Journalism in the service of society

Obasanjo, NLNG and poetry

Poetry is a passion ignited by thoughts, fuelled by ink. A way to travel through another mind – Renee Dixon

A FEW weeks before this year’s Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas (NLNG) Grand Award Night appropriately christened ‘Touching the Stars 2022’, when the invitation to the event landed in my email, and I saw listed as the keynote speaker, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the thought that came to my mind was: “What has Obasanjo got to do with poetry?” This was clearly a tint towards my own bias. Obasanjo is many things to many people: farmer, politician (?), (well, he has said many times that he is done with partisan politics), writer, statesman, add whatever you see him as.

So, I looked forward to the day and began to wonder what Obasanjo will have to say about poetry on that night! I had failed to remember that the Stars for the night were not only the poets (forgive my bias) – Su’eddie Vershima Agema, Romeo Oriogun, and Saddiq Dzukogi – but among the Stars were the joint winners of the Science Prize who had been announced before D-Day. The joint Science winners, Dr Muhyideen Oyekunle, Prof. Shehu Ado, Prof. Sesan Peter Ayodeji and Dr Emmanuel Olatunji Olutomilola, have a lot in common with Obasanjo and that probably informed their choice of him as keynote speaker.

The focus of their researches which won the award is on food security! It was then it dawned on me that Obasanjo’s choice for the day had a lot to do with poetry. After all what is the essence of poetry on an empty stomach? And as the Master Ceremony Ali Baba noted “Baba (Obasanjo) has come to meet his people (farmers)”.

Obasanjo at NLNG AWard Nite
Obasanjo during his speech

The former president’s address was straight to the point and dwelt extensively on the need to provide food for the people because according to him, “When God created the world, he left man in the garden to cultivate the land.” He said he was impressed with the choice of Food Security as the theme of this year’s Science Award because science and technology must be deployed to influence food production and preservation. He was full of praises for the NLNG for being the only company, perhaps, that has put the country in the league of leading countries in the world. He told the awardees to see the prize as a stepping stone to higher work. He, however, cautioned that in light of what is going on in the world, companies should engage in businesses that respect the environment.

Food security as the theme of this year’s science prize is coming at the right time with the devastating flood that has ravaged almost thirty States in the country, there is a need for a wake up call for the nation to brace up for the challenges in the years ahead. The flood came in the wake of the harvest period and it had swept away billions of investments and lives. The question is: is the nation prepared for this? Are we adequately equipped to face the wrath ahead? Is this our own way of witnessing climate change? There are reports that the nation’s biggest rice farms in Nasarawa and Niger States have been swept away by the flood. Where do we go or what do we do after this? The answer is blowing in the winds.

Obasanjo’s keynote address did not stop at the gates of food security; he entered into the discourse about the place of literature in our national development. He sees literature as important because “we gain knowledge from what we read and the application of literature is evident in our daily lives.” He called for the building of more libraries in schools and the need to focus more on the future.

The award-winning writer and Professor, Adimora Akachi-Ezeigbo, steered the gathering back to literature as the Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Literature Prize by announcing Dr Sakiru Adebayo as the winner of the Literary Criticism Prize, which has the take-home raised from N1million to a tidy sum of $10,000. According to her, his winning entry was selected from a total of 87 entries. Adebayo dedicated the prize to his secondary school principal who saw in him that gift of literature and encouraged him to toe the path.

Finally, it was the turn of the grand prize of the night- the poetry award. The three shortlisted collections – Memory and the Call of Water by Agema, Nomad by Oriogun, and Your Crib, My Qibla by Dzukogi.   It was truly a tense moment as excerpts from the poems were read by three journalists. Only one of the three shortlisted poets was in the audience!

The panel of judges consists of Prof Egya Sule who is himself an award-winning poet and writer as the chair, Toyin Adewale-Gabriel, also an award-winning writer and poet and Chike Chukwumerije an author and performance poet as members. To a large extent, the NLNG has somehow listened to critics who had all along canvassed the view that the panel of judges should not be made of only academics, that it should be populated by practising writers and other lovers of literature. At least the constitution of this year’s panel was a difference and a sort of change to the direction that had been championed in the past.

The panel of judges had these to say about the three poems on the shortlist: on Memory “In this collection, there is a consistent use of memory to reflect on life and destiny through the metaphor of water”, Nomad “The collection has a fresh language and nostalgic engagement with the themes of exile and displacement” and Your Crib, “This volume translates tragedy into lyrical poetry with pathos and effortless imagery.”  

Oriogun, the moment he was unveiled

At the end of the day, the diadem went to Oriogun’s Nomad. The winner who now lives in Iowa, United States of America, was overwhelmed with the choice of his collection as winner. He, however, did what many considered a great gesture which was unprecedented in the existence of the Prize. He said the three of them who were on the shortlist had agreed among themselves before the announcement that whoever won would shed off $20,000 of the $100,000 prize to the other two; meaning they both go home with $10,000 each! This is a great gesture that demonstrates friendship and a spirit of camaraderie.

Coming back to the issue of food security and on a lighter note, the NLNG deserves Kudo for ensuring that the guests had a surfeit of both. It was truly, a great night of fun and food security.  

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Minister of Science and Technology, Adeleke Mamora; Prize Advisory Board member, Professor Olu Obafemi; the Amanyanabo of Ancient Grand Bonny Kingdom, King Edward Asimini William Dappa Pepple III CON, JP, Perekule XI; NLNG’s Deputy MD, Olalekan Ogunleye; Su’eddie Agema, representative of the winner of the Nigeria Prize for Literature; former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo; NLNG’s MD, Dr. Philip Mshelbila; Advisory Board Chairman, Prof. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo; Advisory Board member, Prof. Yerima Ahmed after the announcement of the 2022 winner of The Nigeria Prize for Literature at the NLNG Grand Award Night in Lagos…on Saturday.

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