Ken Saro-Wiwa Prize for Review rekindles hope for culture of critical thinking

by anote
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* Joshua Chizoma is prize winner

By Godwin Okondo

IT was a moment of sigh-heaving for the sole juror of the Ken Saro-Wiwa Prize for Review of books, Mr. Anote Ajeluorou, while announcing the winner at Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF 2021) that held last month at Freedom Park, Lagos. He had lamented the declining level of book reviewers coming out of Nigerian universities and feared for the future of critical thinking and how it would impact negatively on the critical gaze required to review of books and other cultural productions and performances including film, music, theatre, fashion and visual arts in the country’s culture and media eco-systems. But it appeared his fears were largely unfounded with the outcome of the Ken Saro-Wiwa Prize for Review of Books initiated by LABAF for three years now and sponsored by the Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas Limited (NLNG), also sponsors of The Nigeria Prize for Literature. The prize was curated by poet and festival administrator, Mr. Osaze Samuel.

General Manager, External Relations and Sustainable Development, Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas Limited, Mrs. Eyono Fatai-Williams

”As a longtime operator in the Nigerian newsroom as Arts editor, I had always worried that those leaving our universities are not bringing anything new to critical thinking in terms of reading a book, understanding it and critically engaging it through a review to add to the readers enjoyment of it,” Mr. Ajeluorou said. ”But with the level of critical thinking that went into these reviews by some 11 reviewers, it’s clear the future is bright. We can only encourage and support these young reviewers so they excel in the critical craft of reviewing books and other cultural forms like films, theatre, music, etc.”
He promised to publish the winning reviews in his online art and culture platform, AnoteArtHub ( that was also launched at LABAF 2021. Joshua Chizoma won the prize while Feyintola Chukwuedo and Adepoju Isaiah Gbenga are first and second runners up respectively. Chizoma will receive a Kindle and the 11 longlisted books, Chukwuedo will receive a Kindle plus three books on the longlist while Gbenga will get a Kindle plus the winnning book.

Incidentally, the book reviewed for the prize in this year’s Ken Saro-Wiwa Prize for Review is the book that won The Nigeria Prize for Literature 2021, ‘The Son of the House’ by Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia, which took the reviewers just two weeks to read and submit the review. While explaining the rational for the prize contest, General Manager, External Relations and Sustainable Development, Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas Limited, Mrs. Eyono Fatai-Williams, commended LABAF for its steadfastness in committing to literary and cultural excellence through the yearly festival that was in its 23rd season this year.
According to her, ”For over two decades, the Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF) has significantly impacted participants by empowering them with transformational knowledge. The festival continues to demonstrate how the arts—literature especially—supports the development of society by providing insights into the human experience and allowing readers, attendees or participant observers to connect at a basic emotional level that constantly reminds us of our shared humanity. It is global knowledge that good literature promotes public enlightenment and in turn provokes positive action towards nation building. This obviously resonates with Committee for Relevant Art (CORA), organisers of LABAF, as well as Nigeria LNG Limited, sponsor of The Nigeria Prize for Literature, The Nigeria Prize for Literary Criticism and The Nigeria Prize for Science. Nigeria LNG has conscientiously sponsored the prizes as part of our contribution towards inspiring excellent works of literature in terms of content and publishing. So far, the annual literature prize has celebrated 14 winning works on Literature, three on Literary Criticism, and recorded well over 2200 entries on Drama, Prose Fiction, Poetry and Children’s Literature, from hundreds of authors resident in Nigeria and elsewhere in the world. 

Joshua Chizoma

”Annually, Nigeria LNG takes shortlisted authors round the country for book readings to encourage reading among school children and to help increase public awareness on the need to produce good literature. While these are substantial contributions, the literary community in Nigeria must not relent in the effort to develop literature, writing and publishing in the country. This is the reason Nigeria LNG appreciates the partnership with CORA and the Lagos Book and Art Festival. We are hopeful that this partnership will further our objective of using The Nigeria Prize for Literature and The Nigeria Prize for Literary Criticism to continue to stimulate publishing as well as excellent creative and critical writing in Nigeria.
”I believe that at the end of this festival, Nigeria’s reading community will be excited by the creative works featured. At the end of this event, we look forward to reinvigorated writers who will commit to producing sterling works of literature that will qualify to be exhibited at the next Lagos Book and Art Festival, works that can also compete for The Nigeria Prize for Literature, in addition to securing places for themselves as bestsellers worldwide.”

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