Obari Gomba wins prestigious Nigeria Prize for Literature with “GRIT”

Obari Gomba emerged as the winner of the Nigeria Prize for Literature for his thought-provoking play, Grit. The announcement took place at a grand ceremony held at the Eko Hotel in Lagos, marking a significant achievement in the world of Nigerian literature.

The Advisory Board for The Nigeria Prize for Literature, sponsored by Nigeria LNG Limited, (NLNG) on Friday announced Grit as the winner of the $100,000 prize for the 2023 cycle on drama.

From left: Prof. Olu Obafemi, member, Advisory Board of The Nigeria Prize for Literature (NPL); Prof. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo, Chairperson, NPL Advisory Board; 2023 NPL winner, Dr. Obari Gomba; Chief G.T. Grant, former NLNG MD; and Dr. Philip Mshelbila, NLNG MD/CEO during the award of the NLNG-sponsored prize to Dr. Gomba for his play “Grit” in Lagos…on Friday.

Professor Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo, Chairperson of the Advisory Board, made the announcement at the Grand Award Night ceremony in Lagos, themed “Redefinition”. She also announced Eyoh Asuquo Etim’s entry “Herstory versus ‘History’: A motherist rememory in Akachi Ezeigbo’s The Last of the Strong Ones and Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun” as the 2023 winner of The Nigeria Prize for Literary Criticism, which comes with $10,000 prize money.

The winning play beat two others on the shortlist, The Ojuelegba Crossroads by Abideen Abolaji Ojomu and Yamtarawala – The Warrior King by Henry Akubuiro. Grit competed against 143 plays submitted for the competition in 2023.

Professor Hippolite Amadi, the 2023 winner of The Nigeria Prize for Science, also sponsored by NLNG, was awarded the prize money of $100,000 for his ground-breaking work on respiratory technologies for keeping Nigerian new-born babies alive. He was announced winner in September by the Advisory Board led by Professor Barth Nnaji.

In his welcome address, Dr. Philip Mshelbila, said the theme for the event “Re-definition” emphasised the need for redefinition in a rapidly changing world characterised by pandemics, geopolitical events, climate change, technological advancements, and more. He stated that redefinition involved looking at things in new ways, whether at a national, communal, or personal level, which often begins with re-evaluation, reassessment, and revision of established positions.

Dr. Mshelbila expressed excitement about Nigeria’s prospects in the energy transition journey, particularly with natural gas as an enabler, highlighting NLNG’s support for the Decade of Gas policy.

“In NLNG, we supported the declaration of the Decade of Gas, which the federal Government launched in 2021 to help Nigeria achieve industrialisation, economic prosperity, and tackle energy poverty by using gas as an enabler which aligns with NLNG’s vision to be a globally competitive LNG company helping to build a better Nigeria. I have expressed optimism in several fora that the Decade of Gas policy would enable the country to catch up with the industrialised countries of the world if successfully implemented as planned, while at the same time decarbonising our ecosystem.

“Our bid for redefinition is further contextualised through the sponsorship of the Nigeria Prizes: the Nigeria Prize for Science, Literature, and Literary Criticism. This year, the theme of the science prize is Innovation for Enhancement of Healthcare Therapy. We need our people to be in their best form—physically, mentally, and emotionally—to tap into the wealth attainable through Nigeria’s reasoned potential. Likewise, the genre for the 2023 NLNG Prize for Literature is drama. As is apparent, drama has an adept way of communicating themes and messages for our deeper reflection,” he stated.

Speaking on the theme of the event, the Special Guest of Honour, His Highness Muhammad Sanusi II, stated that the theme transcends science and literature, and that it was time for Nigeria to redefine itself.

“We often lament our image, but what have we done to change it? When will we celebrate scientists like Professor Amadi? NLNG is shedding light on such individuals, and I hope more Nigerians will do the same. This is the essence of redefinition.

“We just listened to Professor Amadi. What I like about the speech is that in his work, he’s looking at the human being at the end of his work. I have always told people that one of the best ways to get value out of your life, out of your career and out of your position is to try from the beginning to figure out who is the human being at the end of your work. If you think of the human being at the end of your work, you will realise how important it is for you to stay alive so those human beings work.

“So the question is this: is it not time for our public office holders to redefine their roles and start thinking of the human being at the end of their actions? Is it not time to start asking that when you are made a public officer, after four years or after eight years, can you honestly look at yourself and say that you have positively impacted the lives of millions of Nigerians? You don’t know their faces or names, but you are thinking of the human being. Hippolite Amadi, the winner of the Nigeria Prizes for Science, does not know the names of the mothers of the babies he saved. He does not know. But he is telling you that he has an innovation that can reduce the mortality rate of newborns in Nigeria. He does not need to know the names of those people to know that his work has value to define himself. He has defined himself as somebody whose work is aimed at saving life,” he said.

He stated further that NLNG has the potential to redefine the Nigerian economy by helping the country transition from oil to gas, which could cut energy costs by 50% to 60% in the country, significantly impacting inflation, people’s livelihoods, and the nation as a whole.

According to Professor Adimora-Ezeigbo, Grit is a dramatic journey into the destructive impact of soul-less politics of power and profit which brings out the beast in man. She stated that the play builds the motivations for the actions of every character in a lifelike manner “with apt characterisation and purposeful manipulation of plot and conflict. The play is filled with conflicts that create the mood of the inevitability of tragedy and the language is full of twists that entertain in the midst of pain.”

Nigeria LNG Limited remains committed to responsible corporate citizenship, and The Nigeria Prize for Science, The Nigeria Prize for Literature and The Nigeria Prize for Literary Criticism are some of the company’s numerous contributions towards building a better Nigeria.

Gomba, an Honourary Fellow in Writing of the Associate Dean of Humanities at the University of Port Harcourt, has been recognised for his exceptional contributions to literature. His accolades include being a TORCH Global South Visiting Professor and a Visiting Fellow at All Souls College, University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

Among his numerous awards and recognitions, Obari has received the Rivers ANA Distinguished Writer Award, the Kangaroo Poetry Festival Poet of 2018 title, and has been a two-time winner of both the Best Literary Artiste Award and the First Prize for Drama of the English Association of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. His body of work encompasses notable titles such as The Lilt of the Rebel (Winner of PAWA Prize for African Poetry 2022, Listed for the Nigeria Prize for Literature 2022), Length of Eyes (shortlisted for ANA Poetry Prize in 2013, Listed for the Nigeria Prize for Literature 2013), and Pearls of the Mangrove (adopted as a ‘Book of the Festival’ for the 2011 Garden City Literary Festival and the 2019 Festival Poetry Calabar). His poetry has also been featured in renowned collections like Re-Markings: A World Assembly of Poets and The Second Genesis: An Anthology of Contemporary World Poetry.

Notably, Obari Gomba curated an anthology titled A Piece of Daily Life, featuring 35 writers from 33 countries, for the International Writing Program of the University of Iowa in 2016. His commitment to the world of literature and poetry has resonated on a global scale.

GRIT delves into the destructive impact of soul-less politics, unearthing the beast within humanity. The narrative is set in the fictional community of Sonofa, commencing in an open space within Pa Nyimenu’s compound, under the cover of night. The tension is palpable as a riot unfolds within the community. Oyesllo and Okote, the sons of Pa Nyimenu, find themselves at the epicentre of this crisis, jeopardising both their lives and the harmony of their community.

GRIT weaves a complex tale of social engagement, familial strife, political murder, and a power struggle for office that drives a wedge between the two brothers. Blind to the puppeteers orchestrating the conflict behind the scenes, Oyesllo and Okote become embroiled in a rivalry that leads to a tragic outcome. Despite Pa Nyimenu’s best efforts to stabilise his family and protect his sons, the spiralling events set them on an inexorable path into a destructive trap.

In the unfolding unrest that ensues, the entire society is imperilled. GRIT is a powerful exploration of how the forces of violence choose pivotal moments to inflict multiple tragedies upon an unsuspecting community.

The play has captivated readers and critics alike with its insightful and gripping portrayal of the human condition within a turbulent political landscape. It is a testament to the author’s exceptional literary talent and a deserving recipient of the prestigious Nigeria Prize for Literature.

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