Table of contents
The Treatment of Corruption in Iyayi’s The Contract.
Summary and Conclusion
Corruption has been considered endemic to Nigeria. How do Nigerian literary artists depict this social ill in their literary works? This article examines the treatment of corruption in Iyayi’s The Contract. The discourse focuses on the social levels at which corruption is manifested and the effects of corruption on individuals and the society as depicted in the novel. The research indicates that the novel exposes some identified social ills which become endemic when political and institutional leaders put aside their responsibilities of nation building and succumb to the lure of lucre. Specifically, the leaders depicted in this novel use the awards of contracts ostensibly for nation building as blinds for corrupt self enrichment and embezzlements of public funds. Findings of this research are strongly indicative of Festus Iyayi’s implicit desires for redress of the depicted social problem.
Literature reflects the society in which it is written and thereby heralds its values and concerns (Bressler, 1999). From the 1940s when African nationalists began the agitation for political independence, so much was promised to the masses. People were made to believe that independence would bring about equal opportunities and greater equality in the standard of living and development of opportunities in education, health and employment ( Obiechina, 1990). Post independence realities however show that far from improving, the lot of the common man has grown progressively pathetic as African leaders have been turned into western stooges who revel in corruption, deceit and betrayal (Onochie, 1991).
Achebe, (1983) believes that the problems of Nigeria could squarely be attributed to corrupt leadership. The new African political class, according to Achebe, proves incapable of providing civic and moral leadership. This belief is shared by Obiechina, (1990) who says that African leaders generally, are mainly concerned with providing a standard of living for themselves out of proportion to the national level of economic production. They live scandalously above the rest of the society. Faced with the new realities of corruption and misgovernance, African writers, especially novelists, attack the post-independence elites in their literary works. The writers satirize the corrupt tendencies and methods adopted by the elites in the diversion of public resources for their private uses. The aims of the novelists have been to effect positive changes. Nigerian novelists especially, have contributed significantly in this regard (Emenyonu, 1991). Soyinka’s The Interpreters (1965) and Achebe’s A man of the People (1968) are cited by Obiechina (1990) as examples of such novels. Obiechina notes that
The most outstanding feature of these novels is the uncompromising way their authors attack the post-independence elite of Africa. Its members are accused of expropriating from the masses the fruits of independence, and, more specifically, of being venal, corrupt, irresponsible, hypocritical, and without vision and common sense. The failure of independence is regarded as evidence of the failure of the elite to justify themselves to the masses and validate their claim to leadership. (P.123)
There are several other Nigerian novelists of note whose literary works focus on attacking corruption. Festus Iyayi is one of the Nigerian novelists who have utilized their creative talents in fighting corruption. He has published three novels, Violence, (1979) The Contract, (1982) Heroes, (1986) and a collection of short stories, Awaiting Court Martial, (1996). Iyayi has been described as a “Nigerian writer known for his radical and sometimes [thorough] stance on social and political issues” (Ikeme, 2004). This article examines the treatment of corruption in Iyayi’s The Contract.
The Treatment of Corruption in Iyayi’s The Contract.
Iyayi treats the theme of corruption in the novel through the creation of appropriate characters, situations and episodes. The story in Iyayi’s The Contract is constructed against the background of corruption in high and low places. Officials in charge of government institutions are portrayed in the novel as corrupt. There is corruption in the executive councils at all levels of governance, in the civil services, the military and paramilitary services and in the academy. The substantial bulk of corruption in the novel is depicted as being endemic to the executive council. It is carried out in the guise of contracts awarded for the ostensible purposes of nation building.
Through the means of contract awards, the individuals in charge of government institutions and their acolytes siphon public resources thus creating economic austerity which translates into subjecting the common man to pathetic states of poverty, hunger, diseases and insecurity. The novel exposes the stark reality of Nigeria as perceived by the author. Iyayi wants to draw the attentions of both the masses and leaders of Nigeria to the appalling situations depicted in the novel with a view to effecting positive changes.
The Nigerian leaders, as depicted in the novel, are mainly concerned with providing comforts for themselves and paying less attention to nation building. The welfare of the ordinary citizens does not appear to be important to the leaders. This could be seen in the contrast between the squalor in which the impoverished masses live and the opulence and greed that characterize the lives of the ruling class.
The state administrator reserves for himself and his authorized personal staff the exclusive use of Celina Avenue and Chief Ewe Obala owns and lives in a huge, luxurious storey house. On the other hand, the slums where the masses live are characterized by rot and decay. The streets of the slums
…were littered with all kinds of refuse – corn leaves, plantain peelings, bottles, cans and sewage. Gigantic heaps of dirt were left at the roadsides. And then there was the sand – sand which was washed on to the roads from the sandy fronts of the houses, or deposited on the road by the house builders, sand which came from the open gutters… (p.7).
While the politicians and the cream of the military are awarding for themselves huge salaries, the poor masses are left to rot. A Taxi driver in the novel cynically laments over the fate of the masses:
You go to the burial grounds and all you see are the bodies of babies, killed by the kwashiorkor or by the dysentery. The women are hungry, the men are hungry and we all live in dirt. But what does the government do except reserve special roads for itself?
In order to cope with the harsh conditions depicted in the novel, individuals devise means of keeping bodies and souls together. While some female members of the oppressed class take to prostitution, some men take to armed robbery and other degrading means of survival. Meanwhile, the leaders and their acolytes who thrive in the corrupt system remain uncompromising in perpetuating graft.
Ogie Obala, the central character of the story, is the son of Chief Eweh Obala. He has just returned from abroad after four years of study only to realize that his society has been consumed up by corruption and decay. He is disgusted at the filth and chaos that has now characterized Nigeria. It is through his interactions with other characters, struggles and failures in changing the face of the society that the theme of corruption in the novel is concretized.
At the beginning of the story, Ogie is seen to be genuinely concerned over the undisguised display of bribery, corruption, incompetence and nepotism in Nigeria. As events unfold however, we begin to notice that his stance against corruption begins to wane due to the influence of the prevailing atmosphere. The attitudes of the various people with whom he has to relate and interact force him to succumb to corruption. The forces of corruption prove too strong for his moral strength.
The state administrator and his fellow government agents intend to embezzle public funds but they realize that it would not be easy to steal without providing some legitimate excuses. So they decide to carry out their plan through the award of contracts. For the smooth execution of the diabolical contract, the money is channeled through Ogbe local government council. Chief Eweh Obala, Ogie’s father, is the chairman of the local government council. The chairman is assisted by a principal secretary in charge of special projects - a post which places its occupant directly in charge of the contract awards.
Given the strategic importance of this office in the awards of contracts, the substantive secretary has recently been posted out to create room for the son of the chairman. Nepotism and corruption therefore take the centre stage in the local council as Chief Obala initiates an unwilling Ogie into the system. Chief Obala says,
‘Important decisions concerning contracts will have to be taken very soon at the Ogbe city council,’ he announced finally. ‘These contracts will be worth hundreds of millions of naira. I need a man of my own there. Somebody outside the family will make a mess of things. But if you are there…’ He let the statement hang in the air (p.1-2).
The post of the secretary in charge of special duties attracts the sum of ten thousand naira a year as salary - a salary Ogie considers too much. Ogie understands that the work his father wants him to take up entails awarding inflated contracts and demanding for kickbacks from the contractors. He therefore promptly informs his father that he would rather prefer an honest job. This marks the beginning of the clash between moral idealism and corruption.
The process of initiation into corruption is catalyzed when Ogie meets Mallam Mallam his former schoolmate and childhood friend, who is now a ‘contractor’ of some sort. Mallam Mallam confides in Ogie that his line of contracts has to do with “supplying the government with nothing” for which he is given a cheque of one hundred thousand naira at the end of each week. He cashes the cheque and the money is shared out between himself and “a group of government officials in the services, in the forces” (p.17). The squandered money is recorded in the government ledger as recurrent expenditure.
This information seems to have made Ogie to take a second look at his own ideals. If Mallam Mallam supplies the government with nothing and receives a cheque of one hundred thousand naira a week for sharing out, Ogie rationalizes, then the ten thousand naira per annum proposed as his salary would be a comparatively more decent and legitimate source of income. His mind is therefore made up to accept the appointment and this marks the beginning of his failure and subsequent destruction.
From the moment Ogie assumes office, we begin to witness the influx of corrupt individuals and groups coming to him for favours.
Fourteen weeks and he had been kept awake thinking of the men in their big agbada and the cartons of whisky that they brought to him but which he refused again and again. Then there were the telephone calls, hundreds of them each day, and then the women with their daughters or by themselves, looking and telling him they were his, if only he cared to ask. (p.43).
His subsequent hostile encounter with colleagues in the office suggests that the solution to corruption goes beyond simple rejection of gifts. It is possible that Iyayi utilizes this episode of the story to underscore his belief that one cannot beat corruption by being part of the system (Taiwo 2004). This can be seen in Ogie Obala’s modest attempt to reorganize the council for efficiency:
When he had come into the council, there had been no records kept of important decisions, neither had there been records of money spent on various items. He had immediately set up a records department, even invited an auditor. Then too there was the internal organization. There had been too many people in some sections while others had starved. He had helped reorganize the staffing of the various departments. (P.46-47).