Achebe on Corruption in A Man of the People

BY GAD WESONGA

Before Ken Saro Wiwa, earlier on in 1966, prolific Nigerian  author and father of African creative writing, Chinua Achebe had penned another of his signature ingenious piece of work in his novel A man of the People where he demonized corruption.

In the story, Chief Nanga was initially a teacher before he became a politician. As a political figure, he is very corrupt and greedy in his behavior.

As Minister of Culture, Chief Nanga believes in bribes such that he receives and gives bribes. He spends money extravagantly, and much of his money comes from taking money away from community development and using it to benefit himself. Achebe paints a portrait of a man with a limited education who was drawn into the political arena looking for power, recognition, and personal gain.

Chief Nanga is a corrupt leader who tried to bribe Odili, his former student who now wants to challenge him for a political seat to step down from election, “…take your money and take a scholarship to go and learn more books, and leave the dirty game,” Odili rejects.  

Achebe also portrayed Chief Koko as a corrupt leader who bribed Maxwell Kulamo to step down from election, “…Maxwell Kulamo has more sense than you. He has already taken his money and agreed to step down for Chief Koko…” 

The Story

Odili, a young schoolteacher lives in the village of Anata. He is unimpressed when his former teacher, Chief Nanga, the current minister of culture, visits Anata on the campaign trail.

Odili has reason to believe that Chief Nanga is corrupt, and he objects when the principal asks all the teachers to line up in honor of Chief Nanga’s arrival. Despite his misgivings, Odili finds himself charmed by his former teacher, who remembers Odili and recommends him for a civil-service post. 

Odili confesses that he has recently applied to a post-graduate program in London. It never occurred to him to ask Chief Nanga for help before now, but the minister is more than happy to oblige. He invites Odili to stay with him in the capitol at the end of the school term, two months from then to which Odili accepts and proceeds to the capitol, where Chief Nanga and his first wife greet him warmly. 

Soon after Odili’s arrival, Chief Nanga takes him to see Chief Koko, the minister of overseas training, who can help Odili get into the post-graduate program in London. During their visit, Chief Koko exclaims that he has been poisoned, but in reality his chef has merely served him a different brand of coffee—one produced locally. Odili finds this funny, given that the government has been trying to get people to buy local products.

When Odili wakes up the next morning, Chief Nanga has already left for the office. Mrs. Nanga and her children are going to visit her family and will be gone for a couple days. This gives Odili time to arrange a meeting with Elsie, a nurse, whom he met while she was engaged to be married and in nursing school. Their relationship is casual, and he hopes to invite her over to have sex, nothing more.

Before meeting with Elsie, Odili attends a party with Chief Nanga’s friends Jean and John, an American couple who have been in Africa for a year. Odili and Jean end up in bed at the end of the night.

Odili and Chief Nanga pick Elsie up from the hospital where she works, expecting her to bring a friend for the minister; but the friend is sick, and Elsie comes alone. Together, the three attend a book exhibition, where it becomes clear that Chief Nanga, the supposed minister of culture, doesn’t know the author he is introducing and doesn’t actually know anything about culture. Odili is amazed by the ignorance he witnesses. 

Later that night, he is offended when Chief Nanga, assuming Odili and Elsie aren’t that serious, has sex with her in his wife’s room. Disgusted, Odili packs his bags and visits his friend Max, a lawyer.

That evening, Max hosts a gathering of political dissidents who start a new political party; the Common People’s Convention but Odili wonders how this can be the common people’s party if all the members are upper-class professionals. 

Odili returns to the village of Anata, where he is still employed by the local school and finds the village in an uproar because a shopkeeper, Josiah, stole a blind man’s walking stick.

TI on Corruption

Transparency International, founded in 1999 in Kenya with the aim of developing a transparent and corruption free society through good governance and social justice defines corruption as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It can be classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs.

Grand corruption, the not-for-profit organization says consists of acts committed at high level of government that distort policies or the central functioning of the state enabling leaders to benefit at the expense of the public. Petty corruption refers to the everyday abuse of entrusted powers by low and mid level public officials in their interactions with ordinary citizens who often are trying to access basic goods or services in public places like hospitals among others.

Political corruption is a manipulation of policies, institutions and rules of procedure in allocation of resources and financing by political decision makers who abuse their position to sustain their power, status and wealth.

Corruption TI avers, corrodes the fabric of society. It undermines people’s trust in political and economic systems, institutions and leaders. It can cost people their freedom, health, money – and sometimes their lives.

This is the curse that Magayu Magayu,Ken Saro Wiwa,Chinua Achebe,Henrik Johan Ibsen among others condemned in their various forms of art over the years.

This is the bane and demon that the EAAC Chairman, retired Anglican Bishop Eliud Wabukala need to summon all his prayer magic and exorcise in order to let the Kenyan people free from its tight griping manacles.   

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