Yemi Akande wins N1.5m in 5th Beeta Playwright Competition 2022

From left: Beeta Playwright Competition jury member, Mr. Kenneth Iphopho; Executive Secretary, MTN Foundation, Mrs. Odunayo Sanya; prize winner, Mr. Yemi Akande; prize organiser, Bikiya Graham-Douglas, and Nollywood star, Ego Boyo at the prize event in Lagos

If the 2022 Beeta Playwright Competition, organised by the Bikiya Graham-Douglas-led Beeta Universal Arts Foundation (BUAF), were a contest for actors, Yemi Akande would have still emerged the winner. As soon as his name was mentioned as this year’s winner, he put his two hands on his head and then fell on his knees and touched the floor with his forehead.

Like a protagonist in an ancient play, his action telling of the joy that had overwhelmed him. But this was real life for the budding playwright that has been here before. So huge was his excitement that when he eventually opened his mouth, all he could say was utter joy.

Announced winner on Friday, November 18, 2022 at Agip Recital hall of MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos, at the presentation ceremony graced by screen and stage practitioners, Akande won with his play, The Mask We Wear and received N1.5 million, an improvement from the N1 million awarded in the past four editions of the prize that is fast defining youth talent in the practice of playwriting in the country. He also got a laptop from Chairborne, one of the sponsors of which MTN Foundation is lead prize sponsor, with Century Group also supporting. 

The theme for this year’s prize contest had been: Our Story, Our Voices! with over 700 entries from across the country

Akande told the audience how he suffered a minor accident on his way back from Osun State where he’d gone to see his ailing mother, affirming that it was his third attempt of being a laureate of the prestigious playwright prize.

“I’ve been waiting for this all my life. I’m grateful to God I finally got it. And to my mother who has been supporting me, I thank her. She is sick now, that was why I travelled to Osun State. Thank you, Beeta. I’ve been participating in this competition for three years. Beeta has been supporting me, even when I lost my job. So I’m really happy that I got this.”

Chetachu Igbokwe emerged first runner up with his play Brother Brother, while Gloria Asoloko clinched the second runner up position with her play Dusk to Dawn

Prize organiser and star actress, Graham-Douglas expressed her delight at the fifth edition of the prize contest and specially commended those who have held her hand in the journey so far saying, “This is our 5th year. I’d like to specially recognise Ogochukwu Ekezie of Union Bank Plc, for believing in this project. She brought Union Bank to support us in the past four seasons.

“What a journey it has been? Five editions, over 2,000 entries from 30 states in Nigeria, five winners, several stage productions, and from it the Beeta Arts Festival (BAF), the festival arm of Beeta Universal Arts Foundation, was created. So we’re very grateful for the talent in Nigeria that we are discovering. We started this competition because we saw a vacuum in documenting playwrights in my generation. After the generation of Wole Soyinka, Femi Osofisan, Ola Rotimi, there were not many plays coming out, and I found myself as a producer constantly looking for new materials to work with and I was not finding any, and so we started this competition. And honestly, it’s been very rewarding to see all these young people writing and telling their own version of our history. They deserve our applause.

“For a project like this to be successful, because we can’t do it alone, so I’d like to use this opportunity to thank MTN Foundation for coming on board, and Mr. Adokiye Ikpoki of Chairborne; this is not the first time he’s been with us. So thank you for constantly being with us, for the encouragement you give us.

“And I’d like to appreciate the finalists for coming this far. Thank you for trusting Beeta with your stories. This is not a one-off; it’s a continuous journey. We will help them all along the way. I didn’t do this alone. I’d like to thank the judges – Ego Boyo, Kenneth Uphopho, Shaibu Husseini, Jaiyesimi Ayo, Ibiso Graham-Douglas, Prof. Ahmed Yerima – for doing a great job. All of them have been committed all the way. To read over 700 plays entered for this year is not easy at all. Thank you all. I wish the playwrights best of luck.”

The Executive Secretary of MTN Foundation, Mrs. Odunayo Sanya told the audience why her foundation chose to partner with BUAF for the Beeta Playwright Competition, noting that it’s about MTN’s interest in helping others move forward in their aspirations and life’s journeys.

“I first encountered Beeta and Bikiya when I watched Son of the Minister on stage,” Sanya said. “At MTN and MTN Foundation, we believe that life is a journey, and that’s why we are here today. So we like to ask the question: what are you doing today? And the reason why we are here today is because 794 playwrights from across the globe sent in entries because they wanted to be better at their own craft, and eventually it’s down to 10 of them who are here with us. And the reason they are here is because they have done well. Over the years, MTN and MTN Foundation have supported the arts, especially stage plays and capacity building in the arts which is what Bikiya has just done. And why MTN Foundation does this is not because we want to sell lines or recharge cards or data, it’s because we want to be part of your journey, to be able to connect to your aspirations, because we found a partner in Beeta Universal Art Foundation. We will continue to support the arts.”

Another sponsor and Managing Director of Chairborne, Mr. Adokiye Ikpoki, spoke in similar vein about the onerous work BUAF was doing to grow talent in her chosen industry of performance arts. Chairborne supplied laptops for the winner and the two runners up.

According to him, “The reason why we support Beeta is because this is a fantastic initiative that builds capacity of our young people. In other words, it’s also filling a vacuum left by the older playwrights. Over 2,000 entries from 30 states in five years; that’s fantastic. This is a great initiative doing great things in the arts. At Chairborne, we will continue to support Beeta. This is impressive. I’m very happy to be given the opportunity to be here and to support. Next year we will do much better. We will continue to support Beeta as long as we continue to operate.”

Other dignitaries who spoke included jury members like theatre director and Director of Lagos and Abuja Fringe Festival, Mr. Kenneth Uphopho, who said, “Thanks to Bikiya for this initiative. They say it takes a whole village to raise a child, but this child (Bikiya) is raising a whole village (of young people). To the writers, I know we had a tete-a-tete, but I’d like to commend your bravery, because it’s not easy for someone to put out their works for people to see and judge. Well done. That’s the first step; the world is waiting for you. I had the privilege to direct the first work commissioned by Bikiya Graham-Douglas; that was Paul Ugbede’s Our Son the Minister. And that play was awesome. After that play, others have been good. This year, surprisingly 10 of you, all your works are excellent, really good. We want to see more of your works.”

Two of Nollywood stars Mrs. Ego Boyo and Enyinna Nwigwe encouraged the young playwrights to be themselves in their journey in writing. For Boyo, “It was fantastic reading your stories. I enjoyed them all. You’ve already scaled this hurdle. I hope you’re encouraged for being selected and then going to win,” just as Nwigwe said, “Young talents need a good dose of passion, time and holding your ground; these all count in this journey. Define what your calling is and the gift that you have and pursue it with determination.”

Theatre producer, Mr. Joseph Edgar, also weighed in on how theatre needed to grow with the addition of a pool of young talents that supply good content. “For the theatre industry to grow, we need good content to put on stage to bring the audience,” he said. “It’s playwrights like you that bring good content. It’s our hope sponsors help Bikiya to increase the prize money.”

Winning plays and playwrights of the prize so far include Our Son, the Minister by Paul Ugbede, Jagagba by Abdul Qudus-Ibrahim, Daughters of the East by Achalugo Chioma Ezekobe and Black Dust by Temilolu Fosudo. 

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