Thursday 21 September 2023

How book club treated NLNG Literature Prize shortlists at Port Harcourt BookFest 2023

The shortlisted authors.

THE Banquet Hall, Hotel Presidential, Port Harcourt, was on Sunday September 17th 2023, illuminated with a plethora of cultural displays when the Rainbow Book Club, in conjunction with the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (sponsor of the literary award), celebrated the three playwrights  in contention for the 2023 Nigeria Prize for Literature. 

With an array of colourful and exciting line-up of events that left the audience in fever pitch, the Rainbow Book Club-Nigeria Prize for Literature BookFest 2023 featured dance, drama, quizzes, readings and a lively panel discussion that was a fitting icing on an excellent cake

The Playwrights on the shortlist are Abideen Abolaji Ojomu (Ojuelegba Crossroads), Henry Akubuiro (Yamtarawala – The Warrior King) and Obari Gomba (Grit). While the duo of Henry Akubuiro and Obari Gomba were physically on ground, Canada-based Abideen Abolaji Ojomu joined the event virtually.

In his remarks, the General Manager, External Relations and Sustainable Development at NLNG, Mr Andy Odeh, commended the shortlisted writers, who emerged from the 143 works submitted for this year’s prize. 

He expressed delight in bringing the shortlisted playwrights to Port Harcourt, World Book Capital 2014. He stated that the excellence exhibited in the shortlisted works was a testament to the Nigerian writer’s highly creative and resilient spirit. He said The Nigeria Prize for Literature owes its success to Nigerian writers who have entered the prize, which has recorded well over 2,500 entries and celebrated 17 winning works.

In her speech, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Rainbow Book Club, Mrs. Koko Kalango (MON), represented by Mrs Ijeoma Aruba, stressed the need for stakeholders in Port Harcourt to collaborate and bring back the glory of Port Harcourt as the 2014 World Book Capital.

“We must all join hands to bring back our World Book Capital. Nigeria LNG has set a good precedence by hosting this Bookfest. But it would take a collective effort to bring back our World Book Capital City and we all have a role to play. We can begin by bringing back our week-long Port Harcourt Book Festival. Our festival was a confluence of our city’s creatives, a melting point for information and ideas,” she stated. 

On a panel moderated by Margaret Nnennaya Ukwu (Lecturer, Dept. of Theatre and Film studies, Uniport), Obari Gomba said he wrote Grit first in his head. “I kept imagining live actors and directors in real plays while I wrote it. The characters are colourful because they forced themselves on the play”.  Gomba went on to stress the importance of fixing Nigeria’s economy because it will enhance the reading culture. In his words: “If someone has to choose between a pot of food and a book, most times, they will choose the pot of food.”

The author of YAMTARAWALA: The Warrior King, Henry Akubuiro said coming to the Garden City for the event was a moment of nostalgia because as a journalist, he had returned to the city year after year, to cover the Port Harcourt Book Festival. While answering questions about his book, Akubuiro said it is intended to rejuvenate theatre practice in the country. He further advised on how to key into contemporary trends on social media. He said: “We can break plays into skits on social media and make money while waiting to put it on the stage.”  Unfortunately, persistent internet glitches didn’t allow the audience enjoy the contribution of Abideen Abolaji Ojomu.

On August 29th, a shortlist of 3 was announced. From then, the finalist playwrights embarked on a publicity streak that included an online chat, a live radio interview and a special appearance on Arise News on Saturday September 16th, where they fielded questions from the Arise News trio of: Reuben Abati, Rufai Oseni and Ayo Mairo-Ese. The Rainbow Book Club-Nigeria Prize for Literature Port Harcourt BookFest 2023 was for the playwrights, the last lap in the build up to October 13th when an eventual winner will be announced at a gala night in Lagos.

Some of the guests who graced the event were past president of the Nigerian Bar Association, Chief O.C.J. Okocha; former Rivers State Commissioner for Information and former MD NDDC, Ibim Semenitari; Nollywood actor, Sam Dede; former Bonny Gas Transport Director, Mrs. Aleruchi Cookey-Gam and Former Director of Tourism Rivers State, Yibo Koko. The Nigeria Prize for Literature is sponsored by the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG).

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Also read: Preserving heritage of unwilling Lagos

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