THE REPRESENTATION OF POVERTY IN FESTUS IYAYI’S VIOLENCE AND HELON HABILA’S WAITING FOR AN ANGEL

Theme of social commitment in Ousmane sembene God’s bits of wood and Festus iyayi’s violence
March 3, 2021
THE NATURE AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE NOVEL IN ENGLISH IN NORTHERN NIGERIA
March 3, 2021

Price: 2000 Naira (BSC, MSC)

ABSTRACT

This project surveys the literature and accesses the magnitude, persistence and depth of inequality in Nigeria, using Festus Iyayi’s Violence and Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel. It is, therefore, a fact that African Literature has an enduring propensity for social and political commitment, reflecting and refracting the socio-political events in African societies with Nigeria as a reference point. In this, a nexus is drawn between the aesthetic of the novel and the social experiences that nurture the literary consciousness of the writer. This affirms Achebe’s claim that any African writer who shuns the social and political matters of contemporary Africa is at the risk of being irrelevant. Therefore, African literature is tied to the experiences of the people of Africa.

            Employing and expounding on both social realism and Marxist theories, the project seeks, among other things, to reflect on the authors’ analysis of class relations and materialism, issues of power and wealth distribution, social conflicts.

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

Poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon, whose contributing factors include unemployment, income inequality and corruption. The World Bank in The World Development Report 2000/2002 sums up the various dimensions of poverty to include lack of opportunity, lack of empowerment and lack of security. The window of opportunity remains closed to the common people, rendering them dormant in society. Thus this social incapacitation limits the choices they would have to make and their lack of security makes them vulnerable to exploitation, diseases, violence and so on. In Africa, widespread and severe poverty is a brazen reality experienced in lack of food, cloth, shelter, education, security and other entitlement programmes.

Indeed literature is life and it provides critical insight about life. Thus a general opinion is that literature mirrors society, because literature relates to all aspects of society: political, economical, historical and social, exposing both open and secret truths. It is a medium of reflecting the contemporary issues of the society—be it class struggle, leadership problems, matters of security or issues on national development. In fact, literature serves as a mirror of society or a channel through which the social, political, cultural and economic issues that ravage a given society are explored. This means that there is a correlation between art and life; hence, literature deals with people and their experiences in a given milieu. This project, therefore, concerns itself with the contributions of literary artists to the lives and experiences of people in the Nigerian society, especially on matters of wealth and distribution of wealth. This is because the literary artist is seen as a committed person who uses his work to advocate for an egalitarian society, satirize the evils of corruption, exploitation and oppression; and push the proletariats into a struggle towards liberation from all the forces that undermine their existence. The project makes specific emphasis on Festus Iyayi’s Violence andHelonHabila’s Waiting for an Angel , Marxist-oriented novels that advocate force against all the forms of exploitation, deprivation and unpatriotism.

Surely, it is in imaginative literature we can fully understand the problems of poverty and inequality. Poverty is a material condition, a class in the social structure. And literary texts: are they not aesthetic artifacts, retreating by their nature into the privacy of the imagination? Only in this retreat from the tactile and the statistical, I contend, can we approach the complexity of poverty as an ideological formation in the texts under study, or understand the inner life of being poor – the tangled web of emotion and behaviour that gets brushed too easily from social study. And literature becomes a crucial tool to understanding economic and cultural condition that is at once urgent and elusive because it cuts across the categories of race, gender, and class by which we conventionally understand social difference.

However, it needs be said that widespread and severe poverty is a reality in our world. It is a reality that depicts lack of food, clothes, education and other basic amenities. Severely poor people lack the most basic necessities of life to a degree that it can be wondered how they manage to survive.

The link between poverty, hunger and human development is very significant. Indeed, poverty and hunger are the exact opposite of human development. All the attributes of human development are deprived by poverty. Poverty is lack of job. Poverty is hunger, poor health, low education, low self-esteem, lack of adequate housing, lack of land, inability to cloth oneself/family, low economic status and, above all, denial of choices. Maduagwu concludes that poverty creates frustration, loss of hope/prospects and value for life, loss of meaning for life and purpose of living. It also creates disillusionment about morality, poverty makes people compromise on moral values or abandon moral values completely (Maduagwu, Alleviating Poverty in Nigeria). Okafor stresses that the success or failure of any government is measured by the degree of attainment of human development or the level of poverty prevalent among the people (67). On this note, Nigeria, the referent society in the novels under study, cannot be said to be successful with so many people wallowing in abject poverty.

            In this project, an effort is made to examine Festus Iyayi’s and Helon Habila’s representation of poverty in post-independence Nigerian state as reflected in their fictions Violence and Waiting for an Angel respectively. This is premised on the awareness that there is always a close relationship between African literature and the social reality; that social reality in the novels under study being that the literature of Nigeria has remained obsessed with the plight of the underprivileged, exposing a group of people that lie beyond traditional documentary sources. In doing this, Iyayi and Habila select realistic details from ordinary life to chronicle the fate of an impotent silent majority. The authors present a vision of life as hell, with human concerns such as inequality largely fore-grounded in their novels. In consequence, the novels’ thematic focus centres on the portrayal of the terrifying, the painful and a common insistence on postcolonial disillusionment. The novels also take as their thematic focus the foregrounding of the exploitation of the masses, betrayal of public confidence, highly decadent and socially stratified society that breeds and nurtures exploitation and oppression of the less privileged in society. Therefore, these authors acknowledge a poverty that is as aesthetically and culturally significant as it is socially and materially real. Combining Marxist theory with literary analysis, the authors masterfully bring poverty into mainstream critical idiom, thus validating Ahmad Aijaz’s assertion that ‘all Third-world texts are necessarily national allegories’ (95).

1.1       Statement of Research Problem

Every research work poses a problem that needs to be resolved, which brings about the questions as to how these problems that arise will be solved. The sole aim of the research is to find answers that will best solve these problems. Therefore this research will by the end have answered questions like:

1. What role does class play in the works?

2. How do characters overcome oppression?

3. In what ways do the works serve as propaganda for the status quo; or do they try to undermine it?

4. What do the works say about oppression or are social conflicts ignored or blamed?

In an attempt to provide appropriate answers to these questions the research will carry out thorough investigations on the Marxist theory and socialist ideology, thereby making references to the work of other researchers and scholars who have worked on Marxism. Also the works of Festus Iyayi and Helon Habila, as earlier stated, will be used as primary texts.

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1.2       Purpose of Study

The purpose of this study is to shed more light on the issues of poverty, corruption, social injustice and how African writers like Festus Iyayi and Helon Habila have used literature as a tool to identify the plight of the underprivileged. In this light, the aim of this study is to examine characters and their experiences and how we see a society that needs restoration.

1.3 Scope and Limitation of Study

The focus of this study is Africa, and particularly Nigeria as portrayed by the duo of Festus Iyayi and Helon Habila in Violence and Waiting for an Angel respectively. This research investigates how judiciously the understudied works reveal the plight of the poor and their oppression in Africa. The choice of works based on Nigeria is motivated by the fact that the country gives a fair representation of West Africa. This is imperative as it is almost certainly impossible to study works from every part of Africa considering the constraints of time and resources.

In order to achieve this, the research work shall be limited to using Festus Iyayi’s Violence and Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel as the data for the analysis of these issues.

1.4       Justification

The significance of this research apart from providing a reliable source of information for future researchers on the theme of poverty in African literature is also of great value in appraisal of government poverty eradication programmes in Nigeria. Understanding the difficulties experienced by the poor in society will strengthen Nigeria’s nascent democracy and promote good governance.

This research is also a celebration of artistic imagination and dexterity displayed by these distinguished African Writers: Helon Habila and Festus Iyayi.

Again, 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 do not yet seem to understand the disastrous effects poverty has on people. That is what Habila and Iyayi point out in their novels, Waiting for an Angel and Violence.

These novels are the primary sources of reference as they capture the experiences of the poor people. Both novelists unfold the nature of the instruments of power which meant that effective governance is misused on the governed especially the poor.

1.5       Research Methodology

The research is both qualitative and descriptive, with thematic analysis of the texts. Themes of poverty and corruption are adequately analysed. The methodology approach used for the effective analysis of this study is a blend of  Marxist theory and socialist realism theory. This is because the Marxist theorist view 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, stating that the masses suffer as a result of corruption and stratification which our leaders seem to always ignore. The social realism theory falls in line with human concerns and perspectives.

The referent society is Nigeria which is the setting in the selected texts. The use of Marxist and socialist approaches are justified as the two novelists whose work shall be used as the data for analysis share the same ideological approach which is Marxism and Social Realism.

1.6       Conceptual Issue: POVERTY

Poverty is an exceptionally complicated social phenomenon. Defining poverty is a great challenge to researchers because of its complex nature. How researchers define poverty depends mainly on the theoretical framework researchers adopt. Those coming from the economics point of view will look at economic factors like income, expenditure and poverty lines as a basis for measurement. Others will look at issues of social exclusion, deprivation and incapability to measure poverty. Here are some definitions of poverty to gain a broad overview of the meaning of poverty.

Poverty can be defined as ‘lack of material well-being, insecurity, social isolation, psychological distress, lack of freedom of choice and action, unpredictability, lack of long-term planning horizons because the poor can not see how to survive in the present, low confidence and not believing in oneself’ (Narayan et al. 4).

Amartya Sen, one of the most famous researchers on the topic, has given a more appropriate definition of poverty. For him, poverty is the lack of what one needs to live within a society. He characterized poverty as a ‘capability deprivation’, where a person lacks the ‘subsistence freedoms’ he/she needs to lead the kind of life he or she has reason to value (qtd. in Bloom & Canning 7). He further asserts that this subsistence freedom has two facets: opportunity and security. Opportunity requires education and a range of political and economic freedoms. Security is viewed as a consequence of effective utilization of the opportunities provided to a person and/or the household. The above definition implies that poverty is not only a state of existence but also a process with multiple dimensions and complexities.

The World Bank has this to say of poverty:

Poverty is an income level below some minimum level necessary to meet basic needs. This minimum level is usually called the ‘poverty line’. What is necessary to satisfy basic needs varies across time and societies. Therefore, poverty lines vary in time and place, and each country uses lines which are appropriate to its level of development, societal norms and values. But the content of the needs is more or less the same everywhere. Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not having access to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty is not having a job, is fear for the future, living one day at a time. Poverty is losing a child to illness brought about by unclean water. Poverty is powerlessness, lack of representation and freedom. (World Development Report )

And this is Wikipedia‘s definition:

Poverty is the deprivation of common necessities such as food, clothing, shelter and safe drinking water, all of which determine our quality of life. It may also include the lack of access to opportunities such as education and employment which aid the escape from poverty and/or allow one to enjoy the respect of fellow citizens. (Wikipedia)   

The definition offered by the World Summit on Social Development in

Copenhagen in 1995 has it thus:

Poverty is a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to services. It includes a lack of income and productive resources to ensure sustainable livelihoods; hunger and malnutrition; ill health; limited or lack of access to education and other basic services; increased morbidity and mortality from illness; homelessness and inadequate housing; unsafe environments and social discrimination and exclusion. It is also characterized by lack of participation in decision making and in civil, social and cultural life. It occurs in all countries: as mass poverty in many developing countries, pockets of poverty amid wealth in developed countries, loss of livelihoods as a result of economic recession, sudden poverty as a result of disaster or conflict, the poverty of low-wage workers, and the utter destitution of people who fall outside family support systems, social institutions and safety nets. (World Development Indicators 2)

There is the equally interesting but completely different definition by Peter Townsend:

Individuals, families and groups in the population can be said to be in poverty when they lack the resources to obtain the types of diet, participate in the activities and have the living conditions and amenities which are customary, or are at least widely encouraged or approved, in the societies to which they belong. Their resources are so seriously below those commanded by the average individual or family that they are, in effect, excluded from ordinary living patterns and activities. (15)

A United Nations’ statement says

Poverty is a denial of choices and opportunities, a violation of human dignity. It means lack of basic capacity to participate effectively in society. It means not having enough to feed and clothe a family, not having a school or clinic to go to; not having the land on which to grow one’s food or a job to earn one’s living, not having access to credit. It means insecurity, powerlessness and exclusion of individuals, households and communities. It means susceptibility to violence, and it often implies living on marginal or fragile environments, without access to clean water or sanitation. (Human Development Report 8)

Similarly, Senguputa sees poverty as not only an insufficient income to buy a minimum basket of goods and services but as the ‘lack of basic capabilities to live in dignity’ (20 – 21). This definition aptly recognizes poverty’s broader features, such as hunger, poor education, poor feeding, exploitation, discrimination, vulnerability and social exclusion. These are essential elements for understanding what poverty is.

            The International Bill of Rights defines poverty as a human condition characterized by sustained or chronic deprivation of the resources, capabilities, choices, security and power necessary for the employment of adequate standard of living and other civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights (qtd.in Hunt et al 40). The international body further asserts that a good deal of individual poverty stems directly from consequences of institutional poverty, such as the lack of access to the basic services mentioned above. Lack of education fosters more poverty and impossibility to climb up the social ladder; restricted access to health care causes diseases to spread wildly across the population. An unintended result is a dangerous lack of confidence in the government, and the poor continues to feel negative, inferior, passive, hopeless and powerless.

            In all, poverty is a social handicap. The above definitions show that at the heart of poverty is an idea of basic needs and choices. Typically, a person is considered as poor if he/she does not have the capabilities to meet the basic needs and if he/she is incapable of making choices. There are, of course, many other definitions, but if we stick to these examples and summarize them, we can conclude that poverty is the impossibility to meet certain basic needsor theabsence of certain necessities or resources: food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, clean water, health, education, work, power, representation, freedom, information, trust in the future (absence of fear), access to opportunities and choices, respect, self-esteem, dignity, inclusion (participation in social and cultural life), independence. All of these needs are valuable and important in themselves.

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