into the theatre, watch the play and go. But there ought to be a process of thinking, something that stimulates the attention of the youths to this idea of dialogue. Since the contestants are the people who are going to carry some kind of banner, flag of conflict prevention and dialogue later in the future.
We made the call. First of all we placed adverts in newspaper and we asked for people to participate, convinced that there will be so many people that will turn up; so we started by putting adverts in the newspapers. We chose four newspapers — one that has to do with the North; one that can appeal to South-East; one that can appeal to people in the South-South; one that can appeal to people in the South-West.
The idea was to spread it in the papers, so at least if you do not see it in one of the papers you will see it in the other and I was very happy during the interaction with the contestants, one said he saw it in The Sun, one saw it in The Guardian, one in The Nation and then we got some journalists.
We brought the media in right from the beginning, we took them into confidence, ‘this is what we intend to do’. They saw reason without asking for any form of compensation or so... the whole process started in the heat of the Jos crisis; they (the mediamen)all saw it and they started writing about it and people read about it.
In the end we got over 20 scripts because the closing date was short and we started reading through them and we cut them down to 13 entries that we thought were up to standard. The 13 were very compelling in terms of the idea. We may fault them in terms of language or structure but they were very strong in content — addressing the theme.
Then we sent 11 to the judges because we had to eliminate two.
The judges worked independently for about a week and half and gave us these final five.
Remarkably, out of the five -- just as I saw out of the 25 that came in-- they came from all over the country. These five finalists; we didn’t know where anybody was coming from. Somebody came in from Port-Harcourt, which is South-South, we have someone from Ibadan and two people from Lagos.
I was really impressed with the spread, but what didn’t impress me is the fact that there was just one girl.
Oh, that was not deliberate. We indeed had about seven women in the 25 entries. When we pruned down to the best 13, we had at least three women; but by the time we went to 11, there were two women; but in the final five there was only one woman. So, there wasn’t any deliberate attempt to shut the woman out; that was just the way it came out in the finals.
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