If people in their diverse backgrounds and philosophies ever agreed on an issue, it is the fact that writing is of great importance to humanity. As aptly defined by the New Millennial Dictionary, Writing is “the skill and art of using symbols (letters of the alphabet, punctuation and spaces) to communicate thoughts and ideas in a readable and understandable form.”
Written works are the cornerstone of human existence. It is a catalyst for knowledge acquisition and literacy. It promotes communication; drives entertainment; serves as the custodian of human history, and equally creates an opportunity for writers to earn a good livelihood. Above all, writing is a pathway to immortality. Yes, writers never die! Think of old writers like William Shakespeare, George Orwell, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi, Lewis Nkosi…and many others. Although they are long gone, they still live in the legacy of their words.
Against this backdrop, I can say, with no scintilla of doubt, that anyone striving to hone his or her writing skill is doing to himself or herself a great fortune. Howbeit, it is quite disheartening that notwithstanding its inestimable importance, there is a strong detestation for reading and writing among Nigerian youths today. The emergence of social media and internet coupled with the relegation of intellectual work in Nigeria has collaborated to give the art a dying breath.
My journey into writing
My writing journey started in my early primary school days. I loved reading novels and I had a natural flair for essay writing and storytelling. Most often, my teachers do describe my write-up as an excellent piece. On several occasions, I will be called up to read my compositions and letters to the general class or at the assembly ground. I was frequently being nominated to represent my school in writing competitions. I timelessly received accolades like biro, exercise book, bucket, and other gift items. I was the little class celeb and my teachers loved me dearly—this culminated in beautiful memories that tripled my love for writing. Today, it has earned me several recognitions and literary prizes. Some of my proudest moments were in 2015 when I emerged the first prize winner of a worldwide short story contest organized by the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, which earned me a monetary prize of $1,000 and a fully-funded trip to attend a youth conference organized by the United Nations Population Fund in New York, U.S.A. Another was in 2019 when I emerged the overall winner of a national essay competition organized by the Chartered Institute of Human Capital Development of Nigeria. By and large, I am not resting on my oars; I am keen on honing my skills and I look forward to days of greater proficiency.
Cmonionline weekly essay competition and Why I Consider it a noble Project
The Cmonionline is a media space own by a businessman, writer and media consultant, Mr. Chinemelu Nwokike, better known as Cmoni. The site delivers interesting and informative content dynamically and engagingly to the public. In a bid to help reinvigorate the habit of reading and writing among Nigerians, it rewards and mentors emerging writers through its weekly essay competition. The contest started its week 1 contest in August 2020 and is currently on week 26. They have paid out close to half a million naira (N500,000) in cash prizes—a level of commitment that can only come from a genuine heart.
I learned about the weekly essay competition last year through an ad they ran on Facebook. I graced the contest during week 8 with my article titled, “Revoking Nigeria’s Aged Leadership: The Pathway For Youths”. It was adjudged the second best, with some impressive comments from the judges. Also, I received an email from two readers of the blog, who commended my writing prowess and the idea I shared therein. We connected and have been sharing writing opportunities. In fact, in January this year, I emerged the second prize winner of an essay competition organized by Reaching Out Organization (ROO), which was shared with me by one of the writers that connected to me via Cmonionline.
Aside from week 8, I have also participated in the subsequent weeks. Although I’m yet to clinch a prize in the contest, my entry has always been rated top. Also, the feedback has been very encouraging and insightful. I normally write on the political/current affairs category. However, going forward, I plan to attempt other categories.
Areas of improvement
Beyond every reasonable doubt, Cmonionline has done incredibly well in grooming the next generation of Nigerian writers. I so much commend them for that. On the same pedestal, the participants are also trying. However, like Ty Warner will say, “Even perfection has room for improvement.” There are some areas; I think the organizers and we, the participants, need to improve on.
For the organizers, areas of improvement include:
For a contest that is consistent, transparent, and growth-driven as this, it is only inadequate publicity that is responsible for its relatively low participation. There is a need for the team to beef up its publicity for the contest. There are viral blogs that publish opportunities for Nigerians and beyond. The consortium of Opportunities for Africans, Opportunity Desk, After School Africa, African Youth Hubs, Contest Chess, World scholarship form, Promo Nigeria, Writers Hub, etc are all good examples. These sites have great traffic, with Nigerians constituting its major visitors. And the good thing is, most of them publish such information for free. I think it will be nice for the team to reach out to the bloggers of these sites. Although having a tremendous number of participants in the weekly contest will warrant a bigger job for the judges and the publisher, but I believe more upcoming writers will benefit from it.
Encourage the reading of the recommended books
Since an integral part of this project is to revitalize reading culture, and since reading is fundamental to writing, the management needs to find a way of encouraging the participants to read the recommended texts. As regards this, my suggestion is that while giving the topic for each week, the management should recommend a particular book for the community to read for the week. They should be asked to do a 750-1500 words review of the recommended book. Then, the N20,000 weekly prize should be split into two; N10,000 for the best essay and the other for the best book review of the week
Pay more attention to the issue of Plagiarism among participants
Although in recent time, the team has placed red light on checkmating plagiarism, it should be maintained and intensified. Few of the participants are guilty of this ill. In fact, in one of the weeks, a contest plagiarized content that was published online. I was perplexed when I noticed it, which made me doubt if a plagiarism check is run on the entry before publication. As it is rightly stated on the essay page, “the aim is to learn not to steal”.
Areas of improvement for the participants:
I enjoy reading the weekly entries and I can confidently say that I have read every entry published from week 1 to last week. The weaknesses of some entry always manifest in form of poor editing, deliberately infused vocabularies that ends up impending readability and flow, poor referencing, and plagiarism. To curtail them, my recommendations are:
Let’s cultivate an incurable habit of reading
Reading is to an essayist what blood is to the human body. It is not optional but inevitable. An essayist learns to write in the same process babies learn to talk. Babies learn to talk by listening to what we say and then, tries to repeat it the way we said it. Essayists learn to write by reading books of accomplished writers and essayists so as to know the nitty-gritty of writing. Reading empirical books on essay writing will help one, at a go, to know the Dos and Don’ts of the game. It helps emerging writers like us to discover the tactics of crafting impeccable essays without necessarily undergoing the devastating trial-and-error process established writers have undergone.
A single error can mess a great essay up. We should always endeavor to edit properly before submission. I’m also guilty of this, but we can always do better.
Learn referencing styles
While increasing professionalism, a good reference helps one to avoid plagiarism. There are many referencing styles; but, every essayist is expected to, at least, have in-depth knowledge of APA, MLA, Chicago, and Harvard styles. You can download the pdf and learn them. However, in a particular work, one must be consistent with any of the styles chosen.
I hope implementing all of this will help us.
Finally, I wish to reiterate that the cmonionline weekly essay competition is a noble project worthy of commendation. To the pioneer, Mr. Chinemelu Nwokike, and his team: may your sources never run dry. And to my fellow participants and emerging writers: Never relent. Let’s keep reading, writing, and learning.
Ogbaga Sunday Thomas, a student of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria is interested in Education, Leadership, Social Entrepreneurship, and Peace-building. He can be reached via Ogbagasunday3@gmail.com