This work is an attempt at showcasing how Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel exposes some of the vita themes in the Nigerian society as at the time it the novel was written during the military rule. Habila’s work which was published at 2001, like all other literary works reveals the ill and vices of our society in a bid to ridicule the society so as to serves as a check on the human community. The work has five chapters. Chapter one deals with the general introduction of the work thereby giving a vivid background to the work in other to have a clearer knowledge and view of the novel in question. This is to help foster the understanding of the reader and prepare his/her mind for a full comprehension of this research work. While in chapter two, full attention is given to the literary review of this work. Though Halon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel is not a new novel, but it can be seen that not too many research have been carried out on it from its time of publication till date. But in other to help to know some areas in which other critics/researchers have contributed to the novel, some of these contributions are given attention to in this chapter. Chapter three on the other hand explores a detailed background of the author, Halon Habila, and how his background help influences his act of fictionalization (weaving stories together to form a novel) as is seen in the Waiting for an Angel. Also, this chapter gives a brief summary of Habila’s Waiting for an Angel thereby summarizing it from the end of the novel to its start. And finally, this chapter gives a brief historical background to the novel. Chapter four which is termed to be the central or body of this research just as the topic is entitled ‘Themes in Halon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel: A reflection of post- colonial Nigeria under military rule’ explores some of the vital themes which Habila has treated in Waiting for an Angel, and in relation to the events of its time. Here, such themes as: The terror of Nigeria military regime, corruption and poverty in military dictatorship, military’s suppression of human rights, and necessity of action shall be explored in this chapter. And finally, in chapter five, a summary of the work will be given. This summary will be based on chapter one to four, and thereby drawing a conclusion at the end.
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1.1 Background to the Study
Right from the time of the colonial era, to the time after independence, the socio-economic situation of Nigeria has continued to be unstable. The British Empire expanded trade with Nigeria, and Nigeria became a British protectorate in January 1901. The British were first interested in trade but later delved into governance. By the middle of the 20th century, the desire of gaining independence was sweeping across the country.
Nigeria later attained independence the British government after being pressured by some prominent Nigerian intellectuals in the likes of Obafemi Awolowo, Anthony Enahoro, Tafawa Balewa etc to grant Nigeria independence. In March 1953, Enahoro moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence. The motion according to Enahoro was ‘fired by the dream to build a new and modern nation’ (The Guardian, 16).
Nigeria was granted independence in October 1960. It became a Federal Republic in October 1963 with Nnamdi Azikiwe as the country’s first president. In 1965, there was a National Election which produced a major realignment of politics and a suspicious result that set the country on the path to civil war. On the 15th of January 1966, the military took over power with General Aguiyi Ironsi as the Head of State. In May 1966, there was another coup which established General Yakubu Gowon as the Head of State.
Lt. Col. Emeka Ojukwu, the leader of the Igbo secessionist declared independence of the eastern region as the Republic of Biafra in 1967 which resulted into war. General Murtala Mohammed staged a bloodless coup accusing General Yakubu Gowon of delaying the promised return to civilian rule in 1975. General Murtala Mohammed was assassinated in February 1976 and Lt. Gen. Olusegun Obansanjo became Head of State. In 1979, Alhaji Shehu Shagari was elected president. Major General Muhammadu Buhari in 1983 overthrew the civilian government.
Ibrahim Babangida in August 1985 took over power and promised to return power to civilian in 1990 which was later extended to 1993. In 1993, there were presidential elections which Babangida annulled. The election was won by M.K.O Abiola in August 1993; the interim government of Ernest Shonekan came into power but was forced to resign in November 1993 by Gen. Sani Abacha. General Abdulsalami Abubakar assumed power after the death of Gen. Sani Abacha in 1998. Preparations were made for civilian rule and in 1999
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo became the president for the next eight years after which, there was a transition to another civilian government with Musa Yar’dua as the President. Yar’dua did not complete his term in office, he died and the vice president, Goodluck Jonathan became the president. Looking back after many years of independence, Enahoro puts the blame of the present state of the country on the military’s interruption of governance in 1966. He states that:
When in 1966, elements in the Nigerian military struck, seized the government, and assassinated a number of political leaders; it was obvious that a dark day had dawned on our political life (Enahoro, 16).
Though majority of the blames are attributed to the military rule, it is still significant to note that civilian rule today is not an exception, though the military dictatorship started the political struggle Nigeria is facing today. Civilian rule has also contributed to the devastation in the Nigeria political system.
Though, this aspect of civilian rule will be ignored as it is irrelevant to this research for now. Consequently, the dream of having a new Nigeria and modern nationhood can be actualized if its entire people take up their civil responsibility to unite as a force and speak with the same voice of resistance against bad leaders. Tanure Ojaide in an interview with Ezenwa – Ohaeto says, “Nigeria is a mother and a lover. At the same time, it is a special person. Hence for the love of Nigeria, we must support the country” (Ojaide, 48.)
One wouldn’t be wrong to say that Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel is a novel in which Habila has recreated some of the numerous ill-activities of military regime as a living testimony in prose fiction to expose such themes as: The military as a device of terror, corruption and poverty, the military’s suppression of alternate voice and human rights, and the necessity of action and among others. These themes shall form the basis for this research as each will be looked into in detail in the later part of this research, and exploring how Helon Habila has treated these themes in his novel, and also linking them to history at the time in which the novel was written.
No wonder Waiting for an Angel was accorded a success by The Library Journal which says that, “Habila’s fictionalization… reveals the true casualties of oppression better than any news or history” (waiting ii). The Library Journal refers to Habila’s Waiting for an Angel as “fictionalization” in the sense that the novel can be said to be a fictional documentation of post-colonial Nigeria political system under military dictatorship of Abacha in narrative prose.
Not only did the ill-treatments, brutalities and “wounds” melted by the British colonial masters under the umbrella of “colonization” (as well as through slavery) on Africans, Nigeria in particular, during pre-independence ended with the hope and reality of Nigeria independence. The struggle still continued even among Nigerians in the form of a rule very close to Neo-colonialism, thereby segregating some Nigerians as military Nigerians, and the others as “bloody civilian Nigerians”.
The so named ‘military Nigerians’ ruled and dictated for the ‘civilian Nigerians’, thereby subjecting them to sufferings of various degrees comparably more worst as to when Nigeria was still under colonial Lords (Masters) as a result of governance being taken over by military where dictatorship and not democracy ruled. This was like a nightmare witnessed by every Nigerian in which Helon Habila was not an exception.
1.2 Significance of Study
The significance of this research is to explore some of the numerous issues suffered by civilians under military government in post-colonial Nigeria and bringing to mind of the reader how Helon Habila has recreated some of these events, and also treated these themes in his novel thereby narrating them through different characters in the form of fictionalization to form a novel.
Secondly, it is also to draw a parallel between the novel and the historical setting in which the novel was written to also affirm the view that a literary work does not operate in a vacuum, and that the author of a work exists within a social context, and he uses the events that happened in the society around him/her to recreate his/her work(s).
1.3 Scope of Study
The scope of this research is to pay more attention to:
- The themes in Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel.
- To relate these themes in the novel to its historical time setting.
- To bring to view the effects of these themes on the subjects.
1.4 Research Methodology
The research methodology that will be adopted for this research work shall be based on the New Historicism approach. This approach (New Historicism) or theory will be used to evaluate, analyze, and interprets this research work because it best suits the research topic in question. It states that every work of literature can be studied, analyzed, and interpreted within the historical time setting of the work and the history of the author. According to M.H. Abrams,
New historicism conceives of a literary text as “situated” within the totality of the institutions, social practices,
and discourses that constitutes the culture of a particular time and place, and within which the literary text interacts as both a product and a producer of cultural energies and codes (219).
The above quote suggests the reason why this research will be analyzed and interpreted with the New Historicism approach. And also, according to S.E. Ogude in discussing the African writers’ response to the great historical and social events that have determined the fortunes of the African Continent during the last two centuries in his essay, African Literature and the Burden of History asserts that,
Every literary work is a response to a definite historical and socio-political conditions and it is in recognition of this basic fact that literary critics speak confidently of the historical approach to literary criticism. This is a rather fluid term which seeks to situate a literary work not only in its historical setting but also takes account of the economic, political and other social conditions of the time (1).
1.5 Definition of Terms
THEME: Well, defining THEME might been seen as an unnecessary exercise. But it is very important to do so in other to help foster its weight in the novel in question.
Just as we all know that for any literary work to convey sense or meaning, there must be what is known as ‘theme’. A theme can be said to be the meaning or central idea a literary work tries to convey, pass, or bring to the notice of the reader for a sense of sober reflection about the text as it tends to appeal to the knowledge of the reader. Any literary work without theme can be said to convey the idea of absurdity.
With a more emphasis on theme, Jerome Beauty and J. Paul Hunter say, “themes are useful for grouping stories together for comparison both to highlight similarities and to reveal differences in history and structure and so to discover the uniqueness of the work” (416).
Also, The Chamber Twentieth Century Dictionary defines ‘theme’ as “a subject set or proposed for discussion, or spoken or written about” (1389).
One can see from the above emphasis and definitions, that THEME is a vital tool in literature. The formal emphasis of theme best suits Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel as it asserts that themes group stories together. This assertion is clearly seen in the novel, as the themes of the novel are brought together with different short stories in it.
Lidumukwu also asserts that:
Theme is simply the message of a story, a play or a poem. The word can mean a number of things including; the central idea, the moral or social value of a text. Indeed theme is referred to all these things. Theme is also an embodiment of the writer’s philosophy of life which the work sets to convey to the reader (52).
Just as the brain is very important to the whole human body functioning mechanism, so also is theme to every literary work. Psychologically, the human brain is the center of reading meaning and interpreting every human act, so it can be said that theme is the central meaning and interpretation given to a literary work, because it helps interpret the central message of the author/writer to his/her subject(s) in reflection to the sociological context.
Oyemaechi Udumukwu also in his A Guide to Narrative Fiction and Drama states that,
Theme is simply the message of a story, a play or poem. The word message can mean a number of things, including the controlling idea, the moral or the social value of a text indeed, theme is all those things. It is more difficult to read a play or story that does not have an idea in it, a moral or social value (32).
In a nut-shell, the idea of theme cannot be over looked upon in any literary work. A literary work can be said to be dead or meaningless if it has no any central message of focus for the reader to ponder on and to relate to his/her societal context.
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