The Themes of Corruption and Incompetence in the Novels of Three Nigerian Writers

Academic Paper, 2019

15 Pages




Theme of Corruption and Incompetence in Iyayi’s Violence

Theme of Corruption and Incompetence in Achebe’s Anthills of The Savannah

Theme of Corruption and Incompetence in Obodumu’s Die A Little

Summary and Conclusion


Literature from any part of the world is a response to definite historical and socio political variables of its time. African literature, to a large extent, could be considered as protest literature ( Ogude, 1991).The protest culture rooted in the protest against slavery and colonialism now bears on post independence social ills like corruption and incompetence which are so widespread in African political and governmental circles (Palmer, 1972). Nigerian writers, especially novelists, have played a significant role in the growth and development of African literature through a vast array of highly successful novels (Emenyonu, 1991). Studies show that Nigerian novelists like Festus Iyayi, Chinua Achebe and Kris Obodumu direct their critical searchlights on problems associated with corruption and incompetence in governmental circles which seem endemic to Nigeria. This paper analyses the depiction of corruption and incompetence in Iyayi’s Violence, Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah and Obodumu’s Die a little.

Theme of Corruption and Incompetence in Iyayi’s Violence

Festus Iyayi in Violence, is very much disturbed by the rate at which his society is decaying through the effect of corruption and incompetence after independence. The novel is basically set to reflect the moral decadence in Nigerian society between 1960 to the early 80s. The plot of the novel is based on corruption, which incompetent leaders of the time have allowed to permeate the social life of the Nigerian society. The judiciary the civil service and the business community are portrayed as infested with corrupt officials who use crooked means to enrich themselves at the expense of the ordinary citizens who constitute the larger percentage of the population.

The judicial arm of the government, which is charged with the responsibility of ensuring law and order in the society, is portrayed as thoroughly corrupt. Emergency contractors could collect mobilization fees from the government and fail to execute the contract for which the money is issued and are not prosecuted. Due to incompetence and corruption on the side of the court officials, cases are not treated promptly with the view of dispensing justice. Suspects are locked up in police cells and forgotten about. This is where individuals are not granted opportunity for fair hearing. The inmates are simply dehumanized. A suspect’s chance of obtaining “justice” depends on how much he could offer the police. In the cells, inmates urinate on the floor and pass faeces into a common bucket. The absence of periodic inspection by judicial officials allows the police to indulge in inhuman activities. The physical structures at the station are not properly cared for. Even when money is given for the maintenance of the police stations, the money is shared out and squandered by the judicial officials and no punitive measure is ever taken against them. That is to suggest that even those at the upper rungs of the political ladder are not themselves clean of corruption.

The police force, as portrayed by Iyayi, is the most corrupt. At the hospital, Adisa, Idemudia’s wife, listens to the story of how a rich man from the city had gone to the village with armed men and attacked a family over a piece of land. Because the man is rich, the Police did not prosecute him. However, when Papa Jimoh, a poor driver, is reported to the station, he is promptly locked up. Here, Iyayi wants to draw attention to the discriminating tendency of the Police and the hopelessness a poor man feels in such a social setting. The action of the Police presents a juxtaposition of the differential treatment between the poor and the rich under a system which is thoroughly corrupt.

The civil service is equally portrayed as corrupt. In a decent society the civil service is supposed to be the pride of the citizens because it is the engine room of that society. In Iyayi’s society however, it is not so. It is rather a complete negation of the ideal. This is exemplified by the hospital. Like in the Police station, there is preferential treatment to patients. Those patients who could not afford to give money to the staff are given less attention. The authorities responsible for ensuring free healthcare services to the citizens have failed in this regard. When Idemudia is brought to the hospital, he is made to share a bed with another patient who is suffering from a contagious disease. This suggests that there is shortage of beds in the hospital and the few that are available are given to patients that can offer handsome bribes.

The drama at the hospital is meant to prick the conscience of those who operate our social machineries represented by the commissioner for health. The counsel for the defense could be said to be the authorial voice of Festus Iyayi. He says:

In my understanding acts of violence are committed when a man is denied the opportunity of being educated, of getting a job, of feeding himself and his family properly, of getting medical attention cheaply. (p. 185.)

On the back cover of the novel, Iyayi is reported to have said “my own escape from that kind of life has not blinded me but has provided me with the opportunity of exposing those appalling conditions in which my roots are still trapped” He is referring to the type of life depicted in Violence. “Violence” as applied in this novel is not only the physical act of inflicting pains. It has its incisive definition; and this is encapsulated in the trial scene of the drama at the hospital.

The situation is not different in other ministries of the civil service. Iriso, a government official with the ministry of works, supplies Queen with eggs and other provisions in return for adulterous sexual satisfaction. Queen, being a practical woman in the corrupt ways of the society, does not hesitate to use her body to obtain what she wants from officials she knows to be corrupt like her. The topic of discussion among civil servants is always centred on how to steal government money. For instance, inside the Freedom Motel, owned by Obofun, the civil servants discuss how money could be stolen from the government. “They talked and concluded that the best way to make money was to steal it from the government” and that “The government encouraged stealing, applauded and rewarded it” (p. 281 -2).

Obofun had been a civil servant with the Ministry of Works. After stealing from the government, he has retired to enjoy his loot; he is now a government contractor and has even given out houses built with government money for rent to the same government. The society, as depicted in Violence, presents limitless opportunities to those who are corrupt and none at all to those who prefer to live a decent life. Iyayi’s conclusion in Violence is suggestive of the all consuming power of corruption; that corruption could swallow a whole nation including individuals who would otherwise prefer to live a decent life. Idemudia understands the force that has pushed his wife into compromising her moral virtues. “What remained now was for him to show her that he understood...” (p. 307) Meanwhile, inside the Freedom Motel people continue drinking. “They talked and concluded that the best way to make money was to steal it from the government” (p. 281).

All this discussion boils down to the fact that the leadership of Iyayi’s society is incompetent and is therefore incapable of steering the affairs of state. The hospital staff is not competent enough to run the hospital; the judiciary is not competent enough to run an effective police outfit and so are other individuals and organizations. It is this decay in society that has prompted Achebe to publish Anthills of the Savannah eight years after Iyayi’s Violence to voice his protest against the same phenomenon of corruption and incompetence.

Theme of Corruption and Incompetence in Achebe’s Anthills of The Savannah

Eight years after the publication of Violence corruption and incompetence had not only remained the order of the day in the Nigerian Society, but had also taken a sophisticated dimension. Anthills of the Savannah could be said to be the means through which Achebe shows his disgust for corruption, mediocrity and incompetence in the Nigerian political circle during the years of military dictatorship (Innes,1990). The novel tells the story of a military regime that has to hide behind the façade of dictatorship to cover up for the massive fraud and corruption it has come to represent. The issues in the novel will be best appreciated if the reader follows what the various narrators say. Sam, the central character, is the new head of state of Kangan society with its headquarters at Bassa. Sam, “His Excellency came to power without any preparation for political leadership” (p. 12) He therefore proceeds to invite his friends to tell him what to do. Appointments into the various ministries are carried out based on personal relationships. The President is therefore free to drop any commissioner any time he wishes to.

Professor Reginald Okong is the Commissioner for Home Affairs. He “has no sense of political morality” He is a man of doubtful academic credentials. He started as a Baptist Minister and later turned political scientist. He is a self- seeking individual who would not like to upset the government of the day. Through sycophancy, he is able to realize his personal interests. As a regular contributor to the National Gazette, he praises the politicians during their days for wonderful performance. But as soon as they are overthrown, he becomes the most brilliant analyst of their many excesses. With this character heading an important ministry like the one he is heading, one cannot expect anything short of sycophancy and mediocrity. It is not surprising therefore that the welfare of the Kangan citizens has never crossed his mind.

The police force under the Ministry of Home Affairs is as corrupt as other ministries. They appear to be ignorant of their constitutional responsibility. At one police station, “a concerned neighbour once called” to report that a man was pounding his wife and all the desk sergeant could say is “so therefore?” This indifference in the face of domestic violence portrays the police as insensitive lot of individuals. Close to the end of the novel, the reader witnesses an incident which transpires between the police and motorists. It is at a certain checkpoint, where “There was an unsightly shack of cardboard and metal thrown together to provide occasional relief” to the policemen on duty from the heat of the sun “and perhaps also as a little privacy for negotiating difficult bribes from motorists.” Motorists are made to offer handsome bribes before they pass through the checkpoints.

After stealing a lorry load of beer, a police sergeant at the checkpoint drags a young woman with the intention of raping her. It is the intervention of Chris, the commissioner for information- on-the-run that saves the young woman. But the policeman, regarding Chris’ intervention as a challenge to his authority over the helpless young woman, shoots Chris to death. The Policeman sees his posting to the checkpoint as an avenue for exploitation and making money. A radio set is stolen from a policeman at that checkpoint. This ironical twist shows the incompetence of the police. Ideally, the police are supposed to protect the lives and properties of the ordinary man. But in this case, it is the police whose property is stolen in his presence suggesting that the police are incapable of protecting their own properties let alone those of other Nigerian citizens. This episode could be Achebe’s way of saying that the people in whose hands the destiny of Nigeria, or Kangan, is entrusted are not competent in the discharge of their responsibilities. Because the leadership is pathetically corrupt, the police under it demonstrate that they are diligent pupils of their corrupt and incompetent teachers.

The information network under Chris Oriko is an abysmal failure. As Commissioner for Information, he is supposed to be in charge of disseminating official information to the public but under this arrangement, his appears to be a sinecure appointment. When his Excellency’s Plan to visit Abazon is cancelled, nobody remembers to tell the honourable commissioner, who is supposed to be in charge of such things. Chris himself admits that his ministry “dishes out flim-flam to the nation” and that he does not listen to the news from the News media over which he presides.

The hospital management under the expatriate Mad Medico is a death trap. Mad Medico whose real name is John Kent “is neither a doctor nor quite exactly mad”. His only qualification for holding the important appointment is that, he is a friend to the president. It is for this same reason that he has come to the country in the first place. His intellectual poverty accounts for his contempt for the hospital with which he is entrusted. Because he is simply installed in that position without the necessary qualifications for it, he lacks the ability to provide basic health services to the people of Kangan. Mad Medico inscribes on the wall of the hospital, “Blessed are the poor in heart for they shall see God” (p. 55) and there is also the “... huge arrow sitting between two tangential balls and pointing like a crazy road sign towards the entrance and the words TO THE TWIN CITIES OF SODOM AND GONORRHEA.. .” (p. 56) Paradoxically, the first inscription is placed in the ward where patients of heart diseases are kept for treatment.


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The Themes of Corruption and Incompetence in the Novels of Three Nigerian Writers
Modibbo Adama University of Technology, Yola
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themes, corruption, incompetence, novels, three, nigerian, writers
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Abdullahi Haruna (Author), 2019, The Themes of Corruption and Incompetence in the Novels of Three Nigerian Writers, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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