A Man of the People is a novel that chronicles the narrator's encounters with Mr. Nanga. The narrator, who was also a teacher, recounts the rise of Nanga from a primary school teacher to a member of parliament, and Minister of Culture. He recounts what led to his dislike of the Minister, his confrontation with him, and what befell the Minister. He also details how he 'stole' Chief Nanga's mistress from his hold, and married her; the assassination of the leader of C.P.C, the view of western (and European) world on his country, the state of affairs in his country, and how his girlfriend betrayed him by sleeping with the Minister.
Summary of Chapters
Mr. Nanga is expected to address the staff and students of Anata Grammar School in the afternoon. The Proprietor and Principal of the school, Jonathan Nwege, lines up the students from the main road to the school door. He insists the teachers should also form a line at the end of the students' queue despite the narrator's objection to being treated like children.
The school's Assembly Hall is filled to its capacity by the villagers. They're entertained by dancers, and hunters' guild in full regalia who are also expected to welcome the Member of Parliament in the same fashion.
Known as Chief the Honourable M.A. Nanga, M.P., he emerges from his Cadillac wearing demask and gold chains.
Mr. Nwege introduces the Minister to the teachers starting with the Senior Tutor. When he shakes the hand of the narrator, the smile on his face turns to a thoughtful one. He waves his left hand impatiently to silence Mr. Nwege before he introduces him to Odili.
Having remembered Odili's name, and that he had taught him in standard three, the Minister requests Odili to visit him after the school is closed for the holiday.
Odili had been fortunate in that his secondary and university education were catered for through scholarships. He had hinted to the Minister that he'd applied for a scholarship to study a postgraduate Certificate of Education in London. The Minister had, in return, told him they'll pay the Minister of Oversees Training a visit at his home when he (Odili) comes to the city.
Before leaving, the Minister gives him the address of his residence.
A month after Chief Nanga's unexpected invitation to Odili to visit him, the narrator arrives at his luxurious private residence in the morning.
He's warmly welcomed by the Minister, and greeted by his wife and children. At about five in the evening, they leave to see Mr. Simon Koko, Minister of Overseas Training.
They decline to join him for coffee preferring beer. After sipping his coffee, he drops the cup and the saucer on the table, and jumps on his feet.
Breathing heavily, he wails they've poisoned him. They want him dead. The steward rushes in after hearing his mastery cry. The Minister asks who poisoned his coffee. The steward says it isn't him. He is ordered to call the cook. He returns with the news the cook had gone out.
Odili tells Chief Nanga they should call a doctor. Nanga agrees.
The cook is brought by a bodyguard who drags him by his shirt collar. The cook says he hasn't poisoned him. He proves it by drinking it.
The next morning, the Minister wakes Odili stating he's going to his office. Later, Mrs. Nanga tells Odili that she and the children will be leaving in three days for Anata. Odili is happy as he'll be able to bring his girlfriend, Elsie, who works in the city to indulge themselves on sexual ecstasy in his guest room.
After having a heavy lunch of porridge yams, he feels drowsy. He considers it not respectable to go and sleep in his room as he does in his house. He takes a nap on the chair while Mr. Nanga is talking with his wife.
A car stops outside Nanga's house. Two American couples, Jean and John, exit from the car.
Mrs. Nanga and the children leave for Anata on Saturday. On the same day, Mr. Nanga and Odili are invited to a dinner by Jean and Jean.
Unexpectedly, John receives a short notice to attend the opening of a cement company, and a young female lawyer bangs on Mr. Nanga's house at seven in the evening.
Mr. Nanga drives Odili to the dinner before he heads to the international hotel to pick up the lawyer. Other than Jean and Odili, the others present at the dinner are a British couple, an American couple, and a middle-aged American negro.
At the end of the dinner, the Black-American offers to drop off Odili at Nanga's residence, but Jane insists she'll do so herself.
The only two left, Jane puts on a record, and they begin to dance. A few minutes later, they 'make love' on her matrimonial bed.
At night, she takes Odili on a short drive through the well-lit streets in the city.
Odili had written to Elsie the day he'd arrived in the city, and visited her the following day, Saturday, at the hospital she's working as a nurse. She's on a night shift therefore the visit was short. His main reason for visiting her was to confirm whether she'd come to the house. Elsie told him that she'd bring along her friend (also a nurse) for Mr. Nanga.
On Thursday evening, Mr. Nanga and Odili are driven to Elsie's workplace to pick them up. Elsie tells them her girlfriend cannot come because she's not feeling well. Mr. Nanga doesn't mind which astonishes Odili.
Mr. Nanga, the Minister of Culture, alongside other dignitaries, had been invited as the guest of honour to open the first ever book exhibition of works by local authors. The event is anticipated to start at six in the evening of the same day.
They leave the function at about eight in the evening. Chief Nanga had prepared in advance that Elsie should sleep in his wife's bedroom.
Odili is the first to retire to his room after dinner. Elsie follows suit to her assigned room, and Nanga is the last to retire to his room. He waits till Nanga leaves the sitting room. He purposes to walk towards Elsie's room, take her with him to his room. Hopefully, Nanga wouldn't know of it.
To his astonishment, and saddened by the realization, he goes back to his room. He dozes till a few minutes past four in the morning. He packs his things on his suitcase. He changes to his clothes, and leaves the room by the private door.
He walks for hours, then returns to Nanga's residence. He meets Nanga outside the gate. He doesn't want to hear anything from him. He can't believe the Minister slept with his girlfriend.
He takes his suitcase, hails a taxi to drive him to Max's place. He meets his Anata Grammar School's classmate, Maxwell Kukumo, who is a practising lawyer.
At night (of the same day he arrived at Max's place), a group of eight young people (including Max's fiancée, Eunice) converge in Max's house to discuss the political situation in the country, and the formation of a new political party, Common People's Convention (CPC). Odili is enrolled in the party as a foundation member.
Some time later, on their own, Odili enquires from Max where he'll get money for the party. Max smiles saying that they'll get enough to finance ordinary election expenses.
He's grateful Odili came at the right moment as he'll act as an organizing secretary in his constituency.
On December 23, Odili returns from Bori to Anata. He hires a bicycle in the evening from a bicycle repairer in the market, and rides to Mr. Nanga's home in the village. She's surprised to see him. He offers plausible reasons for his sudden return to the village.
After some casual talk, he asks where Edna lives. Mrs. Nanga's first born son directs him how to reach there.
He finds Edna's father, Odo, sitting on the front room of his hut, making a rope used for tying yams on to erect poles in the barn.
He lies to his father and Edna he has been sent by Chief Nanga to greet them, and know the health condition of her mother who is hospitalized.
He offers to take Edna to the hospital on his bicycle.
Unfortunately, when descending on a hill, a sheep and her lambs rush out of the roadside from the left. He brakes sharply. The bicycle pitches forward, and Edna is thrown farther up the road. When Odili gets up, he rushes to help Edna on her feet. Some of the food she'd prepared for her mother lie as waste on the ground. Odili offers to buy for her mother bread and corned beef.
Two days later, Odili arrives at Chief Nanga's house in the Anata village at eleven in the morning. He can't locate Edna there.
After two hours spending in the house, Edna arrives in Mrs. Nanga's car. He's directed by Mrs. Nanga to a room specially reserved for V.I.P.s. Minutes later, Edna enters carrying a tray containing a bottle of beer and glass.
He tries to convince her why she shouldn't be married to Chief Nanga. At one time, he wraps his arms around her waist, in the room, but she shakes it off.
Odili is summoned by Max for consultation, and to be present at the launching of their political party. He returns to Anata village with a newly-bought Volkswagen, eight hundred pounds in currency notes, and the assurance he'll get more of them.
Mr. Nwege, the Proprietors and Principal of Anata Grammar School, hands him a month's salary and a dismissal letter. This is after he learns Odili is contesting against Chief Nanga.
He decides to visit Mrs. Nanga's place. She's furious at seeing Odili due to the fact Odili will be contending against her husband.
He goes to the hospital where Edna's mother is hospitalized but is informed she's discharged. His next stop is at Edna's home.
He doesn't see her father who is somewhere outside the house. Edna pleads with him to leave because his father is (also) angry at him. Odili doesn't heed her cries even though he can see the poor girl is terrified. Her father comes to sight, and asks him what he's doing there. Her father tells him to wait there; he'll be back soon. He comes out of the house with a machete. Edna calls loudly at her mother because she's afraid Odili will be fatally wounded by her father. With difficulty, her mother emerges from the hut. An hour or so later, Odili rises to his feet and walks towards his car. Edna wants to see him off but her father tells her if she dares to do so, he'll beat her.
He had come to conclusion that his village would be a 'safe' place as a grassroot level to begin his campaigns unlike in Anata where he received hostility from the villagers.
Knowing he would need bodyguards during his campaigns, he enlists four of them who reside in that village.
On one particular day, at noon, Chief Nanga lands at Odili's rural home. His intention is to dissuade Odili from pursuing his ambition to oust him. He offers him some money, and the scholarship he craves for. He doesn't heed his father's advice to take the scholarship and the money, and to respect Chief Nanga. He refuses them, saying he will have none them.
The next day, Max and his campaign team arrive at Odili's home in Urua village. He can see they've come with a car, a minibus and two brand-new Land Rovers with loudspeakers fitted on the roof.
Max suggests they launch their campaign there. Odili objects because his father is the chairman of P.O.P in the village. His father waves off his son's concern.
After the campaign, Odili drives to Edna's home. She sees her withdrawing hurriedly from the front door. He orders her younger brother to call him. Edna, who is also furious at Odili, tells him to leave her alone. Whether he likes it or not, she'll get married to Nanga. He asks him why he can't go to his prostitute (Eunice) in the city.
Odili comes up with an idea to attend Chief Nanga's inaugural campaign meeting at Anata. He disguises himself by wearing a hat and sunglasses. He parks his car at the post office, and pushes through the crowd. He stops when he gets a good view of the podium. He sees Edna sitting on one side of Nanga, and his wife, on the other side.
Minutes later, he sees Josiah, the local trader, climbing the few stairs to the dais, and then whispering something to Chief Nanga. Nanga jumps to his feet searching the crowd. Josiah points his finger at Odili. Sensing danger, Odili tries frantically to escape on the crowded ground. He stops when he hears someone on the stage telling the crowd to stop the thief. He turns to see who has called him a thief.
The crowd pushes him till he's a few inches to the platform. Chief Nanga calls him to step on the dais.
He doesn't expect things would turn out ugly. Edna who had run where the men were standing to prevent eruption of physical fight between the two is pushed to the floor of the platform by Nanga. Odili is unable to shield the slaps, fists and kicks being directed at him.
He finds himself hospitalized, having sustained serious injuries. His father, and even Edna, had visited him. He learns later from his party member, Joe, that Max had been killed on the night of election in Abaga. This is after he began investigating an illegal activity carried out by Chief Koko's wife.
He's run over by one of Chief Koko's car, from behind, when he alighted from his car. Eunice who had been missed by a few inches, stood motionless for some minutes before she opened her handbag, took out a pistol, and killed Chief Koko on the spot. The bullets had ripped through the Minister's chest. Afterwards, she fell down on Max's body and began to weep. She was arrested by the police who were with Koko (even though some were the Minister's disguised thugs in police uniform).
He also learned his car was set ablaze, and that a warrant of arrest was issued against him. The charge was that he's carrying dangerous weapons in his car.
Fighting broke between Max's bodyguard and Chief Koko's thugs in Abuga. In Anata, Chief Nanga tried to disband his private army after winning the parliamentary seat, unopposed, for another term. Some of them were not happy with it. The bitter ones started causing havoc among the villagers of Anata causing unrest in the area as in Abuga. This encouraged other election mobsters to terrorize people in different parts of the country.
The young army of the country staged a coup, and arrested all the members of the government. They asserted they'd return the nation to the civilians when the country returns to normalcy.
Odili manages to pay Edna's dowry even though it took several tries before Edna's father accepted Odili to marry her.
1. Political Assassination
Assassination involves murdering a prominent figure in a country for political or military motives.
Maxwell Kukumo, a lawyer, and leader of the newly formed political party, C.P.C., was murdered by Chief Koko for investigating the Minister's wife, who, according to the intelligence he received, was smuggling ballot papers concealed in her brassieres to polling booths. As the leader of the Women's Wing of P.O.P, she's assisted in the rigging of votes by the female members of that group.
As he's alighting from his car, one of Chief Koko's jeep ran over him. By killing him, Chief Koko, and maybe his superiors or ministerial colleagues, would continue on with their election fraud without being exposed to both the national and international public.
2. Traditional Beliefs: Superstition
In Urua village, where Odili hails from, it's considered a bad omen when a woman dies during labour, and her baby survives. Odili reveals to us that her mother, the second wife of his father, died while giving birth to her, as her first child. Odili says, "This means in the minds of the people that I was an unlucky child, if not a downright, and evil one."
Chief Nanga was usually seen with a 'fan of animal skin' which the people said, "fanned away all evil designs and shafts of malevolence thrown at him by the wicked."
3. Traditional Practices: Bride Price
It was not Edna's intention to become Nanga's second wife. However, she had no means of 'freeing herself' from her father's insistence that she'd to get married to the Minister. She tells Odili, through the letter, that Mr. Nanga had paid for her secondary education, and the full amount of dowry. So to speak, she's morally bound to Nanga.
She asked in the letter, if she refused to becomes Nanga's wife, who would repay Mr. Nanga the money he'd spent on her including the bride price? When Edna's father accepted her daughter to be married to Odili, he said according to the custom, Odili had to repay the dowry. This means, Odili had to repay the £150 paid by Nanga, and pay another £150 to her father for his dowry.
Additionally, Odili repaid the money spent on Edna's education. He didn't want to live with the thought that his wife's college education was paid by Chief Nanga.
On of the definitions of resignation is "the action or condition of enduring hardship or discomfort without resisting or attempting to improve it. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
The citizens in the country had reached a point whereby they'd given up any hope of having a government that cared for the people it's serving. Those who opposed the government (or got through its way) were either murdered, or sacked from their positions. Many of the citizens were aware of the corruption permeating in their government, but they are unable to do anything about it. Therefore they accept the situation, and live with it.
In his speech to the villagers of Urua who had attended the launching of C.P.C. at Odili's father's homestead, Maxwell detailed the extent of corruption that permeated in the government. Odili says, "Max began by accusing the outgoing Government of all kinds of swindling and corruption. As he gave instance after instance of how some of our leaders who were ash-mouthed paupers five years ago become near-millionaires under our very eyes, many in the audience laughed. But it was the laughter of resignation to misfortune. No one among them swore vengeance: no one shook with rage or showed any sign of fight. They understood what was being said, they had seen it with their own eyes. But what did anyone expect them to do?
Odili further showed the overthrown government didn't result from the people's openly dissatisfaction with the government. He opposes that view by saying, "Some political commentators have said that it was the supreme cynicism of these transactions that inflamed the people and brought down the government. This is sheer poppycock. The people themselves, as we have seen, had become even more cynical than their leaders, and were apathetic into the bargain. "Let them eat," was the people's opinion, "after all when white men used to do all the eating did we commit suicide?" Of course not. And where is the all-powerful man today? He came, he ate and he went. But we are still around. The most important thing then is to stay alive; if you do you will outlive your present annoyance."
The subject of whether it's plausible to repay an evil done to someone with an equal measure (or more) of the same (or different) is one of the most contentious topics in the world. The Man of the People includes two instances when characters either avenged or revenged the wrong done to others, or them.
Initially, Odili didn't court Edna because he's in love with her. His intention was to sleep with her so that Chief Nanga would experience the emotional pain he (Odili) felt when he (Nanga) slept with his (Odili's) girlfriend, Elsie. It was a matter of repaying back by inflicting the pain he felt when Nanga hurt him by having sex with his girlfriend.
When Maxwell Kukumo was knocked down by a car, his fiancée didn't react as would be expected of a person who has witnessed their loved one being intentionally killed in this manner. She stood for some minutes, possibly contemplating whether she should avenge her fiance's murder. She took out a pistol from her handbag and fired several bullets at Chief Koko. Then, she fell on he knees, and began to weep for her fiance's murder
6. View of Women
Women are viewed as a means of fulfilling men's sexual appetite. When Odili was asked by Nanga if he intends to marry Elsie, he replied she's just a 'good-time' girl. He didn't have any thoughts of marrying her other than using her to satisfy his sexual needs. Odili states that for every single story of sexual conquest he recounted to Nanga, the Minister had five to narrate to him. Jane, a married woman, slept with Odili the first day they met as was the case with Elsie. The wife of a British man also wanted to have a good night sleep with Odili. The female lawyer who arrived at Nanga's house unannounced also ended up sleeping with Nanga. Chief Nanga didn't mind Elsie was Odili's girlfriend even if Odili had told him that he'd no intention of marrying her.
In retrospect to the various incidences in the book where women are perceived by men as tools of sexual pleasure, they're also considered as lacking in intelligence. Odili, angry at having been told by Edna to leave her alone for she'd accept to be married to Nanga, wrote her a derogatory letter. Odili can't justify himself that he didn't mean what he wrote because he's not in his right mind as a result of being mad at her. His reaction is a testament of the low opinion he's of women. He wrote, "Dear Edna, I wonder who ever put it into your beautiful empty head that I want to take you from your precious man. What on earth do you think I would want to do with a girl who has no more education than lower Elementary? By all means marry your ancient man and if you find he is not up to it you can always steal away to his son's bed."
The characters in the novel, including the narrator, have utilized proverbs to justify their actions, rebuke (criticize) others, or in explaining the predicament they (or others) are in.
a) What can't be avoided ust be borne (pg. 103)
Implied meaning: If you don't have the means (or are unable) of getting yourself out of an undesirable situation, you're left with no alternative than to experience (or undergo) it.
In her letter to Odili, Edna reveals to him that it's not her desire to be Chief Nanga's wife. The Minister had catered for her college education, and had paid the full amount of dowry. If she refuses, how will her father repay all the money spent on her? So to speak, lamely, her hands are tied. She says in the letter, "So it is not so much that I want to be called a minister's wife but a matter of can't help."
b) When a mad man walks naked it is his kinsmen who feel shame not himself. (pg. 109)
Implied meaning: When a man does a dishonourable thing, it's his relations who feel every pinch of embarassment (than the doer).
Chief Nanga had 'cooked' a story for Odili's father of his son's disrespect to him. The narrator's father was angry at his son for treating the Minister dishonourably. He tells his son in front of Chief Nanga, "So I have been begging Chief Nanga for forgiveness, on your behalf. How could you go to his house asking for help and eating his food and then spitting in his face?"
c) A man of worth never gets up to unsay what he said yesterday. (pg. 126)
Implied meaning: A wise man doesn't refute or back away from something he said to save his face.
Odili asked his father why he didn't sign the paper brought by a councillor to distance himself from the newly-formed political party, C.P.C? This is after his father, the chairman of P.O.P., allowed Maxwell and his campaign team to launch the party in his homestead. When Odili told his father he had done a big mistake by not signing the paper, his father told him, "You may be right. But our people have said that a man of worth never gets up to unsay what he said yesterday. I received your friends in my house and I am not going to deny it."
Other proverbs used in the novel are:
- When an old woman hears the dance she knows her old age deserts her. (pg. 62)
- He that knows not and knows not that he knows not is a fool. (pg. 109)
The author has chosen certain words to draw a reader to the events or incidences narrated in the novel. In other words, he's employed specific words so as to engage a reader's mind in forming a mental image of the events recounted, or the personalities of the characters.
a) As soon as the Minister's Cadillac arrived at the head of a long motorcade the hunters dashed this way and that and let off their last shots, throwing their guns about with frightening freedom. The dancers capered and stamped, filling the dry-season air with dust....The Minister stepped out wearing demask and gold chains and acknowledging cheers with his ever-present fan of animal skin....(pg. 7)
b) "I haven't seen any hills yet," I replied, getting back some of my breath as I pedaled freely down the small, friendly descent that followed. These words were hardly out of my mouth when a stupid sheep and her four or five lambs rushed out of the roadside on my left. I braked sharply. Unfortunately Edna's back was resting on my left arm and prevented me applying the brake on that side effectively. So only the brake of the front wheel performed fully. The bicycle pitched forward and crashed on the road...She was thrown farther up the road and as soon as I got up, I rushed to help her to her feet again. (pg. 87)
The author has avoided using harsh words that may appear offensive or horrid to a reader's ears.
Edna was prevented from escorting Odili to his car by her father. Her father warned her against seeing Odili to his car if she didn't want him 'to lay his hands on her.'
'Lay hands on someone' is a genteelism expression used instead of 'beat you.' In our modern world, it would sound harsh to our ears if Edna's father had uttered the words, 'beat, batter or smack you.'
The author has utilized several literary tools - irony, humour, wit, ridicule - to show the folly or vice of people or government, particularly top government officials.
As Minister of Culture, it would be expected of Chief Nanga to have a mental list of some of the published authors in his country. Odili says, "I had expected that in a country where writers were so few they would all be known personally to the Minister of Culture. But it was clear Chief Nanga hadn't even heard the man's name before (the President of the Writers' Society).
The satire is further amplified by the saddening fact the Minister doesn't know what a Writers' Society entails. Odili reveals to the Minister the President is the author of 'The Song of the Black Bird.' Having heard the word 'song,' he asks the President, while glancing at the arrival of ambassadors to the launching of the book exhibition, "So your society includes musicians as well?"
The manner in which Chief Koko reacted to the coffee he d