Karaye Prize for Hausa Literature Debuts
Words by Sumaila Umaisha
Thursday, 25th October, 2007 was a special day in the annals of Hausa Literature, as the maiden edition of the Engr. Mohammed Bashir Karaye Hausa Literature Prize was awarded to the winners. In a colourful award ceremony, jointly organized by the awards committee and the Abuja chapter of Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA, at the International Conference Hall, Abuja, three writers were announced as the winners of this year’s edition of the annual prize.
The three winners emerged from a total of nineteen contestants. The first prize was won by Ibrahim Sheme, first editor of ‘The Write Stuff’ and currently the editor of Leadership newspaper, for his novel, ’Yartsana. The second prize went to Balaraba Ramat Yakubu, a Kano-based writer and film producer for her Matar Uba Jaraba, while the third prize was won by Maje El-Hajeej Hotoro, a Kano-based writer, for his Kankana.
The winners went away with a cash prize of 300,000 Naira; 150,000 Naira for the first prize, 100,000 for the second and 50,000 for the third.
The event also featured fund raising for the sustenance of the award.
Chaired by Professor Iyorwuese Hagher, the occasion had in attendance prominent personalities particularly from the judiciary. They include the Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi, and two former Chief Justices, Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais and Justice Salihu Modibo Alfa Balgore. The presence of these august guests could be seen as a gesture of solidarity with the founder of the prize, the Executive Secretary of the Federal Judicial Service Commission, Hajiya Bilkisu A. Bashir, who instituted the prize in memory of her late husband, Engr. Mohammed Bashir Karaye. But more importantly, it could be viewed as a solidarity with the effort to promote Hausa literature. For, as the chairman of the occasion rightly pointed out in his speech, there is no much difference between literature and law as both are born out of man’s quest to resolve societal conflict.
The chairman expressed appreciation to all those who contributed to the event, which is aimed at reviving interest in Hausa literature, and congratulated the winners of the prizes.
Earlier in his welcome address, the chairman of the Abuja chapter of ANA, Dr. Emman Usman Shehu, highlighted the efforts of the chapter in promoting literature, of which this prize is a part. According to him, the Karaye prize came into being through the association’s proposal to Hajiya Bilkisu.
Dr. Shehu disclosed the chapter’s future plans, including having a writers’ cyber café, a proper office, a meeting facility for writers, a literary agency to help negotiate contracts for writers and a writers’ residency programme. To this end, he called on all concerned to "help us build an effective support network so that our literature, whether written in English or our indigenous languages, will have a consistent world-class quality".
In his own speech, Justice Kutigi noted that Hausa is the widest indigenous language spoken in West Africa, hence the need to promote it. He commended ANA and Hajiya Bilkisu for instituting the prize. He called on all to donate generously towards sustaining the prize and urged the winners to continue to write.
The keynote address was delivered by Anthony C. Oha of Benson Idahosa University, Benin City. Titled ‘Making Literature a Tool of Immortalisation: Reflections on the Karaye Hausa Literature Prize’, the paper featured a brief history of Hausa literary prizes, the importance of Hausa vis-à-vis indigenous literature and the role of the Karaye prize in the scheme of things.
Oha began by commending the efforts of those who were instrumental to the setting up of the prize. He specifically mentioned Patrick Oguejiofor, whom he said provided the link between Hajiya Bilkisu, who is his boss, and the Abuja chapter of ANA for the much needed partnership for the institution and administration of award. He then traced the history of literary prizes in Hausa literature to the colonial era when the Education Department of Northern Nigeria organized a creative writing contest in 1933. Stressing the significance of prizes in Hausa literature, he said the development and use of indigenous African language is of great advantage since the masses who do not understand foreign language could have access to the indigenous literature. He observed that the Karaye prize is the most outstanding prize in indigenous literature in Nigeria today, and commended ANA and Hajiya Bilkisu for making this possible.
The judges for the competition were Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu of Bayero University, Kano, and Malam Bello Sule of the Nigerian Television Authority, Abuja. Professor Adamu, who was the chairman of the panel of judges, explained the criteria used in assessing the entries for the contest. In a paper titled ‘Global Media as the Message: Hausa Prose Fiction in the Age of Technology’, which also highlighted the history of Hausa literature and Hausa literary prizes, he said cultural representation was one of the major criteria. According to him, "In this criterion we were looking at how the Hausa universe was portrayed in the novel". Other criteria included the author’s handling of the theme, the narrative structure and the character development.
Professor Adamu, whose paper was read on his behalf, because he had to hurry back to Kano due to the sudden death of his mother, expressed appreciation for Hajiya Bilkisu’s courage, determination, fortitude and intellectual foresight in instituting the award.
The Karaye prize is the first non-governmental intervention in the history of Hausa literary contest. It will run in a three-year cycle, covering fiction, poetry and drama.
Engr. Karaye had, before his death in October last year, held a number of top positions in the public service. He was commissioner for Information in Kano State.
- Words by Sumaila Umaisha; published in the New Nigerian Weekly, 27 October, 2007, p17.
- Images courtesy of ANA Abuja