Repositioning Nigeria literature Prize

Repositioning The Nigeria Prize For Literature: The Stakeholders’ Resolve

Repositioning The Nigeria Prize For Literature: The Stakeholders’ Resolve


ABOUT 30 workers in the various disciplines of the Literature discipline gathered in a function room of Eko Hotel & Suites, last Monday to review the state and status of the $50,000 Nigeria Prize for Literature with a mission to setting it on a more progressive and widely beneficial path for the creative writng community. the gathering was at the instance of the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas company, NLNG, which initiated the prize (as well as its $50,000 Science counterpart) and has been its facilitator over the years.

According to Siene Allwell-Brown, General Manager, External Relations, of the gas company, the forum was conve of making it the “best and the biggest for rewarding excellence” as well as one of the best administered prizes in the world. Said the ex-newscaster, “We believe it is time enough to ask some pertinent questions: in the eight years of its existence, would we say that the Prize definitely lived up to this billing? Has it presented a large enough canvas for writers, publishers, editors, book sellers, literary critics, and journalists to paint their dreams? Has it made excellence its prime guiding principle and have the aspirations, yearnings and dreams of the stakeholders in promoting excellence in writing and publishing been met? Has the Prize been administered in a fair and transparent manner?”

Former Vice Chancellor of te University of Ibadan, Emeritus Professor Ayo Banjo, who chaired the session, noted that the Prize has been growing from strength to strength, and that the Stakeholders’ Forum would help in propelling NLNG on the best way forward. Banjo counselled that the Prize should remain a prestigious one that will “command the respect of Nigerians and one that can be a model for the rest of the world to emulate”. He advised that the interest of literature should be uppermost in the resolution of the issues that would arise at the forum.

Jerry Agada, ex-Minister of State for Education and now, President of Association of Nigeria Authors, ANA, who was deputy chair of the Forum, described the session as a necessary initiative to make the Prize more inclusive; and bring out the best for literature in general.
President of the Nigerian Academy of Letters, Prof. Ben Elugbe, recalled that the academy became part of the Nigeria Prize for Literature through invitation from the NLNG. NAL’s involvement is to ensure that literature Prize, like the Science prize, is better managed and better judged. He would want NAL to be seen as a fair judge in the issue of the management of the Prize money.

Ifeanyi Mbanefo Manager Corporate Communications and Public Affairs, NLNG reviewed the Prize from when it was conceived in 2003, stressing that now that the project is concluding its second phase of four years per phase, there is indeed the need to review its journey so far and position it for the next phase as well as greater accomplishment.

A consultatnt Strategist and Corporate Governance expert, Deji Toye of Lodt Governance Centre, Lagos, reviewed the management structure of the Prize, and recommended among others that:
• The Award should remain The Nigeria Prize for Literature as against Prize for Humanities
• In place of the current Literature Committee an Advisory Board should be constituted comprising a carefully selected group of stakeholders, appointed by organisations/institutions in the industry value chain to carry on the creative, scholarly and disseminative aspects of the project. The proposed organisations/individuals are: Association of Nigerian Authors, Nigerian Academy of Letters and National Library of Nigeria. In addition, a senior executive from the Corporate Affairs/CSR team of NLNG to serve as Secretary of the Committee and the head of the Secretariat; an eminent Nigerian of an iconic status well respected for his/her integrity to serve as the Chairman of the Committee. The reduction to five from 12, the Consultant said is in view of NLNG’s desire to reduce administrative costs.

• The Advisory Board should have the power to appoint Judges which membership should comprise the following:
Three scholars experienced in the genre under consideration for the year; one seasoned practitioner in the genre under consideration;
one iconic, public figure who is a proven enthusiast/connoisseur of literature, especially the genre under consideration. This is for common touch and popular appeal.
• The Judges be invited through public advertisement to serve for a year on the panel.
• The Stake holders Forum should be maintained and converted into a virtual General Assembly. This forum should hold at the end of each four-year cycle for review of governance framework and operational processes.
• The winner of the Prize should be announced through an interaction with the Press prior to a befitting Prize Presentation ceremony. In view of cost, the Grand Award Night Ceremony should be shelved.
• In a No-Award year, the Prize money should be donated to a charity that is active in the promotion of the literary arts or the money returned to source.

The Consultatant’s presentation and those of the Academy and ANA as well as other contributors from the various organisations present were reviewed, after which teh followuing resolutions were passed:
• Endowment: It was generally agreed that the NLNG should create a Foundation which will endow the Nigeria Prize for Literature and Nigeria Prize for Science for sustainability and perpetuity.
• Purpose: It was agreed that the strive for excellence must remain the core for award of the Prizes.
• Reading Culture: It was agreed that a National Book Tour and in case of Drama a National Play Tour be reintroduced to take the book and the author to the reader across country.
• Scope: The Award should remain restricted to Literature and not the Humanities.
• Book lists: It was agreed that the long list should remain an internal consideration of the Judges while a shortlist of three should be publicised.
• Stakeholders Forum: It was agreed that this should be convened annually.
• Judges: The recommendation that the position of the judges be advertised was rejected.
• Award of Prize: Announcement of winner should be on the Presentation Day.

Represented at the meeting Various organisations within the Literary and Creative writing community; including Association of Nigerian Authors; Nigeria Academy of Letters; Nigeria Publishers Association; Society of Nigerian Theatre Artists; Abuja Writers Forum; Arts Writers Organisation of Nigeria; Women Wriers Association; Committee for Relevant Arts, CORA; Literary Agents; as well as some notable workers in the creative and literary discipline including Odia Ofeimun; Tony Ujubuonu. Also four of the past laureates of the prize were in attendance: The poet, Dr.. Gabriel Okara ; The dramatist; Prof. Ahmed Yerima; The Prose writer, Prof. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo. Nigeria Guild of Editors;

Living In Two Cultures: Story Of A ‘Prize For Excellence




A poem,” Robert Frost once wrote in a letter to a friend, “begins as a lump in the throat … a homesickness.” Frost was an American poet highly regarded for his realistic depictions of rural life. His work frequently employed settings from rural life to examine complex social and philosophical themes. He won four Pulitzer Prizes for poetry.

This morning, I have a big lump in my throat that has nothing to do with poetry; it is for gratitude. I hope Frost and other poets in this hall will forgive me for appropriating this vital medical sign for purposes other than poetry.

Eight years ago, my company forged an immensely successful partnership with writers and scientists to reinvigorate and nurture learning and culture in Nigeria. The partnership was founded on the very simple idea that writers and scientists have important roles to play in the society and deserve public support and recognition. Creating awareness, stimulating competition, rewarding and recognising excellence in literature, science and technology will enable this country to provide meaningful existence for its citizenry and shore up standard of its education and literacy.

Permit me to share a secret with you. Meltwater News Inc., a global specialist in online media monitoring that keeps track of business critical information published online for 16,000 of the world’s most admired companies and organisations, has found that The Nigeria Prize for Literature and The Nigeria Prize for Science, between October 2008 and October 2010 generated 511 online articles. You may say that is a few hundreds, but, wait for this: those articles were read by 139, 940, 496 people.

Seeing the size of the entries every year, the vast improvements in the writing value chain – editing, proofreading, publishing, etc – and the media attention these prizes are receiving, and feeling the drive, energy, and intellectual force flowing from this project, I believe the proof is undeniable: there is hope for science and literature in this country; this partnership has given science and literature a new lease of life.

I still have the lump in my throat. So, with your permission, I discharge it, presenting on behalf of my Board and management, a bouquet of our thanks: for everything you have done, so far, to make the project a resounding success. Individually and collectively, you have made this journey very exciting for us.

I also thank all of you who, forfeiting all else, have made it here this morning to join us in discussing literature and these prizes.

I am not exaggerating when I say that writers everywhere make great company; this is no doubt going to be a gorgeous day.


Companies don’t become model citizens overnight; it’s a long journey from corporate to model citizenship. And for this journey, there are no beaten paths.

The challenges of responsible business practices are huge and learning pathways are complex and iterative. Every company’s journey is unique. Some companies become responsible citizens by choice, others by circumstances.

Take Nike, for instance. A leader in responsible, ethical practices, Nike’s metamorphosis from the poster child for irresponsibility to a leader in progressive practices makes for an interesting reading. In the 1990s, protesters railed against sweatshop conditions at Nike’s overseas suppliers and made Nike the global poster child for corporate ethical fecklessness. Nike’s every move was scrutinised, and every problem discovered was touted as proof of its irresponsibility and greed. The intense pressure that activists exerted on the athletic shoes’ giant forced it to take a long, hard look at corporate responsibility faster than it might otherwise have.

Since the 1990s, Nike has raced through a bumpy road on this front, but has ended up in a much better place for its troubles. To become a model company, Nike cleaned up its processes, became an ethical company, but above all turned its attention to the society, to the people through corporate social responsibility programmes. Let’s take a roll call:

Nike is partnering with the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development to install and refurbish 25 basketball courts throughout New York City giving 10,000 children access to the game.

Through its N7 initiative, Nike has built an environmentally friendly performance shoe to address the specific width and fit requirements for the Native American foot. Diabetes is prevalent in this community, so this shoe will help combat it by encouraging and improving exercise

Nike supports the Homeless World Cup, a world class, annual, soccer tournament engaging players from 64 countries. About 71% of the participants significantly change their lives after competing in the Homeless World Cup.

In Soweto, South Africa, Nike built a football training centre, giving 20,000 young footballers access to a programme that includes high-end training facilities, top-level coaching and HIV education.

In 2007, South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius ran the 100 metres in 10.91 seconds. Without any legs. The first amputee to break the sub-11-seconds barrier. Some critics claim that the carbon fibre blades he ran on gave him an unfair advantage. Nike has helpfully pointed out that these critics have legs!

The lessons from the Nike saga will help other companies traversing this same ground.

Coming in the wake of Nike’s troubles and Shell’s scuffles with Ogoni and other communities in the Niger Delta region, Nigeria LNG Limited, was ready from Day One to be an exemplary corporate citizen ready for the new era of end-to-end responsibility.

In this new era, it’s no longer good enough to do your job well, satisfy customers, and generate financial returns. You are accountable for the supplies you use and where they come from, what your customers do with your products and whether it improves their lives, and the costs and benefits to the countries and communities touched along the way. This, perhaps, explains the public interest in Dangote’s business or Otedola’s empire.

Operating a fast-food franchise, for example, requires much more knowledge than how to cook, bake and serve. Where was the food grown? Is it organic? Does it lead to childhood obesity? Is it healthy food?

Companies and leaders are assessed not only on immediate results but also on longer-term impact—the ultimate effects their actions have on societal well-being. It is a trend, which although it came in small waves is now surging.

Signs of this trend are everywhere. Questions were constantly directed at Nigeria LNG Limited concerning shortage of cooking gas regardless of the fact that it was built and licensed only for export of natural gas and NGLs. The refineries were meant to supply the domestic market.

Hey, it’s a brand new world out there and Nigeria LNG Limited was quick to grasp and master it. Take the infamous Land Use Decree that has dispossessed millions of compatriots of their property. Realising sentimental attachments to land and the deep feeling of dispossession inflicted on communities by this law, immediately it acquired the pipeline routes, NLNG sought to make amends. It signed long-term contracts with land-owning families for grass-cutting and surveillance of pipeline routes to ensure that they continue to earn revenue from their property.

With land-owners protecting our gas pipelines, there have been minimal, almost negligible, cases of their vandalisation. The lesson in all these is that obsolete systems of territory mapping, of sequential processes, in which each group denies responsibility for what it was not directly responsible for, have given way to more integrated planning and management, with everyone bearing a share of responsibility for the products and processes and not just for its direct footprint.

On the corporate social responsibility sphere, NLNG realised early that hierarchical and transactional relationships should be replaced by circles of influence, business fortresses by collaborative business ecosystems. This is why NLNG initiated the Joint Industries Committee (JIC) in Bonny to pool resources and provide power, water and roads on the island. JIC is today responsible for providing and maintaining these infrastructure in Bonny. NLNG is the operator of the JIC projects and pays 50% of the bills.

Truth is: a new paradigm is afoot. Leading companies are beginning to find inspiration in an unexpected place - the social sector—in blighted public schools, orphanages, working with widows, and unemployed youths. These companies have discovered that social problems are, when carefully examined, economic problems, whether it is the need for skill acquisition, shortage of cooking gas or entrepreneurship training in poor villages.

Companies are learning that applying their energies to solving the chronic social problems powerfully stimulates their business development. Today’s better-educated children are tomorrow’s knowledge workers. Lower unemployment in the neighbourhood means higher security for life and property. Indeed, a new paradigm has emerged: a partnership between private enterprise and public interest that produces profitable and sustainable change for both sides.

It is in the spirit of this new partnership that The Nigeria Prize for Literature and The Nigeria Prize for Science were conceived by Nigeria LNG Limited. In addition to numerous cogent reasons adduced for the establishment of these prizes there was a clear understanding that traditional solutions to recalcitrant social ills amount to very little.

Companies often just throw money at a problem and walk away. But the fact is that many recipients of business largesse often don’t need charity; they need change. Not spare change, but real change—sustainable, replicable, institutionalised change that transforms their business, their prospects, and their outlook. And that means getting business deeply involved in non-traditional ways.

The way to go about it is not in business making donations to the society, but treating community service as business. And for society to understand that a public trust cannot deliver public good over a long haul if it is not run on sound business principles.

So from the outset, the company embarked on a bold experiment in social innovation to demonstrate that a different way of investing in non-profits would generate demonstrably superior outcomes to drive change in the sector. The ultimate judgment of its faith and investment in public trusts will not be known for years, but its efforts have triggered a quiet revolution that must be sustained.

It is this policy that underpins the legendary power supply in Bonny driven by NLNG. Power supply on Bonny Island which has remained at a consistent 98% availability for over 10 years is paid for by users, although there is a margin to accommodate those who are unable to pay and those whose electricity bills are less than N2000.

It negates the principles of sound economic management to provide free utilities anywhere. It is impossible to sustain free utilities. This principle guides NLNG’s investments in non-profits.


Recognising, therefore, that the country’s education is in dire straits, NLNG sought to create conducive environment for learning and competition, reason why it promotes scholarship in tertiary institutions, entrepreneur training for youths and two major prizes — The Nigeria Prize for Literature and The Nigeria Prize for Science.

These awards were entrusted to The Nigerian Academy of Science and The Nigerian Academy of Letters and some eminent writers. These bodies assess the worth of scientific discoveries and contemporary works of literature and, in so doing, consolidate the needs of the publishing and academic worlds: boosting sales of the award winner’s work and simultaneously effecting a change in the Nigerian canon.

SCIENCE PRIZE: The case for supporting science cannot be more urgent. Nigeria is a developing country with aspirations for joining the ranks of developed nations.

Only science and technology can make these dreams come true. And creating awareness, stimulating competition, rewarding and recognising excellence in these fields are conditions precedent, not only for realising these dreams, but also for providing meaningful existence for the citizenry. Some of the reasons proffered by experts seeking greater recognition for science include that:

It will provide leaders with answers to crucial issues such as food shortages, fuel shortages, electoral malpractice, poverty, health and environment;

It will encourage the authorities to take science-based decisions;

It will bring about improvements in the standards of living;

Support for science in a developing country will help resolve myths that tend to cripple development.

And by instituting a significant prize for science, NLNG seeks to bring science and scientists to public attention, save them from their current low rating in national estimation and avail the nation of their immense benefits.

Science can only be relevant if it is supported to play vital roles in the society. A major pillar of support for science comes through recognising and rewarding excellence in science and creativity.

LITERATURE PRIZE: The case for instituting a worthy prize for literature was more straightforward. For decades, Nigerian writers bemoaned their fate. They griped in newspapers, conferences, and workshops about the neglect their noble profession had fallen into. They were unhappy with the declining levels of education and literacy; unhappy with the loss of a reading culture; and for good reasons, sad that writing and publishing in a nation that gave the African Continent its first crop of literary giants had all but become lost art.


At about the time we intervened, the literary business was struggling, locally and internationally. It was not a business any investor would rush into. It was like investing in the stock market during the crash. Our research showed us what to expect.

Abroad, the great Booker Prize was in serious trouble. The original sponsors, the Booker-McConnell company, were bought out by a frozen-food concern called Iceland, which declined to continue sponsorship of the prize estimated at over £400,000. The prize went for an open bidding and was won by a firm called the Man Group, a London-based international stock broking firm, which agreed to take over sponsorship for an initial five years. That’s how come Booker became Man-Booker Prize.

The founders of the Orange Prize for fiction launched in 1996, had announced with fanfare that it had secured an anonymous endowment sufficient to provide for a £30, 000 annual award. It was a false start, because they immediately returned to the drawing board when Martyn Goff of the Book Trust fame and other experienced administrators pointed out that, for the prize to succeed in practical terms, the organisers would need a far larger budget to cover operating expenses, particularly the expenses associated with promotion and publicity.

The Orange Prize was rescued by Peter Raymond of the cellular phone service company, Orange PLC. By 1999, Orange Plc was spending £250,000 yearly minus the prize money. The real cost of organising the Orange Prize was 10 times more than its declared value!

Back home we had a potpourri of prizes, many of them not exactly exciting.

The Nigerian Academy of Science was running a prize for young scientists in partnership with the Third World Academy of Sciences (NAS-TWAS). The prize was instituted in Nigeria in 1995 to be awarded yearly on rotation. It has a cash value of USD $2000.

Another prize, The National Science Prize, was instituted by the Academy jointly with the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria to reward outstanding research in science and technology, particularly projects with potential industrial applications. It was worth N30, 000.

Another was a postgraduate award instituted in 1993 to honour outstanding doctoral theses in the pure and applied sciences in Nigerian universities. And yet another prize was for best graduating science students in universities. This prize is very popular with companies and many of them have instituted chairs in the universities.

Shell has however done most for the universities, building multimillion Naira classroom blocks in many universities. Agip and Total have carried out similar projects but their generosity was restricted to universities in their catchment areas. African Portland Cement Company also instituted a prize for the best graduating geology student from Obafemi Awolowo University.

For Literature, there was the Association of Nigerian Authors’ prize which was then struggling. Its cash prizes were not promptly redeemed. There were other attempts to establish a decent prize, most of which failed.

We shall not forget The Nigerian National Merit Award, which is an order of dignity and distinct from the National Honours. It was instituted to accord proper and due recognition for outstanding intellectual and academic attainments and contributions to general development of Nigeria and is conferred on the recipients by the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. It had a cash value of N500, 000 only. (Currently, it is worth N1million).

In setting up The Nigeria Prize for Literature and The Nigeria Prize for Science, we were determined to take steps to change the chemistry and character of philanthropy, by incorporating not just money, but also moral character and commercial orientation. This is not entirely a new phenomenon; we were merely reprising and building upon the ground work laid by Tyler Cowen in his masterful piece: “In Praise of Commercial Culture.”

Cowen, an economics professor at George Mason University had argued persuasively that free market unbridled by government produces the best environments for creative expression. And that business, by fostering alternative modes of financial support and multiple market niches, vast wealth and technological innovation is the best ally the arts could have.

Our intention was not charity; far from it. We were determined to deploy the skills of business, flexible corporate ‘philanthropy’, and the rigour of the marketplace to develop systems-changing solutions to rescue the ailing prize-awarding industry.

We believe that philanthropic capital, combined with large doses of business acumen, can build thriving enterprises that serve vast numbers of our people. We also believe that our presence would lure other giants and blue chip companies to invest in the industry. Our ultimate vision is that this industry would change and grow if mega companies get involved; that the culture of philanthropy in Nigeria will change in the next few years strongly influenced by the ways of some multinational corporations because of the scale of wealth at their disposal and the sense of purpose they are expected to generate.

I confess, that we have not fully realised our dreams, but then The Nigeria Prize for Literature and The Nigeria Prize for Science are work in progress. We need to take them to a level that allows them to become public trusts in fact and in deed.

Eight years on, The Nigeria Prize for Literature is turning our initial vision into a reality with tangible, compelling results and a clearer understanding of the truly formidable nature of this undertaking.


The following resolutions were reached with stakeholders (university teachers, writers, and journalists) at an exploratory meeting of 14th November 2003:

That high profile literary prizes of significance and commensurate prestige be set up to stimulate creativity and promote indigenous literary and scientific culture

Cash value at take off $20,000 (now $50,000) each to be reviewed regularly as occasion demands

Prizes awarded yearly to alternate amongst four literary genres: prose fiction, poetry, drama and children’s literature and to the work of science that provides solution to a major national problem or one that breaks new grounds.

NLNG to provide logistics and administration services, pending the time a BOARD OF TRUSTEES will be constituted and the prize endowed.

There will be publicity, advertising, press promotion and national promotional tours to promote the award

Prizes will be awarded yearly at a prestigious ceremony to draw local and international attention to prize and winners

Only works published by Nigerians qualify to participate. This rule has been modified to accommodate Nigerians in diaspora.


Prize Money : US$100,000.00

Logistics: US$436,044.03

Grand Award Night: US$241,691.92

Total: US$777,731.94

For sustainability, the Board and management of Nigeria LNG Limited think the administrative costs for these prizes are too high. That ways must be found to cut the costs without losing the essence.


In his Rede lecture of 50 years ago, entitled The Two Cultures, C. P. Snow, a writer and a scientist said: “There is something wrong with a civilisation where knowledge is so compartmentalised that people can count as highly educated and yet be wholly ignorant of huge swaths of what other highly educated people know. How could scientists not read Shakespeare? How could literary people never have heard of the second law of thermodynamics?”

I will reprise Snow, but with some modifications. How can we continue this business of writing and literature writing thinking about economics? Why should the arts not work with business to find workable and lasting solutions to problems besetting the arts? Why are we not working more and more with business to find solutions to our problems? Why are we not paying more and more attention to sustainability of our programmes and projects? This is one of the reasons we called this meeting to re-examine this prize, ensure it is both sustainable and businesslike

The long and short of my mission, with the permission of Snow, is: let’s spend the next couple of hours, discussing literature and economics or economics and literature, as the case may be.

The ball, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, is now in your court. Please play it – with eyes on the Prize.



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