Idada with his prize

Canada-based Nigerian writer Jude Idada breaks the brief no-winner jinx by winning this year’s Nigeria Prize for Literature, which focussed on children’s literature and was last awarded in 2011. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports

An award “for everyone”, an emotional Jude Idada had called it. This was before an audience that consisted of distinguished personalities at the NLNG’s 20-30 Anniversary Ball and Award Night in Abuja on Friday, October 11. “Everyone”, for the Edo State-born screen writer, actor, poet, playwright and producer, included “the last three finalists, the 12-year-old girl that was also a contender and one of those cheering me all the way.”

The high-profile event was graced by the Senate President Ahmed Lawal; the Amanyanabo of Bonny Kingdom, King Edward Asimini William Dappa Pepple III, Perekule XI; the NLNG’s board of directors, led by Chief Osobonye R. LongJohn, the board’s chairman; the company’s past managing directors and deputy managing directors; its management team led by Tony Attah, managing Director and chief Executive Officer and Sadeeq Mai-Bornu, deputy managing director, among other dignitaries.

Boom Boom, his entry for this year’s NLNG -sponsored The Nigeria Prize for Literature, had been announced winner of the US$100,000 cash prize. It had beaten the two other entries on the shortlist: Dunni Olatunde’s Mystery at Ebenezer Lodge and O. T. Begho’s The Great Walls of Benin.

Prior to the announcement of the shortlist on Wednesday, September 4, the Professor Obododinma Oha-led panel of judges had culled a long list of 11 entries on Thursday, July 18 from a total of 173 books submitted for the competition in March.

The prize, which rotates among the four literary genres of fiction, poetry, drama and children’s literature, kicked off in 2004. Its long list of winners featured names like Gabriel Okara and Ezenwa Ohaeto (2005), Ahmed Yerimah (2006), Mabel Segun and Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo (2007), Kaine Agary (2008), Esiaba Irobi (2010), Adeleke Adeyemi (2011), Chika Unigwe (2012), Tade Ipadeola (2013), Sam Ukala (2014), Abubakar Adam Ibrahim (2016), Ikeogu Oke (2017) and Soji Cole (2018).

However, during three non-consecutive years since its inception – 2004, 2009 and 2015 – the judges had deemed no candidate worthy of the prize, which has traditionally always been announced in October every year.
The prize, which was initially $20,000, was increased to $30,000 in 2006 and again to $50,000 in 2008. It was in 2011 the prize eventually settled at $100,000

This year, the prize was awarded for the children’s literature genre, which incidentally had failed to produce a winner in 2015. The winning entry, Idada’s Boom Boom, is a gripping story about sickle cell anaemia narrated in the first person through the eyes of the charming eight-year-old Osaik. According to the narrative, the clairaudient child loses his mum from the debilitating disease and has to find a way of saving his little sister, Eghe, from going the same way. With his dad and his dog, Kompa, he seeks to get all his sister all the help she needs. This race to save his sister is severely tested through the obstacles they encounter on the way.

At the event, which commemorates NLNG’s 30 years anniversary of incorporation, 20 years of safe and reliable production and delivery of LNG from its six-train plant on Bonny Island and 15 years of sponsoring the Nigeria Prize for Literature, the joint winners of The Nigeria Prize for Science for Year 2019 – Professor Meihong Wang and Dr. Mathew Aneke – shared the $100,000 for their work on carbon capture, carbon utilisation, and biomass gasification and energy storage for power generation.

Attah reminded the distinguished personalities at the event that the company was also celebrating 15 years of successful administration of the science and literature prizes. Describing the past years “these past years” as “an arduous journey”, he said they had “most definitely very fulfilling for us and I believe for the country as well.”

“I say so unequivocally because thanks to the prizes, our nation now boasts of scientific breakthroughs and famous works on poetry, prose, drama and children’s literature that have earned the prizes a reputation as the most prestigious prizes in sub-Saharan Africa,” he added.

In his delivery of the judges’ report, the prize’s advisory board chairman, Professor Ayo Banjo, said: “Based on standard criteria such as literary merit, appeal of content to the target audience, social relevance of the subject matter explored, and a unique capacity to communicate pain and its relief as a human social and natural experience in a way that children can understand and relate with, Boom Boom, was declared as the winning entry.”
Idada, who is the artistic director of the Africa Theatre Ensemble in Toronto, Canada, has so far written several stage plays, collection of short stories and poetry. His award-winning Boom Boom was inspired by the tragic loss of a popular Lagos-based On-Air-Personality Tosyn Bucknor, with whom he was not personally acquainted. Yet, Bucknor’s death dredged up the painful memories of two friends he had lost through the disease. It also made empathise with the life and struggles of his dear friend Hauwa Audu, who is currently living with the disease.

The seeds of writing were sown in Idada when he first received the adventure novel, Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki Expedition, from his dad. This inspired his first attempt at writing a novel when he was just eight years old.

From then on, he had known he would become a writer. Even so, he had strayed into the terrains of the sciences, applying to study medicine in the university before changing to agricultural economics.

Just two semesters of the course was enough to make him to drop out. Eventually, he found his comfort zone in the theatre arts, which he would later study for his first degree at the University of Ibadan.

Even after immigrating to Canada, where he did his postgraduate studies, he worked in banks and telecommunication firms before resigning his job for writing and film production. He would later be selected as one of the screenwriters for the Toronto International Film Festival’s Adapt This! and the Afrinolly/Ford Foundation Cinema4Change projects as well as being an inaugural participant in the Relativity Media/AFRIFF Filmmaking project.

In 2014, his stage play, Oduduwa, King of the Edos, was a strong contender for the Nigeria Prize for Literature.