[Remembering Chinua Achebe]
NIGERIA, INDEPENDENCE AND AFTERMATH: A CELEBRATORY READING OF CHINUA ACHEBE’S
_A MAN OF THE PEOPLE_
Usman Nurain Muhammad
Gombe State, Nigeria
Historically, Nigeria attained independence in the year 1960 after passing through a lot in the hands of colonial overlords. Consequent upon that, the country found itself amid political unrest and moral rot which resulted in the country’s submergence in the sump of corruption, misgovernance, and self centred rule.
“It soon became clear that the art of governing was not an easy one and that their were many problems involved” (Omolewa, 1986:195). To this effect, a brief revisit of the history of Nigeria after independence would help us explore the inspiration behind the writing and setting of A man of the people and how truthfully and artistically, Achebe represents the happenings and the institutions involved. See Omolewa Michael’s Certificate History of Nigeria (p195-230).
Chinua Achebe is a Nigerian literary figure born in November, 1930. He is the author of many novels, essays and poems. Things Fall Apart (1958) is his first novel. Arrow of God (1964) followed No Longer at Ease (1960) and Anthills of the Savannah (1987) was preceded by A man of the people (1966). Focusing on Africa and its politics as well as the culture and civilization of Africans and the effects of colonization on the African communities, A man of the people is not left out in satirizing the “various political and social changes that have taken place in Nigeria since its publication in 1966” (Dwivedi, 2008:1). Achebe had escaped affray with soldiers who strongly believe that he had a fore knowledge of Nigeria’s first military coup. This opinion was popularized because of the facticity of the prophetic ending of Achebe’s ‘A man of the people’ in which a military coup was imagined.
A man of the people (1966) is 50 years old this 2016. “Just as with Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God, the power houses-that-be are reminded to set celebrations in motion” (E.F Opigo, 2015:209). This declaration and subsequent remembrance of the celebratory deservedness of the novel, prompted this but brief opus.
Using the English language as a global means of communication, the role of English language in Nigerian literature as it presents the history, culture and people through various works of literature cannot be overemphasized. Chinua Achebe, has through his works, proved reasonable expertise in the employment of the language of English to translate some Nigerian culture to the world at large.
Political asymmetry, incongruity, politics of demagoguery, economic imbalance, corruption and moral decrepitude are part of the ambit of cynosure of Chinua Achebe’s popular novel, A man of the people (1966).
As a realist, Achebe’s satirical presentation of the truthful happenings around the politics of Nigeria’s first republic is evident in the paradoxical title of the novel, A man of the people. The title conflicts sharply with the characters of chief Nanga, the minister and Odili Samalu who contested to be ‘the man of the people’ before the sudden military intervention. Similarly, patriotic politicians like Odili and max who try to effect a ‘change’ in the political troubles of the country ended up campaigning without popular support as the power pilots continue to misappropriate the wealth of the country. Here Achebe in the first paragraph of the novel viz.
No one can deny that chief Honourable M.A. Nanga, M.P.,
was the most approachable politician in the country.
Whether you asked in the city or in his home village, Anata,
they would tell you he was a man of the people. (1)
Politicians like M.A Nanga whose lives of affluence and in-depth corruption is casted to be in opposition to that of the general members of the public, were the rulers of the then Nigeria. Due to the grave mismanagement of resources and deliberate diversion of public funds to private pockets, lead to Achebe’s lamentation:
The country was on the verge of chaos. Trade Unions
and the Civil Service Union made loud noises and gave
notice of nation wide strikes…(101)
Achebe further investigated deeply into the immoral lives of the politicians and their illicit romance with contractors over 10% benefits. Equally, the various cases of connivance of thugs with the political class and the evil plots to unseat a truthful minister from the cabinet reminds the country of the silencing of truthful government functionaries and journalists within the realm of the politics of the then Nigeria. Achebe’s skilful surgery of the intricacies of Nigerian politics right from its foot is surprising to many critics and writers. Take a glimpse at Nanga versus Elsie (p66) and the subsequent rape case.
Linking the past to the present, Achebe made it abundantly clear that the country that was under colonialism just recently, is no better under the leadership of its own people. This, in itself, is an attestation of the fact that power can be misused by anyone and opposing such misrule is daunting to many.
Nanga, a politician, maintains a cordial relationship with his people because he supplies to them what they (the electorate) want side by side exploiting them to an unimagined extent. This view by Achebe as represented through the character of Chief Nanga, characterizes the majority of the mindset of Nigerians; to prefer to suffer at the expense of a ‘token’ of the so called democratic dividend but in the iron hands of almighty dictators than to sacrifice the ‘token’ for greater national development in the merciful hands of visioned, decent politicians.
Relating the sequence of happenings captured by the novel, one would be right to declare that Achebe’s diagnoses of the events in question should not just be narrowed to the first republic Nigeria. The issues raised are still happening 50 years after the writing of A man of the people. Satirically, Nigeria has not long elected ‘a man of the people’ at the helm of its affairs.
Overall, as the country celebrates Achebe and his 50 year old A man of the people, it is expected that this effort would serve as a source of inspiration to further study of the novel. Through this medium, students, critics and lovers of literature are encouraged to wield their pens in celebration of our own literary ‘grandpa’. I must admit that the novel in view was written and published exactly 30 years before I was born. Yet, the artistry and mastery of the writer; Achebe gives my generation the joy and admonition it needs.
Muhammad is an essayist and poet. Usman Nurain Muhammad is the author of High School Verses. He is a member of the Association of Nigerian Authors and studies English and Literary studies at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria. He is an independent researcher and consultant with diverse platforms. He believes in societal reorientation and youth repositioning as essentials to nation building.
This piece was a submission on
Remembering CHINUA ACHEBE: A LITERARY ICON
Event date: November 16, 2016.
Venue: Prof. Kenneth Dike E-Library, Awka, Anambra.
Organizer: The Society of Young Nigerian Writers Anambra State Chapter in collaboration with the Anambra State Library Board, Awka.