Yejide Kilanko’s ‘Daughters Who Walk This Path’ Shortlisted for 2016 NLNG Prize for Literature

 

Untitled-1

We are proud to announce that Yejide Kilanko’s novel, Daughters Who Walk This Path, published by Farafina, has been shortlisted, along with 10 others, for the 2016 Nigeria Prize for Literature.

Daughters Who Walk This Path tells the coming-of-age story of spirited and intelligent Morayo, who grows up surrounded by school friends and family in Ibadan. Morayo must learn to fiercely protect herself and her sister as young women growing up in a complex and politically charged country.

In this excerpt from the novel, young and idealistic Mr. Tiamiyu faces off with older, richer, more popular politician, Chief Omoniyi, in a local government election. Enjoy.

Two hours after the election was supposed to start, four electoral commission officials arrived with the ballot boxes and their other paraphernalia.

Shortly after their arrival, Chief Omoniyi marched majestically into the voting station surrounded by praise singers. I watched the electoral commission officials prostrate flat on the ground before Chief Omoniyi. Relinquishing their tables and chairs to him, they moved their ballot boxes and sat under a nearby tree. The praise singers accompanying Chief Omoniyi were beating their talking-drums with such intensity that the veins on the side of their heads stood up.

“Omoniyi,” the talking drums called. “He, who says that when you go out you will not come back, is whom you will not meet upon your return.”

Chief Omoniyi sat down while a steady stream of people paid homage to him. Even Mr. Tiamiyu’s elderly father went over and prostrated before Chief Omoniyi. “Shief, I am very grateful for all the business you have sent my way this month. May God continue to prosper you.”

When Chief Omoniyi saw his opponent’s elderly father flat on the sand before him, he turned and sent Mr. Tiamiyu a victorious look. Then he relaxed back in his chair and his wide mouth curved into a smile that did not reach his beady eyes. “Ha! Baba Vulcaniser, please get up. I am just a very young boy. I should be the one prostrating before you ke.” But he made no move to stand up from his chair.

Baba Mufu picked himself up from the ground and dusted the sand off his body. After he replaced his cap, he hobbled back to his son’s side of the compound.

His angry wife hissed at him. “Baba Mufu! Why would you go and prostrate in front of that man? On today of all days! Rubbishing your only son in front of everybody.”

“Must I join your son in biting the hand that fed him?” Baba Mufu snapped back. “When this madness of his is over, are we still not going to eat?”

The angry woman turned her back to her husband.

Mr. Tiamiyu looked at his parents and rubbed his hand over his head. Aunty Morenike placed a hand on his arm. I heard her whisper softly to him, “Your father meant no harm. He is just a product of his time.”

Mr. Tiamiyu stared back at her with eyes that were full of hurt.

Shortly after Chief Omoniyi’s arrival, one of his political thugs brought out a table from a school building and set up a food takeaway station right beside the electoral officials. Those lining up to cast their vote for Chief Omoniyi were each given a small loaf of bread, two akara balls, and a sachet of pure water. After casting their votes, they each received a numbered cardboard from Chief Omoniyi’s men. With the piece of cardboard, the voters were entitled to a hot meal of amala and ewedu soup in front of Chief Omoniyi’s home later in the evening. The political thugs soon ran out of the cardboard and started using ballot paper collected from the willing electoral officers.

As I watched men and women old enough to be my parents stand in line, I wondered if the food was a fair exchange for leaky primary schools, unsafe roads, and dry taps. Even we children knew that the money allocated for these programmes and services went towards maintaining Chief Omoniyi’s harem of women and sending his children to the top schools in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Despite the rising heat, Mr. Tiamiyu continued to smile, walking around to thank the few people who came out to vote for him. But it was obvious to all that it was Chief Omoniyi’s day.

Aunty Morenike had not given up. She continued to whisper to the women as they walked into the school compound. “My sisters and mothers, let us show that we are not children to be bought with food. Whatever we eat today, we will purge tomorrow. But our problems will remain the same. This is our chance to fight for our children’s future.” She put her arm around their shoulders. “Come, let us cast our ballot for a new beginning.”

By late morning, I was growing tired and hungry. Aunty Morenike had brought some food with her, but she was still talking to the women. Then something unexpected happened. An old blind man led by a young child walked into the school compound.

The little boy stopped in front of Chief Omoniyi’s table. “Open your ears and listen!” he said. Instantly, the whole compound fell silent as if it was under a spell.

The blind old man turned his face in Chief Omoniyi’s direction and began to speak.

“Omoniyi is the name your father gave you. Why do you live life as if your name is Shame? If truly your name is Omoniyi, you must know that your life comes with great worth and dreams. Why do you live as if it does not? If the name you were given was Strife, you could continue to live in conflict and blame it on the intense urgings of your name. But your name is Omoniyi. Your mother carried you gingerly on her back, danced around, and sang your name with pride. Why do you live your life as if your name is Greed? Living life recklessly as if you own tomorrow and snatching food from the mouths of innocent children. Feverishly building up wealth that brings no honour and only invites disgrace. Living life like the hunting dog who forgot his master’s call. Living without purpose as if your name is Lost. Will you remember that your name is Omoniyi? A child of great honour and hope. To the promises of your name, you must be true.”

The blind old man turned to the little boy. “Child, take me to Mufutau’s table.” Everybody in the compound watched in shock as the blind man pressed a shaking thumb into purple ink to cast his ballot for Mr. Tiamiyu. When he was done, the child quietly led him by the hand out of the compound.

The crowd continued to stare at Chief Omoniyi with their mouths wide open. What was he going to do? Who could have brought about this great insult to their benefactor?

Chief Omoniyi looked around like a cornered rat staring at the metallic gleam of a cutlass. Then he turned, looking in Mr. Tiamiyu’s direction with smouldering eyes. Everybody in the compound followed his gaze. But of course! This had to be the handiwork of that defiant boy Mufutau.

An angry murmur swelled up from the crowd. Some men from Chief Omoniyi’s camp moved purposefully towards Mr. Tiamiyu. Frightened, our little group moved back, huddling together. The crowd was grumbling: Did this young scallywag not go around shouting that he will bring running water to every household? Is that not foolish talk? How do you bring running water to streets with no water pipes?

To Chief Omoniyi’s credit, it was not as if he did not try to bring water to his people. Did everybody not see the shiny new water pipes dropped off at the local government headquarters? Who could have known that armed robbers would raid the warehouse just two weeks later? That poor night watchman—both his legs were broken.

But even babies knew that this was the handiwork of Chief Omoniyi’s political enemies. It was also mere coincidence that two months later, Chief Omoniyi’s brother-in-law, Agbabiaka, opened a shop where he sold brand-new water pipes at Ekotedo Market.

No one said he was a saint. Who was?

But who could send this young man, Tiamiyu, with such tender bones, to the pack of jackals at the state house? Tiamiyu would be torn to pieces in just a matter of months. Chief Omoniyi—despite all his flaws—was the man with the wisdom and stamina for the hard job of ruling the people.

Hearing the snarls, I looked around with concern. The only exit out was blocked by Chief Omoniyi’s thugs, who patted down the men walking into the compound.

Chief Omoniyi sat back in his chair. The smug look on his face told me he knew that the people whose stomachs were still full with akara and pure water would fight his battle for him.

As the Chief’s men moved closer, the men in our little group asked the women and young children to move to the back. My heart began beating very fast. The crowd was growing irate, calling out for Mr. Tiamiyu’s head.

Then Chief Omoniyi stood. “My people! Listen to me. This is not the time for violence. You all know that I am a man of peace.”

The crowd stopped.

“It is true that the house mouse that spares the sheath but eats the knife is bent on provoking one.” He laughed mirthlessly to himself. “But it is impossible for anyone to carry the wind. Mufutau is like all my other enemies—he cannot succeed.”

Flapping the arms of his stiff damask agbada as if he might take flight, Chief Omoniyi’s voice shook as he sprayed those standing around him with a shower of saliva. From the looks of adoration on their faces, it could have been sprinkles of holy water.

“My faithful followers, instead of fighting with our fists and clubs, we will destroy our enemies with our ballots.” He punched the air with a raised fist. “We will boldly stare down our enemies and we will WIN.”

The people began clapping their hands, thumping their feet on the ground, raising clouds of dust into the air.

Chief Omoniyi’s voice continued to rise. “We the great people of this local government will be a shining example to all others! We will show that right here in our great community, the dream of democracy that has eluded so many others is alive and thriving!”

The praise singers increased the tempo of their drumbeats, driving the crowd into a frenzied dance of victory.

 

Daughters Who Walk This Path is sold in major bookstores across Nigeria, and at our Lagos office at 253 Herbert Macaulay Road, Yaba. You can also buy copies online or call +234(0)807 736 4217.  

 

 

Stanley Azuakola: the NLNG Prize Can Be So Much Bigger and Better

But if I had the opportunity to ask the judges one question, it would be this: How on earth did Teju Cole’s Open City and Eghosa Imasuen’s Fine Boys fail to make that initial ten-man shortlist? How?

“Petty cash.”

That was how the critic Molara Wood, then an editor at the defunct newspaper 234Next, described the then $50,000 prize money, which was supposed to, but was not awarded to any winner of the NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature in 2009. Granted, she was speaking about the value of the prize to the company awarding it and not its value to a prospective winner. Since Ms. Wood wrote that article criticising what many in the literary community perceived as shabby treatment of writers during its 2009 edition, the prize has doubled in value, promising a payout of $100,000 to winners.

Even more prestigious awards like the Man Booker Prize ($50,000) or the American National Book Awards ($10,000) are not worth that much. At $100,000 (sixteen million naira), the NLNG prize money makes it the 22nd biggest literary prize in the world and the biggest in Africa. In the opinion of this writer this is welcome; and it makes no difference whether the prize is the “NLNG’s hush money.” The value of the prize is the least of its problems.

The NLNG award is a high value award, which is why it is surprising that save for a few sponsored events and pieces, not much discussion, criticism or scrutiny of it goes on. Conversations about the award – where they exist – seem contrived and are never sustained.

Congratulations to Chika Unigwe, the winner of the 2012 edition of the award for her book, On Black Sisters Street. I have read it and it is a very good book. However, it is the award itself, and not Unigwe or her book, which is the subject here. This piece raises questions which are not meant to – nor can they – take away from Unigwe’s sweet victory.

214 books were submitted for consideration this year. I’ve read four out of the ten shortlisted and seen reviews for most of the others. I particularly loved Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s witty and readable book, I Do Not Come To You By Chance, which the judges didn’t think was good enough to make the final three.

But if I had the opportunity to ask the judges one question, it would be this: How on earth did Teju Cole’sOpen City and Eghosa Imasuen’s Fine Boys fail to make that initial ten-man shortlist? How?

Tastes are different, and any literary award worth its salt would often generate controversy over which books made the cut and which didn’t. But it’s hard to look objectively at the prose fiction landscape in the past four years and not rate those two among the top ten.

Cole’s book was one of the most celebrated books in the world in 2011. You read that right – in the whole world. The Economist, Time, Slate, Ikhide Ikheloa, everyone was falling over themselves to pen flattering reviews of the book. Imasuen’s book, locally published by Farafina, is the quintessential Nigerian novel. Bold, witty and shorn of pretences, it was, in my opinion,the best locally published novel in the last four years.

One possible reason the two books were no-shows on the judges’ shortlist could be that their publishers did not send in copies for consideration. In that case, rules are rules and the rule currently states that books must be sent in. The NLNG Prize Board might however do well to borrow a leaf from the American National Book Awards, which, I think, is an excellent award to model after.

One of the rules of that award states that: “The chairpersons of each judging panel may ‘call in’ titles through the [National Book Award] Foundation office that have not been submitted by publishers. The Foundation then asks publishers to submit these titles for consideration, assuming they meet eligibility requirements. Publishers may submit at their own discretion.” In other words, the judges who must be actively aware of the goings-on in the literary scene can decide to call in a book which they believe merits consideration but which wasn’t sent by the publishers. This makes sense, especially since the ultimate aim is to ensure that the best books in the period under consideration are placed in the pot.

Even as I write this, I know that there is little or no chance the suggestion in the last paragraph would be taken. Not because the organisers are averse to accepting suggestions, but if truth be told, how many of the judges really read contemporary fiction? The organisers of the award like to boast that “all the judges appointed are professors of proven integrity and academic excellence.” In that boast lies one of the main challenges of the award. These professor judges are usually so ensconced in their ivory towers that they seldom know what’s happening in the literary world outside their universities’ recommended books. They would not even know which books to call in if they had the chance. It would be a shock to find any of the judges who’d read more than one of the shortlisted books prior to being announced as a judge.

It is time for the board to dice things up a bit. When I looked at the composition of the judges, I could see, but not accept, why Imasuen’s Fine Boys did not make the cut. The judges – conservative purveyors of orthodoxy that they are – would loathe recognising Imasuen who uses words like mumu, oyibo, yansh, play-play in his work and doesn’t bother to italicise or explain them.

I do not seek to cast doubts on the integrity of those well read gentlemen and ladies but reality calls, let’s face it. What time do they even have to read these books? One of last year’s judges wrote in her judging report that they were given only one month to read 43 books and prune to 20, and another two weeks to prune to the final three. Among the judges that year was a university vice chancellor whose own report was so sketchy that any discerning mind would know he couldn’t possibly have done a thorough job. Of course the blame for the short reading time isn’t the judges’ but that of the organisers.

Whether my reservations about the judges are unfounded or not, there’s still a good case for the judging panel to be a mixed blend. Academia alone doesn’t cut it. The Booker Prize, for instance, added an actor last year to its panel (he wasn’t just some shallow actor; he studied literature.) Other prizes have publishers, writers (who aren’t necessarily professors), and other important subgroups in their panels.

Something else worth pondering for the organisers is the rotation policy among the four genres of prose fiction, poetry, drama and children’s literature. This year the award was for prose fiction; the next time that’s going to be the case would be the year of the next US presidential elections. The NLNG says the policy gives authors in any particular genre “up to four years to prepare.” In reality, the organisers are just afraid that if they start handing out yearly awards for the four genres, there might not be a consistent pool of strong books to choose from every year since Nigerian authors don’t publish that many good books. But the other side of the argument is what happens to authors who release more than one book in four years? Presently they’re expected to submit just one. Are we saying an author cannot release two or more award winning books in four years? J K Rowlings did it with her Harry Potter series; and so did Hillary Mantel, winner of the Booker prize in 2009 (Wolf Hall) and 2012 (Bring up the bodies.)

There are many more questions I’ll love to raise. Questions like: Why does the NLNG even award a literary prize for drama? Is it sensible to give awards to plays which have not yet been performed or produced in the theatre? And wouldn’t it be more worthwhile to split the $100,000 prize money, in order to also offer financial rewards to the two runner-ups? I would leave the details of these for some other time.

The NLNG Literary Prize has successfully gone through another season without the kind of outrage which followed its 2009 edition. It’s gradually stabilising as a worthy literary prize. But we know it could be so much better. ♥

This article was published with permission from YNaija.com

Editor’s Notes

Farafina Books submitted Fine Boys as an entry for the 2012 NLNG Prize and received acknowledgement from the organisers, our entry was received. Fine Boys received glowing reviews from home and abroad.

‘In Fine Boys, Imasuen writes fearlessly and beautifully of
friendship, love, loss, and betrayal.  It is thought-provoking,
perfectly paced, uniformly delightful, compassionate, full of 
humour but also heart-breaking. Eghosa Imasuen has remarkable 
gifts.’
—Chika Unigwe,
2012 NLNG Prize Winner.

 

‘Fine Boys is the first African novel I know that takes us deep into
the world of the children of IMF:  those post-Berlin wall Africans,
like myself, who came of age in the days of The Conditionalities,
those imposed tools and policies that made our countries feral;
the days that turned good people into beasts, the days that
witnessed the great implosion and scattering of the middle classes
of a whole continent. Fine Boys takes us deep into the lives of the
notorious gangs that took over universities all over Nigeria in the
1990s and early this century. We saw our universities collapse,
and we struggled to educate ourselves through very harsh times.
It is a beautifully written novel, heartfelt, deeply knowledgeable,
funny, a love story, a tragedy; an important book, a book of our
times; a book for all Africans everywhere.’
—Binyavanga Wainaina,
Author of One Day I Will Write about This Place.

 

We were surprised and very disappointed not to have made the shortlist. We invite readers to read Fine Boys and judge for themselves. Fine Boys is available for purchase from us (orders@kachifo.com, visit our store at 253 Herbert Macaulay Way, Alagomeji, Yaba, or call us on 08077364217. ) and all major bookstores.