ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Late Esiaba Irobi wins $50, 000 NLNG literature prize

by Emmanuel Osanedum

At a grand ceremony held at the Zinnia Hall of the Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos, the Nigeria LNG presented the winner of the 7th edition of the Nigeria Prize for Literature.
Last year, in a controversial move, the judging Literatur committee announced a shortlist of 12 last year, but subsequently handed out a no winner verdict. Before that, Kaine Agary, author of Yellow Yellow has been winner in 2008.

This year’s award was won by the late poet and playwright Esiaba Irobi, beating off the competition, Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo, former managing director of Daily Times and Ahmed Yerima, former Director General of the National Theatre.

Dr. Esiaba Irobi passed on in May 2010 at the age of 50 – submitting his entry three months before his death. Irobi studied at universities in Nsukka, Sheffield, and Leeds; was adept at cinema, literature and theatre; and will be remembered for his contribution to scholastic knowledge in all the three areas. His creative works include plays and poetry collections such as The Colour of Rusting Gold, Hangmen Also Die, Why the Vulture’s Head is Naked, What Song do Mosquitoes Sing? Inflorescence: Selected Poems, 1977- 1988, Nwokedi: A Play, and Why I Don’t Like Philip Larkin.

In 1992, he received the World Drama Trust Award for playwriting for his drama Cemetery Road, the same book he entered for this prize. He taught at New York University, Towson University, and Ohio University, where he was Associate Professor of International Theatre/Cinema. Also a director of stage productions, his work on the ‘Acting for the International Stage Workshops for Professional Actors’ took him to Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

A trained actor, Irobi also played himself in the 2007 Jeff Rosenberg film ‘Relative Obscurity,’ about youths struggling to make a mark in society. The film won the Silver Chris Award at that year’s Columbus International Film and Video Festival. Irobi, who was born at the dawn of Nigeria’s independence on October 1, 1960, would have celebrated his 50th birthday one week before the Grand Award Night ceremony.

His brother, in a very emotional reaction on stage, received the award on behalf of the late poet and his family, screaming Irobi’s name repeatedly on stage, and moving some to tears.

The event, anchored by actress Bimbo Akintola, featured dance performances, and a moving performance by Onos Brisbri.

The Special Guest of Honour, popular actor and comedian Sam Loco Efeeimwonkiyeke (Sam Loco) gave a brief, but impressive ex tempore address at the event, cracking the audience up in the 5 minutes and the Keynote Speaker was Chima Ibeneche – Managing Director, of the NLNG.

The science prize winner, University of Benin Professor of Manufacturing Engineering, Mr. Akaehomen O. Akii Ibhadode was also presented with his prize at the event. Ibahadode who arrived Lagos Friday with a celebratory party of 20 persons, was announced winner last August by the Professor Anya. O. Anya led panel for the award of science prize.

The Nigeria Hall of Fame recipients – including Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Chike Obi – announced earlier in the year, were also inducted at the event.

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