Denja Abdullahi.

In October 2018, at the prize ceremony at Preston Hotel, Ikeja, 18-year-old Nigerian writer Ernest O. Ògúnyemí was announced winner of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) NECO/Teen Prize for Prose, for his 60-page collection of stories. The prize money was N100,000, and he had travelled from Abeokuta to Lagos to attend the event. He received a plaque and a bag containing a copy of ANA’s annual publication, ANA Review, with assurance from the Association’s president Denja Abdullahi that he would soon receive his prize money. Meanwhile, Ògúnyemí was surprised that his poem had been published in  ANA Review without his knowledge or permission. 

Months passed, Ògúnyemí called and texted Denja Abdullahi, but the latter’s tune continuously shifted. “We don’t have the money!” Abdullahi shouted at Ògúnyemí on one of the calls. When Ògúnyemí asked why Abdullahi was treating his query as unimportant, Abdullahi told him: “You are very rude. Never call me again.”

Eighteen and fearing for his starting career, Ògúnyemí spoke to his teachers, who called Abdullahi, who then told them to “give us two weeks.” The two weeks elapsed a week ago and Ògúnyemí did not hear from Abdullahi. Despite his non-payment, the 2019 edition of the same ANA prize was announced. 

At the time of his win, Ògúnyemí was an SSS3 student of Baptist Boys’ High School, Abeokuta. Now he has just sat for the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) certificate. 

This afternoon, he tweeted what happened.

Read his tweets below:

Ògúnyemí spoke to Brittle Paper on the phone this afternoon, explaining the development. “The way he sounded, I am afraid for my career,” he told us.

A poet and short story writer, Ògúnyemí’s work has appeared in Litro UK, The Rising Phoenix, and in Erotic Africa: The Sex Anthology, published by Brittle Paper. He attended Goethe-Institut’s Afro Young Adult Workshop and was recently accepted to be part of Adroit Mentorship Program.

While writers have been reacting, on a Facebook post by the Nigerian writer and literary organiser Samson Kukogho, Denja Abdullahi left a comment. Stating that NECO had not fulfilled their part of the sponsorship, he curiously demanded an apology from Ernest Ògúnyemí, citing his “uncouth language,” and threatened to delay the payment. Read his comment below:


Some well-meaning writers on twitter like Kola Tubosun , Chuma Nwokolo and Umar Yogiza called me this morning to draw my attention to the complaint of Ernest Ogunyemi on twitter against ANA over his unpaid prize money of N100,000 for the ANA/NECO Teen Author Prize he won in 2018. The judges who adjudged the prize that year initially doubted that he was the writer of the entry he submitted and asked us to investigate which we did by contacting his school authorities. I as President had to even speak to him and a couple of his teachers during school hours to attest to the authenticity of his submission. He was personally invited to the award ceremony at the Lagos Convention by me and his prize certificate plaque and Certificate were presented to him, with the explanation that his prize sum would come later.

In 2017, the National Examination Council of Nigeria (NECO) wrote to ANA without our prompting that they want to revive the sponsorship of the rested ANA/NECO Teen Author Prize for the next three years(2018,2019 and 2020). The same organisation had sponsored the prize for four years (2006-2009) until the prize was rested in 2012 during the tenure of Prof Remi Raji as President, since their endowment ran out in 2009 and the Association by default continued to award the prize in their name till 2012 without re-imbursement from them. So when they approached us again in 2017, we were sceptical and wrote them back to state our conditions for proper endowment. They kept assuring us verbally that the issue was being treated administratively and that we should go ahead to advertise the prize. At one of our National Executive Council meetings, the issue of advertising the prize was hotly debated but the decision to go ahead to advertise first and pursue the endowment fund later was taken in the interest of encouraging young writers, which is one of the cardinal objectives of ANA; more so since we have a written commitment from an organisation as large and credible as NECO. We went ahead to advertise leading to Ernest Ogunyemi winning for 2018 but as I write, NECO is yet to fulfil its own part of the deal. I cannot count the number of letters we have written to NECO since 2017 right through 2018 and 2019 for them to be honour their written words. The National treasurer of ANA who lives in Minna where the headquarter of NECO is located has visited their office to follow up countless times without making any headway. Before the 2018 convention, I also went to Minna and visited NECO with the treasurer and it was the same “E.S. is not on seat” and other such bureaucratic language of deception that we were faced with. After the ANA Convention of 2018, I collated newspaper cuttings from about 5 national newspapers with photos of Ernest Ogunyemi receiving his prize and reports of names of various ANA prize winners for that year and wrote a covering letter with attachments of the clips to NECO asking them to redeem their pledge to endow. We are yet to receive any positive response in spite of further visits there by the national treasurer.

Meanwhile, Ernest Ogunyemi has all along been impatient, calling me almost every week to ask for when he will be paid and each time I tell him the efforts we are making to get his money from NECO. At a point his teachers started calling me too and I do tell them our efforts. One day, Ernest called threatening to go on the social media to create ruckus and he was particularly rude to me on that call. I called his teachers to report his uncouth language and they apologised profusely on his behalf. All along, I have been assuring Ernest and his teachers before his very rude call that he will eventually be paid even if NECO do not redeem their pledge and that he should be patient. The Chairmen and secretaries of ANA from the Chapters, including the Ogun State Chapter where Ernest School is located, will bear me witness that the Ernest Ogunyemi/NECO issue ,was part of our agenda at the National Executive Council meeting of ANA with Chairmen and Secretaries of State Chapters held in April 2019 at Ilorin. The meeting resolved that we should pursue NECO further while finding alternative means of paying Ernest Ogunyemi. Meanwhile , ANA did not advertise the prize for 2019.

Early this month Ernest Ogunyemi’s teacher called to remind me of the issue and I told him to hold on that ANA will pay before the end of May 2019 and that he should communicate same to Ernest. Last week Wednesday, I contacted the teacher to tell Ernest to send his account number so I can pay the money into it. The teacher said the boy does not have an account number and sent his own account no instead. I was about sending the money to the account given by the teacher but on second thought I contacted ANA Ogun Chairman to send me the Chapter’s account no so I could send the money there for them to withdraw and present physically to the boy in school this coming Monday(tomorrow). I had sent the address of the school and the teacher’s number to ANA Ogun Chairman to effect this tomorrow unfailingly.

We are at this point before I was alerted on the campaign of calumny against ANA by Ernest Ogunyemi in twitter by persons I mentioned earlier on. I have decided to respond in this lengthy manner rather than ask my PRO to make a quip press statement with the usual “officialese” so that people will get all the back story and verify statements if need be. At the moment, I will request Ernest Ogunyemi to go tender an apology to the Association of Nigerian Authors(ANA) on twitter where he took the matter to or risk his prize sum being withheld until NECO pays up accordingly.

Denja Abdullahi



Denja Abdullahi is in his second term as ANA President, and his comment is useful: proof of the side of Nigerian literature that doesn’t receive enough attention—classist, ageist thuggery. The leader of Nigeria’s biggest organisation of writers has intimidated and threatened an 18-year-old Nigerian writer. If Denja Abdullahi had any shred of dignity, he would have apologised instead. He claims to have “explained,” but an explanation that includes the words “Never call me again,” delivered to an 18-year-old writer by the president of the ANA, an organisation created to care for writers, is blatant intimidation. His behaviour flouts expectations of responsibility and accountability. It is completely unacceptable that someone like him, someone whose response is emblematic of the rot in Nigerian literature, is the face of the Association of Nigerian Authors. He should pay this money right away. Maybe, just maybe, the end of his term could mean hope for the much tainted image of the ANA.