Corruption, Poverty, Apathy and Disillusionment in Nigerian Literature(The Fourth Democratic Era)

Dr. Mbanefo S. Ogene

Department of English Language and Literature Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka +2348051848014


The return of Nigerians to democracy at the dawn of 29 May, 1999 has created a new basis for the assessment of literature outputs since then. In seventeen years of civilian administration, how do writers respond to the socio-political changes in the country? The upsurge of political cum religious conflicts, ethnic rivalries and new international relations would have naturally attracted literary artists to more creative works, but the reverse appears to be the case. This situation is very critical, especially in a discipline like literature where writers are regarded as the mirrors of the society. This paper examines the case of corruption, poverty, apathy and disillusionment in Nigerian literature. It traces corruption to the Nigerian colonial legacy and links the globalization factors (especially the internet social and professional media and other computer software) as some factors of neo-colonialism posing serious threats to the Nigerian democracy.


When I began to think about writers in my own country, I saw that the reasons why many of them have written as they have are centred more in the social situation they share than in their individual differences of talent and temperament. Nadine Gordimer "The Novel and the Nation in South Africa"

Corruption is a negative term that connotes general decay and moral laxity in the society. Corruption thrives where there is no discipline and strong moral principles. It is aided by a society with majority of ignorant citizens and loose moral values. The terms immoral, depravity, dishonesty and impurity of thoughts are often associated with corruption. This is often seen in the cases where offering and acceptance of bribes exist as well as sexual exploitations, unhealthy rivalry, gossiping, unnecessary gluttony, illiteracy, ignorance, easy virtues and nepotism. Corruption generally weakens the economy and creates an opportunity for mass poverty and disparity among citizens of a nation, working peers and people of a social leaning or affiliation. Only few individuals enjoy affluence in a corrupt atmosphere, while others who are in the majority suffer and are made dependents.

The history of Nigeria is replete with strong evidences of bad leadership. Starting from 1960 when the country gained her independence to the present, corruption has continued to manifest in the novels and other genres of Nigerian literature. These include Chinua Achebe's AManofthePeople and AnthillsoftheSavannah, Festus Iyayi's Violence, Wole Soyinka's MadmenandSpecialists, TheInterpreters and his autobiographical novel TheManDied, among others. Corruption and Poverty are strongly influenced by materialism and other imperialistic attitudes inherited from the British colonial system of administration. This is more evident in the periods succeeding the independence of Nigeria. Chinua Achebe created a picture of the materialistic society indicative of its kin brother corruption in his novel AManofthePeople. According to Odili who was the narrator in the novel

The first thing critics tell you about our ministers' official residences is that each has seven bedrooms and seven bathrooms, one for every day of the week. All I can say is that on that night there was no room in my mind for criticism. I was simply hypnotized by the luxury of the great suite assigned to me. When I lay down in the double bed that seemed to ride on a cushion of air, and switched on that reading lamp and saw all the beautiful furniture anew from the lying down position and looked beyond the door to the gleaming bathroom and the towels as large as a lappa. I had to confess that if I were at that moment made a minister I would be most anxious to remain one for ever. (36-37)

What really prompted Odili to rise to a position of affluence overnight was the fact that the protagonist in the novel, Chief Nanga "has risen overnight from poverty and insignificance to his present opulence. " (37).

This state of corruption and poverty far reaches all the segments of the Nigerian society. The increase in cases of political violence, prostitution, sorting, armed robbery, kidnapping, ritual murders, gangsterism and cultism are the results of what the society see as the glories and bounties of such nefarious and dubious activities. The church is not left out. Priests and laity members hoodwink at and often commend such sudden rise to affluence of members of their congregations without asking the sources of such wealth. Among the religious groups themselves, there is no love for their members who fail to occasionally share the booties of office or occasionally award contracts to the influential members of his denomination. Even when the truth is known about the sources of wealth, the church easily hides under the umbrella of rationalization claiming that God has really blessed their members. Corruption has risen to so much magnitude in Nigeria today that the country is now rated as the third most corrupt nation on earth.(Adeodi: NigeriaNews. Com). The situation is such a worrisome one that an average literature scholar could compare corruption now in Nigeria to what was obtainable in Ghana which Ayi Kwei Armah portrayed in his novel the Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born as 'dirty and smelling'. An upright man is regarded in Nigeria today as a big fool because he does not 'shine like the others'. The obvious manifestation of this evil wind is seen in the high rate of poverty of citizens and a society without conscience or sense of direction.

The termPovertyas a noun defines a state of being poor, lacking the basic necessities of life and suffering from inferiority as a result of this condition. A person suffering from poverty lacks access to basic necessities of life. These necessities include food, shelter, clothing, portable water, health care, education and enabling opportunity to enjoy a decent living. The negative result of poverty is suffering, violence, sickness, dehumanization and in some cases death. The two states of corruption and poverty were depicted by Festus Iyayi in his novel Violence. While the protagonist in the novel, Queen already owned two modern storey buildings in New Benin and was setting up her own hotel along Sakpoba Road, at the same time building another house at Ugbowo, - outside her husband's own hotel building; Idemudia could not afford to feed himself and his wife Adisa, not to talk of providing the shelter and clothing required of a husband. Iyayi presents a picture of a hopeless state of poverty as follows

Idemudia shook himself free of this thought. If his house fell, he knew he would lose nothing except perhaps his own life. He wouldn't lose much property. He hadn't any to lose.

He knelt down on the bed and made a short prayer to God.

'You should be praying in the church, not here,' Adisa told him coldly.

'Anywhere you can pray is a church,' Idemudia flung back.' I am hungry. I want something to eat. ' He felt back on the bed with a groan. The bed shrieked. (2)

In the midst of this situation, Idemudia could still engage in menial labourer's job, carrying blocks for masons to build homes for politicians, prostitutes like Queen, and swindlers, and equally selling his blood occasionally to blood dealers so as to earn money 'to feed'. Poverty is a common disease in Nigerian nation so much that it has assumed a part of the government system in the forty-nine years of nationhood of Nigeria. The World Bank report of 2000 states that Nigeria's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at the end of 1999 is US $800 per capita at 1995 purchasing power parity. In the words of Chukwujekwe, "whilst Mauritius had a GDP per capita of US $9800, Nigeria's GDP per capita in 1975 was US $1000 whilst that of Mauritius was US $3500 for 1975. Thus whilst the average Nigerian became poorer by 20 percent the average Mauritian became richer by 150 percent." (2) Other factors like the infant mortality rate and adult literacy show that Nigerians are below the average in poverty while "the UNDP believes that 70 percent of Nigerians live below the poverty line of US $1 per day," (op cit).

The resultant effects of corruption and poverty in Nigeria are general apathy and disillusionment in Nigerian literature, indicating that democracy is elusive to the people. These developments have continued to reflect as major themes in the Nigerian literature that writers have chosen to address these issues, not only as critics, but as leaders of their own standing, teachers, moralists, unacknowledged legislators, prophets and even instructors. According to Achebe, the writer's duty is "to explore in depth the human condition. In Africa he cannot perform this task unless he has a proper sense of history." (8)

While the Nigerian novels published in the 1950s show strong evidence of colonial contacts between Nigerians and Europeans, the novels of the 60s and 70s show serious increase in corruption and poverty in the Nigerian political scene as a result of this contact. The resultant effects of these are general apathy and disillusionment on the side of the citizens. Starting from the 1980's to the present, there is a general down turn in the enthusiasm of authors in Nigeria to write books. Where books are written, they are published with commercial gain as a primary interest of the writers. What are the factors that can be attributed to be the cause of this problem?

Theoretical Framework

Corruption and poverty can be so destructive to a system that they could cause all sorts of danger and damage if not properly addressed. It is on this assumption that this research is based on the different critical viewpoints in literature. As a conceptual issue, exponents of the theories give different interpretations to the root causes of corruption and poverty. Since these theories are limitless in scope, this paper is limited to the topic's facial meanings, while concentrating on the resultant effects of corruption and poverty, which in this context covers apathy and disillusionment in Nigerian literature. This incidence rates the assessment of democracy in Nigeria very low.

The theoretical dimension in this paper is channeled on the holistic approach to literature. It is therefore pre-supposed that corruption is a developed habit in man largely caused by a materialistic society. A materialistic society like Nigeria where the masses believe strongly in the outward appearances or on wealth acquisition at all cost is bound to have problems of corruption, poverty, apathy and disillusionment. The secondary result is all sorts of social ills seen within individuals and the entire society.

Corruption and Poverty in the Nigerian Literature: Historical Origin

The history of Nigerian literature cannot be complete without tracing the origin of written literature in the country. Before the advent of written literature, Nigerians were making do with traditions of oral literature.The advent of slave trade and colonialism exposed Nigerians to Islam and Christian religions. Western and Arabic education, literacy and other new forms of administration thereafter took hold in the Nigerian nation.

This reference point is necessary as it reminds the world of the 'primitive' Nigeria, with its innocence, ethnic norms and mores, religions, methods of justice and orientations. The story of Olaudah Equiano in 1789 on his life as a slave, the reports of Richard and John Landers on their explorations of River Niger before 1830 cum J.F. Schon versus Samuel Crowther's reports on the history of slave trade, all testified to the innocence and purity of Nigerians in politics before the arrival of the white man. Although Chinua Achebe made an analogy which depicted Nigerians as being innately corrupt, when he said that

Anyone who has given any thought to our society must be concerned by the brazen materialism one sees all around. I have heard people blame it on Europe. That is utter rubbish. In fact the Nigerian society I know best - the Ibo society - has always been materialistic...All the four titles in my village were taken-not given- and each one had its price. (African Writers on African Writing: 12)

The above view is to say the least defensive of the colonial masters. It is the opinion of this paper that the high level of materialism in Nigeria is a recent development that became well pronounced after the coming of the white man and not a part of our culture, as the same Achebe affirmed this view in the character of Okonkwo of Umuofia who had to work hard to make his wealth by throwing Amalinze the cat in a wresting match and taking his titles after that incidence in Achebe's ThingsFallApart. Acording to Achebe in that book, "Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achievements. As a young man of eighteen he had brought honour to his village by throwing Amalinze the Cat. "(3) Hard work was the yardstick for measuring success in the pre-colonial period of Igbo land and a man's wealth was measured by the size of his barns and a number of wives he married. It is therefore logical to say that the introduction of currency into the Nigerian economy created grounds for corruption. Armed robbery, swindling, exploitation of masses and bribery became easy and rife due to the fact that the means of economic exchange turned from trade by bata to the use of currency. These factors were very alien to the Igbo of Nigeria where Achebe came from, but these became the new order of the day after the coming of the white man. Today, this factor has grown to higher proportion.

In the 1950s, Nigerian written literature came into existence with the publication of Amos Tutuola's ThePalmWineDrinkard in 1952. The work was a big surprise to the Western World, but later lost most of its glory when it was discovered to have developed from the Yoruba mythologies. Cyprian Ekwensi in 1954 published his novel, PeopleoftheCity and based his narrative on the problems of urban life, as found in a place like Lagos in the early fifties. This novel and many of those he wrote later are however not very successful in technical sense, as they failed to master the formal aspects of fiction like form, characterization, dialogue and themes. Chinua Achebe's ThingsFallApart (1958) really opened the eyes of the world to the Nigerian literature. The work qualifies as both anthropological and classical literature of Nigerian traditional village life and equally has its essence in technical sense.

Democracy and Disillusionment: the Post Independent Nigerian Literature.

The aftermath of independence in the history of Nigerian literature was marked by disillusionment in the whole aspects of living in the society. Evidence abound where the colonial legacies inherited by Nigerians manifested a large scale corruption, abuse of offices, lawlessness and other types of negative tendencies detrimental to the stability and progress of the nation. Nigerians took stock of the period and reflected on the failure of independence to bring individual freedom and social equality. Some of the novels published in this period are Chinua Achebe's AManofthePeople, Wole Soynika's TheInterpreters, Gabriel Okara's TheVoice and T.M. Aluko's ChieftheHonourableMinister. Democracy connotes the participation of the ruled in the government; as such, it is obvious that Nigerian writers lost interest in the whole essence of the new styled democracy introduced into the country by the Western world.

Narcissism in Nigerian Literature

Since the early seventies, the thematic concern of the Nigerian literature has taken various new dimensions. A random survey of the literatures of nineteen seventies, eighties and nineties show that while some of the writers' project new political thoughts and ideas, embracing Marxism, socialism, feminism, psycho-analysis, structuralism and surrealism, others embrace the romantic visionary reconstruction of the Nigerian landscape. Unlike the pioneers and early Nigerian writers who were consciously or unconsciously inspired by the negritude movement, the modern / new Nigerian writers lost their central focus early, with each individual veering off into any area of their interest. These areas of interests peculiar to the individual writers and their peculiarity of styles, themes and settings have been classified under narcissism.

The Fourth Democratic Era and the Nigerian Literature

The word democracy has many definitions. Out of these definitions, one obvious factor is that democracy has to do with the people and government. According to Pious in MicrosoftEncartaPremium2009, "democracy is a political system in which the people of a country rule through any form of government they choose to establish." TheOxfordAdvancedLearner'sDictionaryofCurrentEnglish defines democracy as "government in which all adult citizens share through their elected representatives." (229)

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the word democracy literally means, "rule by the people. The term is derived from Greek demokratia, which was coined from demos("people") and kratos ("rule") in the middle of the 5th century BC to denote the political systems then existing in some Greek city - states, notably Athens."

A careful study of the Nigerian polity reveals that history repeats itself in the development of the Nigerian literature. Looking back at Achebe's A Man of the People and Anthills of the Savannah, there is an immediate knowledge of events revealing them selves in the socio-political scene of the Nigerian literature. Being subjects to the societal demands of get-rich-quick syndrome, the era of censorship in the Nigerian literature has died. One can hardly see such works that passed through the thorough hands of the editors of the African Writers Series (AWS). Such renowned publishers like the Heinemann, Longman, Africana Fep., University Press, Ethiope and Fourth Dimension Publishers among others have gone aground, if not totally moribund. A careful selection of literature works published between 1999 and 2009 shows that there is no uniformity in what the authors are writing. Five novels that are studied within the said period have different themes and each of this novel's publication was sponsored by their authors. The poor quality of editing these novels, coupled with their poor binding qualities show that poverty is a contributing factor to these deficiencies. Out of these five novels; MoneyisnotEverythingby Ndidi Chukwuemeka,TheTanglebyDonatusIloanya,ATourneytoHellby Gentle Ejiofor, MyHero by Ikechukwu Asika and DameandtheDenby Gentle Ejiofor, only the last one has a quality cover and reputable binding, plus printing because of the particular theme it handled and the personality projected in the novel. There is a new development in the history of the Nigerian literature - that of praise singing, which the last novel DameandtheDenexplored and gave some returns to its author. The novel projected the achievements of the then incumbent Governor of Anambra State, Dame Virgy Etiaba, who found herself in the Governor's seat by chance or circumstance. Of the novels listed, almost all of them underwent 'launching ceremonies' to raise money, where the authors could afford to organize such. This is good evidence that the writers of these novels had aims of making money out of their works instead of correcting the ills in the society. Where the novels were not launched, the authors made serious efforts to have them recommended for students in schools so that they could make some gains out of their works. No matter what, every writer has the right to choose the line of action to take in life. It could be to make much money (i.e. commercial writing), to make name or to contribute to the development of society in which he is a part of. Amuta says that, "in certain social situations, some writers end up being irrelevant or plain traitors of their people." (29). The issues discussed in the five novels mentioned earlier are not very relevant to the socio-political scene of the present Nigeria nation, but best qualify as narcissistic writings embracing religion, friendship, child development, growth and superstitious beliefs. Only Ndidi Chukwuemeka's MoneyisNotEverythingaddressed the problem of materialism and its dire consequences. The book uses its protagonist Obinna to expose the evil consequences of get-rich-quick syndrome which has bedeviled the Igbo society from where the author came. Obinna who suffered because of the syndrome of get-rich-quick, came to realize the evils of this problem and their dire consequences to the people and their society and tried to change the mind sets of the young ones in his society towards educational pursuit before other things.

D.S. Izevbaye said that "the critic requires some training in discrimination to enable him to accept or reject, and to praise or blame." (3) From personal points of view, it is observed that almost all the five novelists studied in the fourth democratic era had little or no training in the field of literature before delving into writing their novels. There is equally poor editing of those works, outside the problem of poor handling of themes by the authors. Only Chukwuemeka had her M.A. in English from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka before writing her novels. Apart from her educational qualifications, Chukwuemeka has worked in the government circle for years before writing. The only problem with her novel is that it has a foreword written by the then Governor of Anambra State whose administration was not well accepted by the citizens, due to the arrears of salary he owed workers in the state and the teachers in general. Izevbaye further states that, "if a literary culture has not a critical tradition in which its critics can be trained, the critic must receive training in an existing tradition elsewhere." (3) The novels studied in this writing lacked such critical traditions, except one. There is therefore problem of paucity of books as there is few or no literary culture that existed in the fourth democratic era.

The Modern Nigerian Writer and the International Market

From the inception of nationhood, Nigerian writers have been confronting one problem or the other. Starting with the colonial legacy left behind by the European world, the writer has to contend with the problem of political tussles occasioned by the ethnic differences and opposing regions of Southern and Northern parts of the country. The different poles of Nigeria and the various ethnic and historical backgrounds of the Hausa and other Nigerians created margin and room for occasional political cum religious conflicts, ethnic rivalries and all sorts of marginalization. To worsen the situation, the recent circulation of knowledge of computer components and the internet uses has turned the world into a global village thereby enhancing exploitation and deprivation of basic rights of citizens.

The average Nigerian is still battling with meeting the modern demands of aesthetics in literature and educational concepts and is further thrown off balance by the new scientific and technological discoveries. This seriously places the Nigerian writer at a serious disadvantage in the world - wide politics and activities. In all these situations, much is still expected of the writer. According to Chinua Achebe, "the writer cannot expect to be excused from the task of re -education and regeneration that must be done. In fact he should march right in front. For he is after all... the sensitive point of his community." (African Writers on African Writing: 4).

The point is that the Nigerian writer is a being fixed to time and space. As an individual with limited knowledge of global events, he cannot offer what he does not have. Emenyonu suggests that, "whether we select for the Nigerian student what he reads or leave him to select by himself we should be familiar with some strategies that would make it possible for him to derive from his reading a considerable amount of knowledge and pleasure." (17)

While Nigerians wait for the time when her citizens will meet up with the modern global scientific and technological advancement, writers as part of the society are moving along with others. The corruption that prevails in the country is caused by human beings as well as poverty and other social factors. Apathy is a psychological state of being indifferent to the society due to the negative tendencies prevalent in that society. It can be experienced by the writer while reacting to the contemporary issues, as well as felt by the masses against the leadership of their nation or against a literary artist. Disillusionment on its own part is a state where one's mind is free from illusions.

Nigerians have followed the white people blindly to a high degree that their minds are no longer illusioned. There is an awareness that a big gap still exists between the whites and the black men. Although most blacks feel that colonialism has ended, there is a new consciousness that the blackman is still enslaved and highly exploited through the modern global economic systems. This act of advanced free exploitations can best be described as neo-colonialism. As Powell states, "it is doubtful if a unit as large as a nation can work as a pure democracy. The relevant national experiences today are found in political systems where representative leaders are chosen through competitive elections. "(3)


From the analysis carried out, there is every indication that corruption and poverty developed out of the colonial encounter of Nigerians with Europe and the after effects of this encounter. Before the advent of colonialism, Nigerians were known for egalitarianism. Exposure to the European ideas made each postcolonial Nigerian to struggle to make his wealth through self struggle. There was little or no corruption in the pre-colonial Nigeria because the means of exchange then was physical substances vis-a-viz staple food, livestock, labour and at some time later cowries were introduced to aid the means of exchange. A poor man then was distinguished from a lazy man. Only when somebody refused to work hard to earn a living did he become poor. Such example was cited by Achebe in a character like Unoka in Things Fall Apart, whose son Okonkwo struggled hard and "washed his hands to join the elders on the table." This paper is strongly of the view that the introduction of European monetary system made it easier for people of Nigeria to steal and cheat. Armed robbery, trade in human beings, assassinations, election rigging, swindling (i.e. 419) and other negative social and religious life became rife as cheating, exploitation and extortion of money was made easier by the simple act of rascalism and playing tricks on figures. Lazy people, outcasts and even slaves started taking up the positions of authorities like that of traditional rulers, opinion leaders, business magnates and village heads in Igbo land and some other parts of Nigeria because of this easy means of economic exchange anchored on cash nexus. Unemployment and poverty became higher everyday as only few individuals that closely transact business with the civilized countries get richer daily. A system of monopoly was introduced in Nigeria where only few people are rich and large number of others is made poor. While Nigeria and other developing countries get poorer everyday through the introduction of the international monetary exchange, the civilized countries get richer through measures and fiscal policies that reduce their dependants to mere beggars.

The paper therefore suggests that originality of ideas and one's contentment over the values of his achievements in life is the starting point to maturity and wealthiness. While it is not the opinion of the writer that Nigerians should dissociate themselves from the international market, the paper recommends a pragmatic approach to the problem of Nigerians, - that is to say use of 'number six' in every situation. In this case, there should be some level of political, religious, psychological, philosophical and economic independence on the side of Nigerians, as well as their re-visitation of their sense of values, in order to abate the problem of corruption, poverty, apathy and disillusionment. Leaders on their own part should try to reach a high level of maturity before aspiring to that position and equally maintain transparent honesty to re-gain the confidence of the masses. This equally applies to literature authors as they too are leaders. Nigerians should learn to be creative, innovative and hard working to overcome the shackles of poverty. That is a good ground for restoring confidence in them and in the leadership of the nation.


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