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Abdulrazak Gurnah wins the 2021 Nobel prize in literature

Nobel prize

Abdulrazak Gurnah wins the 2021 Nobel prize in literature

The Nobel prize in literature has been awarded to the novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah, for his “uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents”.

Gurnah grew up on one of the islands of Zanzibar before fleeing persecution and arriving in England as a student in the 1960s. He has published 10 novels as well as a number of short stories. Anders Olsson, chair of the Nobel committee, said that the Gurnah’s novels – from his debut Memory of Departure, about a failed uprising, to his most recent, Afterlives – “recoil from stereotypical descriptions and open our gaze to a culturally diversified East Africa unfamiliar to many in other parts of the world”.

No black African writer has won the prize since Wole Soyinka in 1986. Gurnah is the first black writer to win since Toni Morrison in 1993.

Gurnah’s fourth novel, Paradise, was shortlisted for the Booker prize in 1994, and his sixth, By the Sea, was longlisted in 2001. Olsson said that Paradise “has obvious reference to Joseph Conrad in its portrayal of the innocent young hero Yusuf’s journey to the heart of darkness”.

“[Gurnah] has consistently and with great compassion penetrated the effects of colonialism in East Africa, and its effects on the lives of uprooted and migrating individuals,” Olsson told journalists in Stockholm.

Gurnah, who was in the kitchen when he was informed of his win, said that he believed it was a wind-up.

“I thought it was a prank,” he said. “These things are usually floated for weeks beforehand, or sometimes months beforehand, about who are the runners, so it was not something that was in my mind at all. I was just thinking, I wonder who’ll get it?”

“I am honoured to be awarded this prize and to join the writers who have preceded me on this list. It is overwhelming and I am so proud.”

His longtime editor, Alexandra Pringle at Bloomsbury, said Gurnah’s win was “most deserved” for a writer who has not previously received due recognition.

“He is one of the greatest living African writers, and no one has ever taken any notice of him and it’s just killed me. I did a podcast last week and in it I said that he was one of the people that has been just ignored. And now this has happened,” she said.

Pringle said Gurnah had always written about displacement, “but in the most beautiful and haunting ways of what it is that uproots people and blows them across continents”.

“It’s not always asylum seeking, it can be so many reasons, it can be trade, it can be commerce, it can be education, it can be love,” she said. “The first of his novels I took on at Bloomsbury is called By the Sea, and there’s this haunting image of a man at Heathrow airport with a carved incense box, and that’s all he has. He arrives, and he says one word, and that’s ‘asylum’.”

Pringle said Gurnah is as important a writer as Chinua Achebe. “His writing is particularly beautiful and grave and also humorous and kind and sensitive. He’s an extraordinary writer writing about really important things.”

Afterlives, published last year, tells the story of Ilyas, who was stolen from his parents by German colonial troops as a boy and returns to his village after years fighting in a war against his own people. It was described in the Guardian as “a compelling novel, one that gathers close all those who were meant to be forgotten, and refuses their erasure”.

“In Gurnah’s literary universe, everything is shifting – memories, names, identities. This is probably because his project cannot reach completion in any definitive sense,” said Olsson. “An unending exploration driven by intellectual passion is present in all his books, and equally prominent now, in Afterlives, as when he began writing as a 21-year-old refugee.”

Maya Jaggi, critic and 2021 Costa Prize judge said: “Gurnah, whom I first interviewed for the Guardian in 1994, is a powerful and nuanced writer whose elliptical lyricism counters the silences and lies of imperial history imposed when he was a child in east Africa. His subtle oeuvre is as robust about the brutal flaws of the mercantile culture he left as the atrocities of British and German colonialism, not least during the first world war, and the ‘random acts of terror’ he experienced as a black person in Britain – converting them into a comic triumph in his 1988 novel Pilgrims Way.”

Gurnah was born in 1948, growing up in Zanzibar. When Zanzibar went through a revolution in 1964, citizens of Arab origin were persecuted, and Gurnah was forced to flee the country when he was 18. He began to write as a 21-year-old refugee in England, choosing to write in English, although Swahili is his first language. His first novel, Memory of Departure, was published in 1987. He has until recently been professor of English and postcolonial literatures at the University of Kent, until his retirement.

Worth 10m Swedish krona (£840,000), the Nobel prize for literature goes to the writer deemed to be, in the words of Alfred Nobel’s will, “the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”. Winners have ranged from Bob Dylan, cited for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”, to Kazuo Ishiguro “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”.According to Ellen Mattson, who sits on the Swedish Academy and the Nobel committee: “Literary merit. That’s the only thing that counts.”

The Nobel winner is chosen by the 18 members of the Swedish Academy – an august and mysterious organisation that has made efforts to become more transparent after it was hit by a sexual abuse and financial misconduct scandal in 2017. Last year’s prize went to the American poet Louise Glück – an uncontroversial choice after the uproar provoked by the Austrian writer Peter Handke’s win in 2019. Handke had denied the Srebrenica genocide and attended the funeral of war criminal Slobodan Milošević.

The Nobel prize for literature has been awarded 118 times. Just 16 of the awards have gone to women, seven of those in the 21st century. In 2019, the Swedish academy promised the award would become less “male-oriented” and “Eurocentric”, but proceeded to give its next two prizes to two Europeans, Handke and Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk.

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Education

FUOYE Clears Air On Death of Final Year Student

By Wole Balogun

Federal University Oye-Ekiti (FUOYE) has cleared the air on the death of a final-year student of the institution’s Department of Geology, Ola Opeyemi Benjamin, who died in his room after leaving the examination hall where he sat for one of his papers.
Recall that on Sunday, the Ivory Tower’s management had debunked a rumour that went around that some students collapsed and later died during their examinations on the campus.
In a press release signed by Wole Balogun, Special Adviser on Media Matters to the Vice-Chancellor, Prof Abayomi Sunday Fasina, the Management had debunked the fake news, as totally unfounded.
However, in a related development, the Acting Head of Department of Geology, Dr. A Oyelami, on Monday afternoon, brought it to the notice of the Management that a student of the institution, Ola Opeyemi Benjamin, died in his room on Saturday, November, 26, 2022 after leaving the examination hall hale and hearty.
In the letter made available to the University media team, and entitled: “Notification of the Demise of Ola Opeyemi Benjamin (GLY/2017/1059)”, the department disclosed that the incident of the death of the final year student had nothing to do with students allegedly collapsing in the exam hall, as the death of the deceased happened in his own room.
The memo from the Geology Department reads in part: “With grief, l write to inform you that we lost one of our final year students, Ola Opeyemi Benjamin, with matric no: GLY/2017/2059, who died shortly after the afternoon examination held at the new faculty of science auditorium on Saturday 26th, November 2022. I wish to inform you that the late student finished the said examination quite early and he was hale and hearty as at the time he left the examination hall.
The news of his sudden demise filtered in early Sunday morning and the circumstances surrounding the death was sketchy even as l write this letter. The department is proposing to send delegates on a condolence visit to the family after work today.”.
The University Management registers its condolences to the family and the University community.

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Education

HND Graduates To Start Teaching In Polytechnics- NBTE

The National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) said on Monday that holders of Higher National Diploma (HND) would soon be employed as Assistant Lecturers in Polytechnics and Monotechnics.

The Executive Secretary of the Board, Prof. Idris Bugaje, disclosed this while speaking in Kaduna on Sunday.

Bugaje revealed that currently only degree holders were being employed in polytechnics as assistant lecturers.

He lamented that HND holders were relegated as technicians and technologists in laboratories and workshops in the polytechnic sector, which he described as “gross injustice”.

“Why should somebody from the university system come and midwife over a different system and become lords over them?

“The highest product in the polytechnics is the HND, as such, the best of these graduates should be employed as assistant lecturers and grow within the systems to have their Master’s degree.

“They can rise through the ranks to become Chief Lecturers and eventually become Rectors of their respective institutions.

The NBTE boss said that the scenario would change with the new Scheme of Service for the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector.

He said that the scheme of service was awaiting approval by the Head of Service hopefully by the end of 2022 or early 2023.

He commended the Federal Ministry of Education for the support in ensuring the new scheme of service was developed and submitted to the Head of Service for approval.

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Education

Uniabuja ASUU Protest ‘Half Salary’

The Academic Staff Union Of Universities (ASUU), University of Abuja branch, on Friday staged a peaceful protest at the institution’s Mini Campus over withheld salaries.

The union members staged the protest following the ‘No Work No Pay’ policy and court order that mandated the lecturers back to classes.

Dr Kassim Umaru,  ASUU branch Chairman, during the protest said that decision reached immediately after its congress called on well meaning Nigerians to urge the Federal Government to honour the union’s demands.

Umaru said that university lecturers were not casual staffers and could not be paid half salary, adding that the National Executive Council (NEC) of ASUU would decide on an action if the government failed to address the issues.

He called on the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, to honour agreement reached with the union, adding that the union was forced to the classroom through a court injunction.

“We are here this afternoon to show our displeasure to the Federal Government that it is not all over by forcing us through court injunction ànd intimidating us by holding our salaries.

“We are not going to give up untill the Federal Government do the needful by paying our withdrew salaries and also honouring the agreement signed in 2020.

“The government has signed several agreements with our union, not once, not twice, not three times, but refused to honour the agreement.

“We are telling the public, traditional rulers, religious leaders, well meaning Nigerians, students and parents that all is not well in the Nigerian universities,” he said.

The chairman said that the people should pressure the government to do the needful by honouring the agreement and paying their salaries.

He stressed that lecturers were not casual workers and should be paid.

”We are frustrated and we can no longer take it, enough is enough and we are not going to give up.

“We are not going to take it and we are registering our displeasure that Nigerians should know that anything that happens, ASUU should not be called for anything.

“The speaker has intervened and we have given him the honour, but the Federal Government should do what it has said.

“If the Federal Government is adamant, the NEC of the union will go back to drawing board, access all the issues and we will take the necessary action,” he threatened.

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