There is a general pattern emerging with the award of literary prizes in Nigeria. The delighted author or poet hears the good news and attends the award ceremony. Much mention is made of the prize money by 'the stakeholders'. Most likely, friends and relatives in the audience smile on that golden night, confident that they will share in the glory in one way or another.
And then the prize money never comes.
The recent 2.0 flare between Onyeka Nwelue, author of the Abyssinian Boy, and the Abuja Writers Forum is sadly not an isolated incident. On the back of the war of words, various writers and poets have divulged in public and otherwise that they never received prize money from other awards in Nigeria. One sentiment is that they suffered quietly, then why should Onyeka raise the dust? Another view however is that the prize money scam has gone on far too long and finally needs to be challenged.
None of this is to cast aspersions that there was any misappropriation of prize money by the AWF. Sponsors, like guests at the "Nigerian book launch", often like to make donations that are in reality only symbolic and never intended to be material. Most likely, everyone involved in trying to develop writing/the publishing industry in Nigeria has been sorely let down by a sponsor at one point or another.
However, there are lessons to be learned it seems in all this. The most critical one is that literary organisations should not raise expectations of prize money they cannot meet. Prize money should not be mentioned in publicity material until the organisation receives the hard cash from the sponsor in their bank account. There have been too many scandals in the administration of Nigerian letters in recent years. Its time literary organisations put transparency and accountability as their top priority. Why must the Nigeria Factor infiltrate everything? The answer is simple: it shouldn't.