By HENRY AKUBUIRO
Ikeogu Oke has been announced the winner of the 2017 NLNG Prize for Literature. The author of the poetry book, Heresiad, beat stiff competition from Prof Tanure Ojaide, the author of Songs of Myself: Quartet,and Ogaga Ifowodo, the author of A Good Mourning.
Announcing Oke the winner on Monday, October 9, in Lagos, Emeritus Professor Ayo Banjo, Chairman of the Literature Prize Advisory Committee, said the competition was eventually narrowed down to Oke and Ojaide by the judges for their outstanding entries, but eventually settled for Ikeogu, who had a slight edge on account of his groundbreaking lyrical contents, among others.
Professor Ernest Emenyonu, Chairman of the Panel of Judges, declared, “Oke’s poetry collection reveals a conscious /deliberate manipulation of language and philosophy in the style that reminds us of the writings of great Greek writers of Homeric and Hellenistic periods.”
He added that the prestige associated with the prize saw the 184 entries of collections of poetry in various sizes and of diverse themes and set the stage for the stiff competition. “At the beginning, the initial weeding was carried out following one of the primary criteria; quality and validity of publication year,” he added.
Affirming the quality of entries received, Emeritus Professor Ayo Banjo, said, “Poetry competition for the prize is always very fierce and very interesting. We couldn’t have been more reassured about the process because the panel of judges did a painstakingly thorough job in selecting the best from the final shortlist of three entries.”
Reacting to his victory, Oke, who said it took him 27 years to write the award-winning poetry book, told The Sun, “I have been entering for the competition before now. But, of course, if you do a thing over and over again, the natural thing is for you to be happy, and I am happy a dream I have nursed for so long has finally come to pass. I feel excited and humbled by the experience.”
Okeadmitted he was not intimidated by the calibre of contenders on the shortlist, which included a renowned scholar-writer and another seasoned bard. “The calibre of the poet is immaterial in a contest. The works the poet have done over the years shouldn’t count, for what he is sendingis just an entry ofbook of poems, which will determine whether he wins or not,” he said.
In response to the verdict, the General Manager, External Relations at NLNG, Kudo Eresia-Eke, said, “We at NLNG are proud of this additional achievement. National and international interest in both the Prize and process are increasing and this is good for the prize and for Nigeria. We are pleased with the judges’ verdict and Mr Ikeogu Oke has demonstrated that he is a fine poet and Nigerians need to rally around and celebrate him.
“We must begin to build cultural icons, the likes of Professor Wole Soyinka and Professor Chinua Achebe, and this prize is the leading project doing this right now,” he said.
The winner will be presented with the $100,000 prize money at a forthcoming presentation event to be announced by the NLNG, sponsors of the Literature Prize. Next year’s competition is for drama.