Chinua Achebe

Nigeria's Military Dictatorship Through Habila and Achebe

This review titled 'Military Dictatorship In Nigerian Novels: A Study Of Helon Habila’s Waiting For An Angel and Chinua Achebe’s 'Anthills Of The Savannah' was originally written by Ikechukwu Asika. The full paper was published in the African Research Review, Vol. 5 (3), 2011: pp. 275-289.


Injustice, oppression and corruption — these are the three words that bind the bodies of work comparatively studied by Asika. Both novels, though written just over a decade apart, highlight the socioeconomic realities of people under Nigeria’s military eras. Achebe uses a fictitious country, Kanga, to paint a picture of a repressive iron-hand ‘khaki’ leadership in Anthills of the Savannah. In Waiting For An Angel, Habila similarly illustrates years of “hardship, killing, violence, brutality and imprisonment” during Abacha’s regime. Asika, through his paper, looks at both books as "social documents" from which people can learn about such a time as the military rule.


Anthills Of The Savannah

"His Excellency gets whatever he wants and suppresses the people under his tyrannical leadership...His Excellency, the military leader, wanted to be a life president..” “His government is like a den, [and] no one leaves his den unhurt...He hates anything that portrays the truth.” “[...][When] Chris wants to resign as the Commissioner for Information, he wouldn’t be allowed to do so; [instead, he would] jailed for refusing to carry out his evil instructions. Chris laments thus:

So I will stay put and do you know something else; it may not be easy to leave even if I wanted, do you remember what he said, during that terrifying debate over his life presidency? I told you, didn’t I? For one brief moment he shed his pretended calmness and threatened me; if anyone thinks he can leave the cabinet on this issue he will be making a sad mistake. Anyone walking out of that door will not go home but head straight into detention.

Anthills Of The Savannah, p. 119

"His Excellency is hell bent on silencing anyone who says the truth about his government...Ikem Osodi, the Editor of the “National Gazette,” [takes] it upon himself to write about nothing but the truth; to expose and satirize the corruption and dictatorial nature of the military rulers. This [is seen as] ...a great threat to the government of His Excellency, and Ikem must be stopped by all means. Thus, Ikem be[comes] a victim of the truth he writes about.

"Achebe also highlights on the plight of the people who are against the dictatorial government. They are neglected and abandoned.” “Those that [stand] in defense [sic] of the truth are denied basic social amenities and economic dividends. The people of Abazon [are] abandoned to poverty and hardship, under the wreckage of erosion. They have no boreholes [nor] other amenities because they refused to support the military ruler… As a result of [the] marginalization and neglect, the people of Abazon have no [choice but] bow under the powers of oppression and dictatorship thus [saying]:

… so we came to Bassa to say our own yes and perhaps the work on our boreholes will start again and we will not all perish from the anger of the sun. We did not know before but we know now that yes does not cause trouble.

Anthills Of The Savannah, p. 127

"The kidnapping of His Excellency is [however] a medium through which Achebe demands a total eradication of military incursion in Kangan - an imaginary country that can be likened to any African state. [Through]...the characters of Elewa, Bertrice, Adamma, Emmanuel and Abdul, ...we see the despair, weariness and agony but [also] a sense of pride and cheerfulness for having survived the military era to witness a new nation – a dictator free nation. [We witness] ...a lesson they learnt, and it is a message to entire humanity.


Waiting For An Angel

"Habila delve[s] into the psychological disposition of many individuals, to expose the traumatic effects of military government [of General Abacha] on them.” “It was obvious that the military rulers never had democracy at heart, and so, they kept postponing the date...Students, to show their resentments [sic], organized a peaceful demonstration. Few were killed; many wounded. The military men invaded their hostels to loot and rape the girls.

"Fundamental human right[s were] ...blown into the wind. "People and things [fell] apart.""...The hopes and aspirations of the characters [were continuously] shattered due to the unending tension mounted by the army boys.”“Bola [gets] home to learn of the accident involving his mother, father and two sisters." He takes to the street to shout, and is "...arrested by the agents of the Khaki boys...beaten to coma and later dumped in a psychiatrist hospital. That [would be] the end of Bola.

...They hold us cowed with guns so that they will steal our money. This is capitalism at its most militant and aggressive. They don’t have to produce any superior goods to establish monopoly. They do it by holding guns to our heads. Let me tell you why they hanged Saro Wiwa…where is Abiola? In prison! They will continue subjugating us, killing all dissenters, one by one, sending them into exile, till there is no competition left to oppose them.

Waiting For An Angel, p. 158

"Lomba, the main character in the novel, [is] detained in the prison simply because he is a journalist who writes about the truth. The government [had] erected more prisons..[in which] innocent citizens were littered as political detainees without trial - a technique to put them away from challenging the government forever. Thus the prison superintendent tells Lomba in his archaic English:"

Do you complain? Look twenty years I have worked in prisons all over this country. Nigeria …sometimes it is better this way. How can you win a case against government? Wait, Hope’ …Now he lowered his voice, like a conspirator. ‘Maybe there, there’ll be another coup, eh? Maybe the leader will collapse and die. He is mortal, after all. Maybe a civilian government will come. Then, there will be amnesty for all political prisoners.

Waiting For An Angel, p. 14, 15

General Abacha later dies and the angel of hope, one of liberty, rescues " many citizens under the bondage of military dictatorship.” Habila remarks in closing: “In politics of Nigeria, nothing that would be said of Abacha’s and other[’s] military regime in the politics of Nigeria will be an overstatement. It is a nightmare we pray never to experience again.”


The permission to feature this paper was obtained by The Book Banque directly from the author Ikechukwu Asika. The excerpts shown on this page may have been line edited for the purposes of consistency and quality management.

All views and thoughts expressed on the military dictatorship in Nigeria in the featured article are that of the author, Ikechukwu Asika, and in no way reflect the opinion nor position of The Book Banque. Assumptions, interpretations or analyses made in the paper are neither reflective of the authors - Achebe and Habila - of the works cited, nor entirely of their position.


Achebe's The Trouble With Nigeria

By Tobi

10 quotes from Chinua Achebe's The Trouble With Nigeria.

Image: AP / Craig Ruttle via  The Atlantic .

Image: AP / Craig Ruttle via The Atlantic.

Achebe, Achebe, Achebe. I have gushed countlessly (okay, maybe twice) about his writing and why it never fails to resonate. One, for his ability to mirror the truth, and unapologetically so. Second, for his storytelling; his hilarious yet sharp-cutting narratives. More than anything, what distinguishes his work is its relevance – from his anti-colonial African Trilogy to A Man Of The People – which permeates several decades. This latter reason, notably, is major thanks to the fixity of Nigeria’s - its leaders and populace - unwillingness to implement radical change to upturn its history.

In his infamous booklet written in 1983, The Trouble With Nigeria, Nigeria’s years of political instability feature yet again as a canvas. The author brazenly discusses 10 fundamental areas that “cripple” and “inhibit” Nigeria as a state, people and nation. Achebe pools his varied experience and excerpts from daily newspapers to prove, indeed, that “the only thing [Nigeria] has learnt from experience is that we learn nothing from experience.” Of the numerous quotes favourited, I share 10 that that will leave you snapping your fingers while reading The Trouble With Africa Nigeria.


1. Where The Problem Lies

2. Tribalism

Whenever two Nigerians meet, their conversation will sooner of later slide into a litany of our national deficiencies...consigning a life-and-death issue to the daily routine of small talk.
Nothing in Nigeria’s political history captures her problem of integration more graphically than the chequered fortune of the word tribe in her vocabulary.

3. False Image Of Ourselves

4. Leadership, Nigerian-Style

I know enough history to realize that civilization does not fall down from the sky; it has always been the result of people’s toil and sweat, the fruit of their long search for order and justice under brave and enlightened leaders.
A basic element of [Nigeria’s leadership] misfortune is the absence of political thought of our founding fathers — a tendency to pious materialistic woolliness and self-centred pedestrianism.

5. Patriotism

6. Social Injustice and the Cult of Mediocrity

A true patriot will always demand the highest standards of his country and accept nothing but the best for and from his people.

...the real explosive potential of social injustice in Nigeria does not reside in the narrow jostling among the elite but in the gargantuan disparity of privilege they have created between their tiny class and the vast multitudes of ordinary Nigerians.

7. Indiscipline

8. Corruption

There is indeed no better place to observe the thrusting indiscipline in Nigeria than on the roads: frenetic energy, rudeness, noisiness...
Nigerians are corrupt today because the system under which they live today makes corruption easy and profitable...

9. The Igbo Problem

10. The Example Of Aminu Kano

The lack of real leaders in Igboland goes back, of course, to the beginnings of colonial administration...the average Igbo leader’s mentality has not been entirely free of the collaborating Warrant Chief syndrome. have told us that you want our votes so that you can serve us. If we get killed while you are getting the vote, who then will you serve?

Have you read Achebe's The Trouble With Nigeria? What are your favourite quotes?


Prose: Dead Men's Path By Chinua Achebe

This piece was originally published in 1953, and was later published in Literature: A Pocket Anthology, 4th Edition. The full document linked below also provides Achebe's perspective on a 'crossroads of culture' — that is, the juxtaposition of indigenous traditions, language and religions against modernity and colonial influences. Image: Romare Bearden. 

Michael Obi’s hopes were fulfilled much earlier than he had expected. He was appointed headmaster of Ndume Central School in January 1949. It had always been an unprogressive school, so the Mission authorities decided to send a  young and energetic man to run it. Obi accepted this responsibility with enthusiasm. He had many wonderful ideas and this was an opportunity to put them into practice. He had had sound secondary school education which designated him a ”pivotal teacher” in the official records and set him apart from the other headmasters in the mission field. He was outspoken in his condemnation of the narrow views of these older and often less­ educated ones.

”We shall make a good job of it, shan’t we?” he asked his young wife when they first heard the joyful news of his promotion.

”We shall do our best,” she replied. “We shall have such beautiful gardens and everything will be  just modern and  delightful . . . “ In their two years of married life she had become completely infected by his passion for “modern methods” and his denigration of “these old and superannuated people in the teaching field who would be better employed as traders in the Onitsha mar­ket.”

PDF version sourced from journal (unknown) via Sabanci Universitesi (online).


Other works that explore these crossroads:

Achebe's Things Fall Apart and Arrow Of GodNdibe's Arrows Of Rain