MILITARY POLITICS IN THE NIGERIAN NOVEL: A POSTCOLONIAL READING OF CHINUA ACHEBE’S ANTHILLS OF THE SAVANNAH AND HELON HABILA’S WAITING FOR AN ANGEL
In Nigeria, the mid 1960s up until the later part of the 1990s marked a turning period in the nation‟s political landscape, mainly because of the militarization of the Nigerian political space. These military interventions which began on 15th January, 1966 reached its zenith during the repressive regimes of Ibrahim Babangida and the dictatorship of Sani Abacha. Nigerian literature remains a formidable part of the opposition to military dictatorship and tyranny. The country‟s writers hold and project the military‟s messianic pontifications in huge suspicion and disbelief in their writings. Using Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel (2002) and Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah (1988) as templates, the aim and objectives of this study have to do with examining in a broader perspective, the recurrence of the military in the nation‟s history as reflected in fiction as well as the public‟s perception of the military institution. Adopting postcolonial theory as a discursive framework for analysis, the study x-rays how the older generation of Nigerian novelists like Achebe and the younger generation which Habila represents depict the dynamics of military politics in their narratives. Postcolonial theory with strands that resist oppression and dictatorship have aided the analysis. The findings of the study show that, although the writer and the masses may not have the power to physically change the oppressive character and disposition of the military establishment, they can however; undermine military oppression and dictatorship through collective action in popular resistance.
1.1 Background to the Study
In the discourse of post-colonialism and the historicity, Chinua Achebe and Helon Habila mark as an outstanding African and Nigerian English novelist and as established postcolonial writers and the historians, in order words, postcolonial re-collectors of Nigeria‟s historical socio-cultural experiences in their fictional novels. The postcolonial debates are born from the historical experience of colonialism. The postcolonial writers assert that their countries had a prestigious history, culture, heritage, government, politics and tradition and they also depict the past from which they have got the raw materials for their works. This discourse has ceased to be mere adaptations of the West.
The fundamental part of the European laws, the damage of post-colonialism and the suitability of the dominant European discourses become noticed in the process of cultural decolonisation. The socially acceptable view finds all the ethnic and the cultural groups as having special characteristics and they are bound with their own territorial existence and cultural roots that have been discussed in postcolonial novels. Moreover, it has been stated that the roots, the unique characters, and even the territorial existence are created through their migration from one region to the other or from one settlement to another. The colonial invasion in general and the British imperialism in particular over the region; Africans were inspired by their urge to invade and appropriate the rich resources of the African lands and man power.
The postcolonial schools of thought such as Orientalism and New Historicism and other different branches of learning express new views of enlightenment to the oppressed. The new generation made an attempt to translate the dreams of the suppressed into reality by organising nationalist
movements which in turn were supported by postcolonial writings. The present century finds a new hybrid school of global theory known as globalisation in which knowledge and information, goods and services move freely across the borders. In this context, it is highly interesting to study the fictional works of Chinua Achebe and Helon Habila, who are a postcolonial voice in a “globalized perspective” “in which the global is transformed at the local level” (Ashcroft, 1989:218).
Many scholars are of the opinion that politics and literature are inextricably linked, while others are of the opinion that, politics robs literature of its artistic value resulting in mere political statements by writers; such as Chinua Achebe‟s A Man of the People (1965), and Ayi Kwei Armah‟s The Beautiful Ones are not yet Born (1965); Ngugi Wa‟ Thiongo’s Wizard of the Crow; Adebayo William’s The Remains of the Last Emperor and Okey Ndebe‟s Arrows of Rain; Mamman Vatsa’s Voices From the Trench (1985); Wole Soyinka’s From Zia with Love (1992); Chukwuemeka Ike‟s Sunset at Dawn (1976); Chinua Achebe‟s Girls at War (1972) and Anthills of the Savannah(1987); Rasheed Gbadamosi’s Echoes From the Lagoon (1973); Isidore Okphewo’s The Last Duty (1976); Festus Iyayi’s Heroes (1986) etc. In the development of African literature, politics has impacted greatly on both its themes and style. African writers, from inception, have tapped from the socio-political events in the continent in the construction of their novels. This is because African historical and political experiences have presented highly political subjects for the continent‟s imaginative literature. In Nigeria, the country’s literary tradition exhibits a continuing political dimension. The Nigerian literary tradition provides a ready example of the link between a country’s literature and the political realities of a nation. This is so because, literature broadly understood, has always shed light on the idiosyncrasies of the human condition that may not be fully captured in the empirical gaze. Thus, literature provides an important platform for such critique which ultimately could help pave the way for an enduring political regeneration and reform. Writing on the intersection between literature and politics, Suleiman Jaji (2013) observes that:
The point of convergence between literature and politics has always generated debate from earliest times especially from when “society” came to be identified with the development of humanity and the emergence of the nation state (76).
In Nigeria, the mid 1960s up until the later part of the 1990s marked a turning period in the nation’s political landscape, mainly because of the militarization of the Nigerian political space.
These military interventions which began on 15th January, 1966 reached its zenith during the repressive regimes of Ibrahim Babangida and the dictatorship of Sani Abacha. As the sociological critics of art contend, literature even its counterfeit nature (fiction) can be used for a systematic study and interpretation of society. Uzoma Nwadike (2009) rationalizes this assertion noting that:
The literature of a people is the mirror through which they see themselves. In it, their successes, their failures, their aspirations, their expectations, their fears, their orientation, their occupations, their potential, their intrigues and their entire ethos and worldview are chronicled (47).
For this school of theorists, writers in any society function like activists in their documentation and interpretation of socio-political experiences. For postcolonial Nigerian writers, literature must be committed and every piece of fiction should refract truthfully the situations, atmosphere and realities in the public space.