- Achebe and the Negation of Independence
Independence falls like a bull buffaloAnd the huntersRush to it with drawn knives,Sharp shining knivesFor carving the carcass.And if your chestIs small, bony and weakThey push you off . . .—Okot p'Bitek, Song of Lavino 107
Chinua Achebe's Contribution to the emergence and survival of the Nigerian novel has been crucial and formidable. By the Nigerian novel we simply mean any novel written by Nigerians, and whose matter and manner reveal an understanding that life has a peculiar meaning for the inhabitants of the geographical location and political entity we call Nigeria.
Formulated within the framework of the referential function of literary production, this study is animated by the conviction that a work of art establishes a distance from lived experience, transfixing it so that we can see its apparatus at work. This study, therefore, has endeavored to illuminate [End Page 471] the nature of Chinua Achebe's reaction against the negation of the expectations of national independence from colonial rule. We have identified the condition of existence in postindependence Nigeria as neocolonial.
The significance of Achebe's creativity manifests itself in his revelation of lived experience in Nigeria in its harrowing verities. Specifically, he has revealed the lack of contact between the leaders and the ordinary people. He has also shown that this lack of contact has precipitated a condition of contrasts and an unevenness in development. In addition he has portrayed the nature of the security apparatus in Nigeria and has enabled us to re-examine the gains of military leadership.
The aim of this paper is to illuminate the nature of Achebe's reaction against the negation of the expectations of national independence from colonial rule. In order to do this our attention will be focused on his two novels that reveal the nature of existence in postindependence Nigeria—A Man of the People and Anthills of the Savannah.
The promise of national independence from colonial rule has not materialized for the majority of the people in Nigeria. Hence, freedom from colonial domination and the desire for prosperity have been translated into a nightmare of needs. It is strictly in this sense—the failure to fulfill the goals of independence—that we use the term negation. This negation of the hopes of independence, it is widely agreed, has been precipitated partly by the continued domination of the Nigerian economy by Western imperialists and other foreign interests. This condition of existence in postindependence, it is argued, constitutes a state of neocolonialism. Although Nigeria has gained state power in the form of political independence, this is essentially a "flag independence." State power, understood as the embodiment of the power of the dominant social group which supervises existence, was merely handed over to an elite social group. It is followed by a multilateral, but new form of colonial domination, whereby Western nations compete to control the Nigerian economy.1
Apart from Nigeria, this negation of the ideals of independence has characterized other African countries. Accordingly, the theme of negation of independence recurs in the works of other African writers such as Ayi Kwei Armah, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Meja Mwangi, Ousmane Sembene, and Mongo Beti. Chidi Maduka has aptly summed up this prevailing situation after independence by recalling the title of a short story by Ama Ata Aidoo: "For Whom Things Did Not Change." Maduka retells the story of Zirigu, the chief character in Aidoo's story, who has [End Page 472] believed that his status as a cook in the government service would change for the better with the attainment of independence but discovers, to his dismay, that as far as his lot is concerned, the new dispensation cannot guarantee his happiness; and, in fact, the new government is not better than the colonial administration (Maduka 52). Maduka's analogy is very instructive, but it opens up a vista of irony for the postindependence era. It is not as if history has remained immutable from the colonial era to the new dispensation, an idea that is conveyed by Aidoo's story. There has been a transition from one historical phase to another...