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By Jasmine Monomono

Obari Gomba finally got his big wish.

The associate dean of Humanities at the University of Port Harcourt won the $100,000 Nigerian Prize for Literature (NPL), the fifth time he competed for it, in the presence of over 200 guests at the Eko Convention Centre on Friday, October 13, 2023.

By clinching the most prestigious literary prize awarded on Nigerian soil, Gomba officially becomes, for the next one year, the most literate man in the country of 200Million people.

At 10.03pm, five full hours after the advertised start of the event, the winner climbed on stage to read his acceptance speech.

The party…over 200 guests in attendance

Gomba’s was the evening’s shortest address.

He thanked the jury for counting his play, Grit, worthy of the prize.

“It is a victory for Nigerian writers all over the world who, through creativity and resilience, have defined and redefined our country.

“To my publisher, the one-and-only Odia Ofeimun of Hornbill House, no words are enough to thank you. You represent all those who work to enrich Nigeria’s book chain: those who edit, typeset, design covers, print, bind and stitch, trim, count copies and pack them, stock and sell, review or critique or simply read the wonders we create with words”.

It had been a long night, mostly of speeches, but also of an enervating stretch of pre-event cocktails, exceedingly long introductions, the occasional masterful comedy, drab, sometimes watery, entertainment and plain misalignment in programming. But for the scores of the members of the literary society in attendance, as well as the friends and well-wishers of the three writers in the final shortlist, it was worth the wait.

The dancers had it, but the Drummers group lost its way

The literature prize just happened to be the crowning moment in a programme night featuring three awards, including the $10,000 prize for Literary Criticism won by Eyoh Etim, a lecturer at Akwa Ibom State University and the $100,000 prize for Science won by Hippolite Amadi, a professor of Medical Engineering & Technology, Imperial College London.

Gomba has competed for the NPL five times in the last 10 years. When he was first longlisted for the NPL in 2013 for his collection of poems Length of Eyes, he was a 36-year-old lecturer who contested with Remi Raji, Obi Nwakanma, Promise Ogochukwu, Amu Nnadi, Tade Ipadeola and others; most of them elite members of the third generation of Nigerian writers. Ipadeola won the 2013 prize with Sahara Testaments, published by Ofeimum’s Hornbill House.

So there. Gomba’s win with Grit proved to be the second time that a work from Ofeimum’s Hornbill House would be winning the NPL.

The champion emerges after a long night

“It is obvious I have been very competitive and desirous of winning the prize”, Gomba told Titi Horsfall, editor of NLNG-The Magazine. “But there is something that is also important. The Nigeria LNG has made a massive investment in our literary space. There is nothing compared to it. This is an exciting year. In 2018, when I entered Guerilla Post, the prize administrators did not get up to 100 plays in the competition. This year they have over 100 plays, which is to say that more Nigerians have become interested in competing for the genre of drama”.

Grit is a narrative of siblings’ clash, with grave consequences far beyond the family compound.

“Power is central to the play”, Gomba tells Horsfall in NLNG-The Magazine. “The play depicts how people perceive power, how people use power and how people accumulate power. I mean you cannot understand the play without understanding the dynamics of power in the play”.

Gomba has always been a fervent promoter of the NPL And in his incisive interview with NLNG-The Magazine, he doesn’t hold back:

“The significance of the prize is bigger than the statement of a jury. For two reasons. It is the biggest reward for literature in our country and on our continent, and t is something to be proud of. We should all be proud that we have the biggest literary prize on the continent”.

 

 

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