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.


Other Voices: Poetry of Three Nigerian Female Writers

This review, titled 'The Other Voices: The Poetry of Three Nigerian Female Writers' is by Ezenwa Ohaeto. The full piece was published by Taylor & Francis for the Canadian Journal of African Studies/Revue Canadianne des Études Africaines, Vol. 22 (3), 1988: pp.662-668. Image: Tolu Aliki.

Nigeria has produced few female poets, although some female writers have been publishing poems in various journals and anthologies. In contrast, female novelists have been geometrically increasing. The female poets thus deserve attention because they not only constitute some of the “unheard voices,” but they also possess significant insights into the realities of con- temporary times. Lloyd Brown feels: “the women writers of Africa are the other voices, the unheard voices, rarely discussed and seldom accorded space in the repetitive anthologies and the predictably male-oriented studies in the field” (198I, 3). Female poets could offer a complementary alternative to the poetic vision of Okigbo, Soyinka, Achebe, Clark, Okara, Udechukwu, Enekwe, Ofeimun, and Osundare.

In this piece, the author reviews three poems: The Spring's Last Drops by Obianuju Catherine Acholonu, The Cassava Song and Rice Song by Flora Nwapa and Sew The Old Days and Other Poems by Molara Ogundipe-Leslie; concluding that:

Artistically, Nigeria’s female poets still need to be adventurous. How- ever, the female poets should be commended for as Katherine Frank observes, “there are surely vast silences to be broken, silences of African women who have ceased to write or who have never written at all because they have felt there was no audience to hear their words (1984, 47). Never- theless, the fact that these faltering early steps are being taken indicates that this is the planting season of female poets in Nigerian poetry. In the harvest, we fervently hope to pluck the robust yam tubers and the fledgling seed- lings. The study of contemporary Nigerian poetry may never be complete without the assimilation of these feminine poetic impulses.
— Ezenwa Ohaeto

It is important to note that this review was originally published in 1988, since which a lot of notable Nigerian female poets (and writers) have emerged. These women continue to break vast silences, and are using various outlets - from spoken word to visual art - as a medium to branch out, sow seeds in the hearts of their readers and also render their voices to deconstruct certain constructs. This piece helps appreciate this growth, and calls on more to women to write - audience or no audience.