Author: Chinua Achebe
Even though it is not a phenomenon that is unique to Africa, corruption is something that has become almost synonymous with African leaders and governments. Many documents and stories have been written about this cancerous behavior amongst our leaders, and many people have spent their lives tirelessly developing plausible and possible solutions to tackle it; with many, if not all, of their solutions falling on death ears. “A Man of the People” by Chinua Achebe is a book that tells the story of a young teacher turned politician who, in spite of many temptations and attractions, tries to become a true leader of his people who will be led by his desire to serve instead of his pocket.
Published in 1966, the book tells, through means of a first person narration by the main character himself, the story of Odili. The story begins with Odili reuniting with his former teacher turned politician, and Minister of Culture – Chief Hon Nanga – who, through dubious and questionable means, gained a reputation amongst his constituency as a trusted and faithful servant of his people. After their brief reunion, Chief Nanga invited Odili to his home in the capital city of Bori so that they could discuss the possibility of Chief Nanga organizing for him a scholarship to go study in England.
After some months Odili made the trip to the minister’s house and was welcomed with high spirit by both the Minister and his wife. The minister’s wife soon left to take their children to go see their grandparents – because it was holiday time – and Odili was left in the house with the minister. Prior to the invitation, Odili had already made plans to go to the capital to go see his old time girlfriend – Elsie – whom, because he was now staying in the guest section of the minister’s seven bedroom house, he planned to bring over during one of her off days at the hospital. Because she knew that the minister’s wife was not going to be around, Elsie had organised for one of her friends to accompany her during those two days so she could keep the minister busy while she and Odili were engaged in their carnal reunion.
Elsie’s friend cancelled at the last minute due to some sickness and the minister was stuck without companionship during the first night. The night went as planned until the last minute when, instead of Odili, Elsie slept with the minister. Pandemonium broke the following morning and Odili left the minister’s house and went to spend the rest of his time in the capital at an old friend – Max’s – flat. It was during his stay at Max’s flat that Odili learned about a new political party that Max and some of his friends were launching – the Common People’s Convention. Taken by the idea of a new political party, and fueled by revenge, Odili decided to join the party and use it, together with his idea to court Chief Nanga’s young bride to be – Edna, as a tool to get revenge for what the minister had done to him.
The events that unfold thereafter include Odili contesting the seat that Chief Nanga held in his constituency, and Odili and his father, who was the local chairman of Chief Nanga’s political party in Odili’s home village, getting into many fights and squabbles because of it. Odili’s new political party soon thereafter launched an attack on the ruling party by exposing the corruption that they were involved in and how they used public money to enrich themselves and those who are close to them. Despite all their efforts, the local people never really cared about what the people in power were doing because they said that no one was complaining while the White man was enriching himself using public monies,so why should they stop the Black man from doing the same.
Tension between Odili and Chief Nanga grew stronger as Odili made his moves courting Chief Nanga’s young wife to be. Having little control over the matters of the heart, Odili ended up falling in love with Edna, and Chief Nanga, and Enda’s greedy father, never took too well to these new ‘developments’. The war between Chief Nanga and Odili continued until one day, during Chief Nanga’s inaugural campaign meeting, Odili was identified from the crowd and requested to get to the stage. Once on the stage, Chief Nanga proceeded to make fun of Odili and ended up beating him up to the point of almost killing him. Odili ended up being in a coma for over for weeks and it was during those four weeks that things too dramatic turns for both the country and those who ruled it.
A military coup was staged and all the returning cabinet ministers, including Chief Nanga, were detained until the state of the country returned to normal. Max was killed in a car accident by Minister Chief Koko’s men; after Chief Koko learned that Max had information that could ruin his career as a politician. Max’s fiancé, who was with him during the accident, managed to shoot and kill Chief Koko and was subsequently arrested, she was later released after the coup, and Max was labeled a national hero for all the work he did fighting corruption in the country. Because Chief Nanga was arrested, Edna and Odili got married and the rest, as they say, is history.
The book was considered by many to be prophetic of the Nigerian 1966 coup because of its similar ending. It is considered to be Mr Achebe’s analysis of the state of corruption in West Africa during its time of publication. Loved by many for its simple yet impeccable nature, this book is a must read for anyone interested in learning, in one of the most comical ways I’ve ever come across yet, about the history of Nigeria using fiction. Even though the book might take longer to complete for people who have never come across Pidgin English before; over 80% of the dialogs are in Pidgin English, the book is a brilliant read and you won’t regret reading it.