The Nigerian Writers’ Awards almost pulled a Big Brother Nigeria Gifty on me on Sunday night. I was at an award ceremony for Nigerian writers and 1: I could hardly recognise any ‘writer’ at the event. 2: I didn’t know any of the writers who got an award.
I was at work marking my pupils’ books two weeks ago when this sexy invitation arrived in my inbox. A quick glance at it showed it was for something that was going to be a big event, strictly on invitation, with names of politicians occupying the special guests’ seats. The card read, ‘Jennifer Emelife, we cordially invite you to the Nigerian Writers’ Awards ceremony….’ My first thought: where are the authors on the IV? Then I thought again: perhaps it’s an event put together by some big people to award Nigerian writing. Not a bad one. So I had two weeks, deciding whether to turn up or not until the thought of a buffet passing me by in this recession drew me to the event on Sunday evening. Also, the ‘gorgeously African’ dress code printed on the card was enticing enough.
I arrived for the event an hour before it started, just in time for the exhibition (as specified on the card) and a cocktail (that my head made up). Both failed. When I found no artwork displayed anywhere, I took a quick stroll to the book stands. As one who prides herself knowledgeable in Nigerian writing, I was broken because 1: My favourite titles were missing on the stands. 2: Who are these Nigerian authors? 3: WHAT IS WRONG WITH MY LIFE IF AT A WRITERS’ AWARD CEREMONY I’M NOT ABLE TO IDENTIFY ONE BOOK?
I clutched my broken heart and my purse and found a seat. The hall was beautifully decorated except for the vase in the centre of every table with flowers (or feathers?) long enough to block the view. I sat and wished against all wishes that I’d find one writer I know. This is a writers’ event in Lagos for krissakes. Where are the writers? Where are the damn writers? My impatient mind was cussing until a poet showed up with her lovely sisters and I ran to her: OMG, one familiar face at last!
So the event began with a pretty host who didn’t stop asking the audience what was next on a programme we didn’t have copies of, or who was performing next as though we were all paid to do her job. As she recognised special guests, my seatmates and I tried to guess her ethnicity but we failed, because from Igbo to Yoruba, Hausa, Ibibio; our pretty host struggled to pronounce all names.
A couple of strange faces performed on stage. One, a spoken word artist and the other, who mimed a song, was maybe a singer. A child delivered a memorised speech about Nigeria where she said Igbos are vegetarian (I can’t forgive the writer of that script). There was another small speech about some big names in the Nigerian senate and government offices that for a second, I needed someone to reassure me I was at a literary event and not a political rally.
It was finally time for the award presentations. I opened the Nigerian Writers’ Awards Facebook page to find nominations for each category and in my head, I was trying to place the winners when a loud cry startled me and indeed everyone else. I tilted my head, afraid of what might come after me, only to behold a woman clapping and crying and thanking God. Her son in the abroad had won the Nigeria Diaspora Writer of the Year, an award for which Teju Cole, Chigozie Obioma and Nnedi Okoroafor were also nominated. I immediately understood her outpour. What better definition of a miracle. I turned to my poet friend and asked her if she knew the author who had won and she shook her head: ‘Never heard of him until now’.
There was a category for Fiction Writer of the Year and the nominees formed quite an interesting list: Nigerian Writers Series author, Julius Bokuru, Nigeria British-born writer, Helen Oyeyemi and six other strange names. You guessed right, one of the strange names won the award. Again, I turned to my poet friend. Who that? ‘No idea,’ she responded.
And on and on it went, stranger names, with the Poetry Writer of the Year, Romance Writer of the Year, Nonfiction Writer of the Year, and even eyebrow-raising categories as the Motivational Writer of the Year and Faith-based Writer of the Year. My sole consolation was that Ainehi Edoro of Brittle Paper won the Literary Blogger of the Year. How much more disastrous it could have gotten if it was otherwise. Yet, our pretty host had to kill my joy by asking if Ainehi was male or female.
Dear organisers of Nigerian Writers’ Awards, you do an awesome job for seeking to promote Nigerian writing through these awards. But I have a few questions:
- Where and how do you get your nominations?
- Who are the judges for these awards?
- If you are going to be introducing ‘new’ authors to us, can you at least tell us why you think they are most suitable for the awards for which they win? Like, ‘so and so is the Fiction Writer of the Year for her short story published in so and so which dealt with so and so…’
- On what basis are these awards given? What exactly are the standards?
- The Nigerian Writers’ Awards Ceremony is an event ‘celebrating Nigerian writers’ and for the umpteenth time, I’m asking where were the writers at the event? Where were Chuma Nwokolo, Lola Shoneyin, Igoni Barret, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Elnathan John, Chika Unigwe, Dami Ajayi, Ukamaka Olisakwe, Saddiq Dzukogi, Yejide Kilanko, Tj Benson, Pemi Aguda, Gbenga Adesina, Adeola Opeyemi, Chibundo Onuzo, Chinelo Okparanta? Where were Nigerian publishers like Su’eddie Vershima Agema, Azafi Omoluabi-Ogosi, Kenechi Uzochukwu, Toni Kan and Bibi Bakere? And Nigerian critics and editors like Oris Aigbokhaevbolo, Mazi Nwonwu, Jite Efemuaye?
- And lastly and perhaps, more importantly, the one that demolished what was left of me: where was the food?