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Sopuruchi Onwuka

The choice of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to present the 2022 Nigerian Prize for Literature to winners amplifies the key messages and joint ambitions of the 2022 Nigeria Prize for Science and the Nigeria Prize for Literature respectively. The former president symbolizes resilient passion for farming and literature, two hobbies that are ancillary to his major military career.

Incidentally, despite successful military and political careers that produced him as Nigerian Head of State and President at different times, Obasanjo’s fame and glory are hosted in his investments in commercial farming and pile of books that emerge from his creative endeavours.

Managing Director of NLNG Limited, Phillip Mshelbila

First, the former president seeks commercial opportunity in solving an enduring human problem: food security.

The quest for food security formed the challenge for Nigerian scientists and innovators in the 2022 Nigeria Prize Science which produced twin sets of winners. The first set of winners comprising Muhydideen Oyekunle and Shehu Ado worked on ‘Gains in Grain Yield of Released Maize (Zea Mays L.) Cultivars under Drought and Well-Watered Conditions;’ while the second set of winners comprising Sesan Peter Ayodeji and Emmanuel Olatunji Olatomilola worked on ‘Development of Process Plant for Plantain Flour.’

According to the judges, the maize seeds produced in the breeding programme by Muhydideen Oyekunle and Shehu Ado have been tested to be high yielding and water stress tolerant; and the hybrids they selected recorded yields of 1.73-2.51 t/ha in stress areas and 5-6 t/ha in areas with good rainfall distribution in farmers’ fields.

They also adjudged the process plant for plantain flour developed by Sesan Peter Ayodeji and Emmanuel Olatunji Olatomilola to be resourceful in scaling up from batch production to industrial scale continuous flour production relevant beyond plantain to other food items.

Essentially, the two sets of winners for the Nigerian Prize for Science worked on the theme of food security by investigating enhanced crop yield and developing machine tools for food processing and preservation.

Similarly, the Obasanjo Farms owned and operated by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo deploys modern technologies and competent approach to produce more food and enhance profitability.

Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, an integrated farmer

With technology, mechanization and scientific research, the Obasanjo Farms becomes foremost of the most integrated agribusinesses in the African continent, with production lines connecting the interdependence of crops and livestock.

The central theme of food security which commands endeavours in scientific research and also drives an industry where Chief Obasanjo plays comes at a crucial time in the country when adversities of climate change and desertification make advances in enhanced yield and crop resilience the sustainable path to follow.

Besides, agriculture is a critical sector of the global economy, accounting for significant percentage of the gross domestic products (GDP), providing more jobs than any industry, and feeding the world population. And the prevailing global quest for food security will rely on advances in the rate of yield.

Whereas Chief Obasanjo is an investor and player in an evolving and more science based agric industry, the NLNG forms a natural partner in the shared vision of enhancing productivity and value generation in the sector. Investment is crucial, science is critical and food security is the common goal.

Dwelling on the details of the footprints of the former president in farming or writing will evidently produce another book. What is striking in this year’s awards is the situation of each of his dual personality in the themes of the twin prizes offered by the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) Limited.

Olusegun Obasanjo, surprisingly a military engineer by training and a peasant farmer by background, holds the relay baton from the first generation of Nigerian literary writers for the future generation of wrights.  He carries the innate drive to capture events around him to store history in a fine narrative prose. And this has marked him out in a rare niche of non-fictional novels.

Despite his outstanding success and accomplishments in nearly all his life endeavours, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo holds greater approbation in the literary and academic community. His penchant to document important and momentous events of his time, his actions and predicaments, his position on contentious issues, as well as his leadership accounts defines him as a prolific writer who delivers compelling narratives in simple styles.

From My Command and Nzeogwu to the three volumes of My Watch, plus several long letters and essays; Obasanjo has not just enriched literature with finest novels he also wrote history, biography and almost an autobiography.

Chief Obasanjo: the indefatigable scribler

Despite the reputation of Chief Obasanjo as a prominent writer whose penchant for scribbling transcends pre-independent pen-and-paper era to the contemporary keyboard age, he eminently stands with the clout of a curator who has invested in the preservation of knowledge through the establishment of one of the biggest and most modern private libraries in the country.

His prominent stature in the fields of literature represents capacity recovery in literature; his tenacious and enduring penchant for narrative prose and his innate and forceful drive to pursue greater education combine to project Chief Obasanjo as the symbol of innovation.

Again, Chief Obasanjo’s role as the presenter of the literature prize stands significant. It evokes the imagery of a king being crowned by the goldsmith. It enacts a generational transmission of the muse. It creates a bridge into the future. It depicts recovery, the key destination of the prevailing movement.

The move at recovery was initiated and propelled as a corporate social responsibility by the NLNG Limited to sharpen the skill of writers in the media, literary and theatre professions. And this intervention became necessary in response to noticeable decline in the quality of output from the industries that rely on creative writers.

According to the company, “Nigeria became the first in Africa to produce a Nobel Laureate in Literature in the person of Prof. Wole Soyinka. The country also produced one of the most decorated authors in the world, Prof. Chinua Achebe, whose book, Things Fall Apart, translated into more than 61 languages, has been listed by Encyclopaedia Britannica as one of 12 novels considered the greatest book ever written. Then there are the great legacies of other Nigerian writers such as Ben Okri, Cyprian Ekwensi, Femi Osofisan, Gabriel Okara, Christopher Okigbo, Chukwuemeka Ike, Flora Nwapa, among others, whose writings were compelling and helped positively shape what people know about Nigeria.”

“However, prior to inauguration of the Prize, the quality of writing, publishing, news features and articles in newspapers and magazines, and the quality of film production on television and radio did not paint a picture of the excellence the industry was previously known for.

“It therefore became evident to us at Nigeria LNG that a well-run literary prize with transparent adjudication process, administered by respected academics, writers and lovers of literature, and with respectable monetary reward will spur creativity and contribute to the improvement of the quality of writing, editing and publishing in Nigeria,” the company buttressed.

Thus, with the challenge and rewards from the NLNG Limited, the muse has been reinvented and creative flow was reactivated, leading to 18 years of annual literary tournament that has churned out over 1,851 entries in 16 competitions that produced 12 winning manuscripts since its commencement in 2004.

The flow of manuscripts is sustained by competing writers who are primarily motivated by the $100,000, or about N70 million, prize money to churn out innumerable print-worthy narrative endeavors. And whereas only the best works in the annual competitions win prizes, hundreds of entries have been declared excellent jobs by judges.

The life changing prize, the opportunity and spur for creative expression, the quest for recognition in a highly esteemed creative group, and the contribution to preserving the reading culture all combine to transform the Nigeria Prize for Literature into a Nigerian intellectual brand with global standards.

Beyond entries and prizes, the NLNG sponsored literary renaissance has succeeded in restoring the glory of creativity and excellence among writers. The hype and publicity have also created glamour and class around the prize. And the award ceremonies have attained Oscar status among cross-sectoral stakeholders that pool from all shades of life to the event; so much so that crowd control has become a major planning challenge for organizers.

Apart from the opportunity to interact with the best creative writers in the country, the event provides venue for meet-and-greet opportunity among writers, critics, readers, analysts, academics, students, reviewers and researchers. Publishers are also provided the one-shop opportunity for manuscript exploration into a rich depository of great works that have featured in the competition.

Thus the 2022 award presentation event presents exceptional opportunity for the Nigerian literary community to converge with Chief Obasanjo who stands tall as one of the most eminent, multitalented, erudite and powerful literary legends who strongly exudes the grandeur of the vintage and still commands the plaudits of contemporary writers.

Chief Obasanjo brings along his massive political clout, international status, military accomplishments, business class, the grace of pan-African statesmanship and many other acclaims into the NLNG prize events.

Chief Obasanjo is now a retired soldier and politician; but he also remains a statesman, a patriot and a former president. Yet he is an active farmer and writer, the two vocations that defy his age and define him as indefatigable and articulate. They also underpin his value for life and culture: a transition into the future. And this is where Obasanjo fits into the 2022 NLNG prizes for science and literature.

Thus, the choice of Chief Obasanjo for the 2022 Nigerian Literature Prize presentation is pure genius. He is a living jewelry box that holds ornaments that are coated with the fingerprints of eternal value. He reflects the one symbol that captures the separate themes of the 2022 NLNG prizes in literature and science; being a consummate writer and farmer. He represents the virtues of excellence expounded by the NLNG in building a better Nigeria.

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