CLASS STRATIFICATION, POVERTY AND SOCIAL INJUSTICE: A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF FESTUS IYAYI’S VIOLENCE AND OLU OBAFEMI WHEELS
A writer is supposed to perform certain duties to the upliftment of his society. Perhaps this accounts for various roles that both writers and critics have ascribed to modern African writers. Ngugi says:
I believe that Africa intellectual must align themselves with the struggle national idea… perhaps in a small way, the African writer can help in articulating the feelings behind this struggle. (Ngugi, 1975:50)
Nigerian writers have pursued different themes amongst which are cross-cultural conflicts, the African past, corruption in politics, social injustice, which also include; poverty, exploitation, oppression, marginalization, class struggle and class stratification. Achebe argues that the novel is a:
Form of fiction has seized the imagination of many African writers and they will use it according to their differing abilities, sensibilities and vision without seeking anyone’s permission. I believe it will grow and prosper. I believe it has great future. (Achebe, 1981:54)
Apparently, the events of the Nigerian political system have caused Nigerian writing to shift in themes. Therefore, a writer who tries to avoid the big social and political issues of contemporary African society will end up completely irrelevant because his work would have no impact on the people and society.
Such work becomes irrelevant like the writer himself to the society and the people because he has failed to address any of the important issues at stake. Therefore art should not just be for the purpose of exploring its beauty just as the formalist school of thought posits. It should contemplate the society and expose the ills in the society and as well define a solution for these ills just as the Marxist would argue.
The Marxist concern emerges out of the need to find a lasting solution to class stratification and a society free of oppression. Fortunately, this quest is not in vain as a good number of writers in Africa are involved in various ways in the struggle for the negation of the neo-colonialism and the alienating effect of capitalist lordship in African countries. Among these African writers are Olu Obafemi and Festus Iyayi. Olu Obafemi uses his novel Wheels to mirror the society and as well fight for the cause of the poor, just as Festus Iyayi has done in his novel Violence. He uses his protagonist Idemudia to narrate the plight of the poor who suffer from social injustice and are placed in the lower cadre of the society.
Marxism, like every other modern theory of writing is universal and since it can be used in quest of freeing the society from corrupt practices, Africans should then, not be left out as the decisive development of African literature. Marxism consists of the rise of a tradition of radical thinking in general, and with strongest ideological alignment.
At the level of general theory of development in question, it is a vindication of the generalization that in a class society, literary movements are inevitable, if not automatic outgrowth of class society and political directions.
1.1 Statement of Research Problem
Every research work poses as a problem that needs to be resolved, which bring about the questions as to how these problems that arises will be solved. The sole aim of the researcher is to find answers that will best solve these problems. Therefore this research will by the end have answered questions like:
1. What is Marxism?
2. How has the gap between the rich and the poor evolved?
3. What is poverty and class stratification and why is it regarded as social injustice?
In an attempt to provide appropriate answers to these questions the researcher will carry out thorough investigations on the Marxist theory thereby making references to the work of other researchers and scholars who have worked on Marxism. Also the works of Festus Iyayi and Olu Obafemi, as earlier stated, will be used as well.
1.2 Purpose of Study
The purpose of this study is to shed more light on the issues of class stratification, social injustice, and poverty and how African writers like Olu Obafemi, Festus Iyayi, Ayi Kwei Armah, Isidore Okpewho, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o have used literature as a tool for the eradication of poverty and to breach the gap between the rich and the poor.
Also, in the light of these issues been faced in Africa, the aim of this study is to also bring to the reader’s notice the importance of fighting to get out of poverty in a dignified manner and not allowing the oppression and exploitation of the bourgeois just as Festus Iyayi uses the character, Idemudia, in Violence to explain this, as well as how Olu Obafemi explores these issues in Wheels.
1.3 Scope and Limitation of Study
The major preoccupation of this study is to bring to limelight the issues of class stratification, social injustice and the eradication of poverty in the African society and how African literary writers have been able to expose these ills with the intention of eradicating it from the society. In order to achieve this, the research work shall be limited to using Festus Iyayi’s Violence and Olu Obafemi’s Wheels as the data for the analysis of these issues.
Many scholars and writers have examined class stratification as a component of social stratification, perhaps, why it exists. Also ‘poverty’ has been examined as one of the major issues in Africa and how it has become difficult to eradicate.
Though scholars and writers have examined these motifs, sometimes as a single entity and at other times collectively, readers don’t yet seem to understand that poverty is what leads to class stratification and social injustice. That is what Obafemi and Iyayi pointed out in their novels, Wheels and Violence.
These novels were the primary sources of reference as they capture the political experiences of the people. Both novelists unfold the nature of the instruments of power which were meant for effective governance is misused on the governed especially the poor.
1.5 Research Methodology
The methodology approach to be used for the effective analysis of this study is the Marxist theory. This is because the Marxist theorist view the society (especially capitalist society) as politically locked down and hold the freedom of the people. They portray the suffering of the masses in their literary texts and form their analysis and view point, that the masses suffer as a result of corruption and stratification which our leaders seem to always follow.
As most literary texts written now discuss more on the political state of a society and how political climate affects the economic structure of the society, which is depreciating as a result of class stratification, poverty and social injustice, the best approach pays more attention to the exploitation, the oppressed and stratified and explains the labour complexities been faced, which is the Marxist theory.
The use of Marxist approach is justified as the two novelists whose work shall be used as the data for analysis share the same ideological approach which is Marxism.
1.6 FESTUS IYAYI‘S BACKGROUND
Festus Iyayi, born 1947, in Benin City is a Nigerian writer known for his radical and sometimes tough stance on social and political issues. Iyayi employs a radical style of writing, depicting the socio-political and environmental system in which both the rich and poor live.
He was born in Edo state, Nigeria. His family was from a humble background, but instilled in him strong moral lessons about life. Iyayi started his education at Annunciation Catholic College in the old Bendel state popularly known as ACC. On graduation in 1966; and in 1967 he went to Government College Ughelli, graduating in 1968. In that same year he became a zonal winner in a Kennedy Essay competition organised by the United States Embassy in Nigeria. He left the shores of Nigeria to pursue his higher education, obtaining M.Sc in Industrial Economics from the Kiev institute of Economics, in the former USSR and then his PhD from the University of Bradford, England. In 1980, he came back to Benin and became a lecturer in the Department of Business Administration at the university, he became interested in radical social issues, and a few years after his employment, He became the president of the local branch of the Academic staff union of universities (ASUU), a radical unionist known for his upfront style on academic and national issues. He rose to the position of president of the national organisation of ASUU in 1986, but in 1988, the union was briefly banned and Iyayi was detained. In that same year he won the commonwealth prize for Literature for his book Heroes. He was later removed from his faculty position. Today, Iyayi is a member of different Nigeria literary organisations and works in the private sector as a consultant.
His creative include Violence (1979), The Contract (1982), Heroes (1986), Awaiting Court Material,(1996).
1.7 OLU OBAFEMI‘S BACKGROUND
Olu Obafemi was born on April 4, 1950 in Akutupa-Bunu, Kogi State, Nigeria. He read English at the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria. He is a Professor of English and dramatic literature in the University of Ilorin, Ilorin, Nigeria. He teaches literary criticism, theory and creative writing in the university. He is a dramatist, poet, novelist a foremost Nigerian scholar. Many of his published plays have been performed to audiences in Nigerian and to African and international audiences in Kenya, Cameroon, England and the United States.
Obafemi has won many academic fellowships and awards. He was awarded the DAAD study visit to the University of Bayreuth, Germany in 1993, 1994 and 1995. He was resident, and Professor of English in Tennessee University of Technology, USA from February to March, 2005. Professor Obafemi is a fellow of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) as well as a fellow of the Nigeria Academy of Letters.
Obafemi has produced over thirty plays through his university based theatre outfit, Ajon Players and the university theatre workshop in Leeds. Some of his plays are Nights of a Mystical,Beast, Suicide Syndrome, Naira Has No Gender and Dark Times are over. He is also the author of Songs of Hope, a collection of poems, and a novel titled Wheels. His scholarly works include Nigerian Writers and the Nigerian Civil War and Contemporary Nigerian Theatre.