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‘What we expect from Nigeria Prizes for Science, Literature entries’

Daily Trust: Since the NLNG-sponsored Nigeria Prizes for Science and Literature began, how much do you think those two fields have grown? Isa Mohammed Inuwa:…

Daily Trust: Since the NLNG-sponsored Nigeria Prizes for Science and Literature began, how much do you think those two fields have grown?
Isa Mohammed Inuwa: For the literary prize, one of the easiest ways to measure its growth is to look at how much interest it has garnered over time, from inception. I am sure you would have seen a growing trend in the number of entries and people who have shown interest in the prize. In terms of what has happened in that field, I would say that the fact that there is a prize has been enough encouragement for people to write, some hoping to enter, some just to test the waters and some just to write for the fact that they have the talent. But definitely, the Literature Prize has served as a catalyst for not only interest in literature, but writing.
For the Science Award, quite unlike the Literature one, as you must have noticed, we have had a four-year break. For 2016, we have revived it and we are hoping that we will see a lot more interest and activity around it. Even then, the Science Award has had some impact in the sense that there has been a generation of new ideas, one or two products that sadly have not been taken to commercial stage. But generally, between science and literature, the prizes instituted by NLNG have served, not only to bring awareness about the need for research and creative writing, but also to generate interest in both fields. 

DT: You mentioned products…
Inuwa: The one that readily comes to mind – although I can’t exactly remember the name – was a product that could be used in place of asphalt in building roads. I understand it lasts longer and is cheaper.

DT: What led to it not being commercialised?
Inuwa: I think, fundamentally, it’s because at that time there was no distinct connection, either in terms of strategy or the way the prize was organised to have a connection between discoveries and commerciality. In other words, you just find an idea of a product and that’s it, you will be rewarded for it. Moving it to practical usage was not part of the prize. It is still not, but we have decided to do something around that area and we will come to that.

DT: The Literature Prize rotates around four categories. Last year there was some sort of disaffection, particularly among writers, when there was no winner. What’s being done to see that that doesn’t happen again?
Inuwa: It should happen and it shouldn’t generate any disaffection. If anything, I think we should all be happy that once in a while nobody wins. What it shows is simple, that there are certain standards that we are not willing to go below simply because we want to give a prize. If some work are not good enough in the judgement of the advisory board and independent assessor, then we don’t have a prize. There are standards that we must maintain and it’s not that we must give a prize, no. We must give a prize to a piece of work that is worth it.

Daily Trust: What are the criteria for putting together the committee and panel of judges for both prizes?
Inuwa: There are distinct criteria. One, of course, is that if you take the Literature Prize, it’s got to be a person who is academically qualified or someone who is literary-minded and has proven work in terms of writing. Second, is the character and reputation of such a person. Third, is that person’s track record in what they have been able to produce in way of research, teaching or literature. Fourth, one’s standing within the community of writers or teachers of literature and so on. And this also applies to the Science Award – academic qualification, reputation, integrity and standing within the community of scientists, and so on.
There certainly are distinct criteria for the selection. For the Science Prize, one of the things we have introduced is to make the body of advisors a little bit wider in terms of experience and background, so you find at least one or two people who are scientists that have also had commercial experience, some straddling the public and private sectors.

DT: Why does the prize include an international consultant?
Inuwa: Two reasons. One is to validate the judgement of the advisory board members. Second is that it brings a layer of integrity and independence to the whole judgement and selection process. As I said, there are five or six people that are on the advisory board. But to give confidence, not to only those who participate, but also to the general public, we decided to add another layer, such that whatever the advisory board does, somebody validates it – a person of such standing that he or she also lends integrity to the selection process. It is not because of inadequacy of the advisory board in any way, but simply to reinforce and revalidate their judgement.

DT: For last year’s, what did you find lacking in the entries?
Inuwa: The works were not good enough, in terms of originality and structure.

DT: So it’s not a possibility of the judges being too picky?
Inuwa: They have a standard, and it’s not about one plus one equals two. And you are talking about literature. Because of their standing, their experience, academic backgrounds, and achievements, they have a unique standard of what a work worthy of that prize should be. NLNG has absolutely no hand in the selection. They are a hundred percent independent. If they say there is no prize, that’s it. In their judgement, they said none had the quality and structure worthy of the prize.

DT: What informed the practice of awarding the prize in US dollars? It is, after all, a Nigerian prize…
Inuwa: We consider it an international prize, really, and globally people recognise the dollar. The second reason is, NLNG, quite unlike any other company in Nigeria, is a dollar company by law. In other words, if you go to our financial statement, you will see dollars. In the NLNG Act, government allows us to pay in dollars. We pay our taxes in dollars.

DT: NLNG talked about investing in Children’s Literature Capacity Building workshop after last year’s contest. What’s the update on that?
Inuwa: The workshop is a fall-out of the recommendation of the advisory board. They wrote a report and a recommendation that NLNG needs to intervene in capacity-building so that in the next two or three years we will have better entries.
We held that workshop, and not only were the issues around the entries discussed, but also mitigations were agreed on. It was well-received, to the extent that we took the recommendation of the advisory board, expended time and resources towards it.

DT: Your Corporate Social Responsibility, especially regarding the two prizes, is known. Do you have any lesser-known CSR endeavours?
Inuwa: I say this with all sense of responsibility, and stand to be challenged. I don’t think there is any company in this country that does as much as we do in terms of CSR, and ours is of high quality. It’s not about throwing money at people: We look at the long term and those things that stay with individuals or communities in the country over time. We do a lot of things, but the core of what we do generally is in education, scholarships to secondary schools, university, undergraduate and post-graduate studies, to the provision of infrastructure across schools, particularly in science and technology and then the reward in terms of the prizes.
So, we are in education, but we are also in other areas, particularly in our host community where we are resident, Bonny Island. We provide water, 24-hour electricity, hospital, youth empowerment, and much more. For example, we have a program for scholarships that cuts across all the oil producing states in the Niger Delta.

DT: What’s the expectation from those interested in the Nigeria Prizes for Science and Literature this year?
Inuwa: We expect excellent entries, as adjudged by the advisory board and validated by the international consultant.

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