In 2004, the Nigeria Prize for Literature was established to promote writing, literacy and good reading culture among Nigerians. The prize, open only to published works, is an annual literary competition to honour the author of the best book of the current year or the previous three years. The prize rotates amongst four literary genres—prose fiction, poetry, drama & children's literature. The Nigeria Prize for Literature bestows public recognition and a monetary award of US$50, 000 on the winner.
This year no winner emerged for the 2009 Literature Prize. Spokesperson for the panel of judges for the literature prize, declared that none of the submitted works deserved to win. Interestingly, nine works of poetry had earlier been shortlisted for the prize.
The announcement has sparked an online debate amongst Nigerians at home and abroad. Bloggers, journalists and writers themselves have used cyberspace to voice their condemnation of the judges’ decision. Molara Wood, writer and journalist in her piece titled ‘Time to dismantle this sham literature prize’ and published in Next, calls this year’s award event a “disgrace”.
I have not seen any copy of the shortlisted books. But I do know that the books were self published. During the inaugural edition of the prize, in 2004, the judges also decided against awarding the prize because of the poor quality of the three shortlisted works (also self-published). Unfortunately, the prize excludes Nigerian living abroad.
The prize saga exposes the problems of book publishing in Africa. In my PhD research, I am looking at these problems and how the internet is changing the way people read and write. I look forward to the findings, which would reveal just how transliterate Africans have become.