Nigeria’s independence through Orwell’s lens

(By Olamide Bakare)

When the likes of Herbert Macaulay and Nnamdi Azikwe were fighting for Nigeria’s independence, they were hoping to see Nigerians that would be proud to serve their sovereign Motherland. When the likes of Ernest Ikoli and Sir Ahmadu Bello were passionately clamouring for the Nigeria’s socio-economy and political weaning from her colonial mother, they were hoping to see a Nigeria where truth, justice and peace would reign. When the likes of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Chief Anthony Enahoro put their lives on the line, fighting for a Nigerian banner that would have no stain, they were aspiring to see a Nigeria where no Nigerian would be oppressed by another Nigerian. The totality of the dream of those Nigeria’s patriots was encapsulated in the old Nigeria’s National Anthem.

IT did not dawn on the English satirist, George Orwell, until during the World War 2 that anti-Russian novelette had become a “leprosy” to many publishers in England. When the novelist first approached his regular publisher, Victor Gollancz Ltd, with the manuscript of his yet-to-be published book “Animal Farm”, he was turned down. Having suffered disappointment, Orwell summoned courage and approached Faber and Faber Ltd, an independent publishing house in the UK, in the hope that Faber would accept to publish the book. Unfortunately, he was sympathetically rejected.

   Again, the political writer refused to throw in the towel. Thus, he went to another respectable publisher, Nicholson & Watson in 1944, in the hope that, this time around, it would be honoured. But, lo and behold, Nicholson & Watson also declined to publish the book. The reason given was that such political satire novel had more or less become “leprosy”, something that most UK’s publishers would not want to touch due to the sensitivity of the political atmosphere. Nonetheless, Secker and Warburg took the bold step, damned the consequence, and put the book to bed on 17th August, 1945.

   George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” is an anti-Soviet novel. The 10-chapter satirical prose features allegories of the Russian revolution (Bolshevik) of 1917. Orwell, being a democratic socialist, employs fable (the use of animal characters) with a view to criticising what he believes as tyrannical communist system of the Russian government during the military regime of Joseph Stalin who ruled the Soviet Union for more than two decades upon the death of Vladimir Lenin.

   As far as Orwell was concerned, Stalin’s government was nothing but a reign of terror, brutality and murder, despite the hard-working spirit the people demonstrated. Although the revolution was successfully executed, it is ironic that it original purpose (socio-economic equality) was eventually defeated when their so-called leader of the revolution now began to terrorise the followers just as the former dictator, (Mr. Jones) had done. Thus, the fusion of political and artistic purpose in the book. Most parts of the events took place in the farm buildings which is an allegory of Kremlin in the USSR; the latter turned out to be Stalin’s residence.

   One of the major characters in the book is Mr. Jones. He is an epitome of a tyrannical ruler against which the animals vow to vent their anger in a social revolution that would drive the tyrant out of power. Although the dream of the revolution was originally the Old Major’s idea, it was eventually executed under the leadership of Napoleon. Old Major is a prudent and influential pig; he is an allegory of the combination of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, the communist leader of the Russian Revolution, while Napoleon, the black pig (the chief villain in the Animal Farm), represents Joseph Stalin who ruled the Soviet Union for over three and half decades.

  The sole objective of the animals’ rebellion was to get rid of Jones (human beings) and every other instrument of cruelty and oppression with a view to gaining independence where righteousness, peace and justice would triumph in the animal kingdom. Their aspiration was to see an animal farm where equality in ‘socio-economy’ and ‘political privileges’ reign among the animals. Unfortunately, the reverse was the case. When Napoleon cunningly chased away his political rival, Snowball, little did the rest of the animals know that his regime would be the worst totalitarian government they would ever witness since the ousted Mr. Jones.

   First, the pigs occupied the highest social class. They enjoyed the best of all things. They occupied the leadership in the education sector (the pigs teach), power sector (the windmill), health sector, banking and finance (the selling of eggs), and the agriculture sector (the milk and apples) and the likes. Napoleon eventually became the toughest dictator in nature and lifestyle, something that was initially termed forbidden by the animals in their Seven Commandments philosophy. Napoleon eventually became the toughest dictator Animal Farm has ever witnessed with the aid of a sycophant pig called Squealer.

   When the Nigeria’s founding fathers were agitating for self-rule under the colonial government, their aspiration was to see a Nigeria that would stand in brotherhood, though tribe and tongue may differ. When the likes of Herbert Macaulay and Nnamdi Azikwe were fighting for Nigeria’s independence, they were hoping to see Nigerians that would be proud to serve their sovereign Motherland. When the likes of Ernest Ikoli and Sir Ahmadu Bello were passionately clamouring for the Nigeria’s socio-economy and political weaning from her colonial mother, they were hoping to see a Nigeria where truth, justice and peace would reign. When the likes of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Chief Anthony Enahoro put their lives on the line, fighting for a Nigerian banner that would have no stain, they were aspiring to see a Nigeria where no Nigerian would be oppressed by another Nigerian. The totality of the dream of those Nigeria’s patriots was encapsulated in the old Nigeria’s National Anthem.

   It is pathetic that 54 years after the ousted Mr. Jones (Colonial Master), the Nigeria of today is a poverty-stricken nation caused by the “Napoleons” in power with the aid of sycophants “Squealers”, serving as the government media mouthpiece. In April 2014, during the World IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings, the World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim said Nigeria occupied the third position among the top five countries that have the largest number of poor people.

   In the same vein, collaborating the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) report, the Country Director of the World Bank in Nigeria, Marie-Francoise Marie-Nelly, asserted that 100 million Nigerians live in abject poverty. In like manner, the World Bank’s Acting Country Manager, Mr. John Litwack, expressed concern during the 2014 Nigeria Economic Report launch in Abuja, that 58 million Nigerians are living at the poverty level out of an estimated population of N170 million. It is equally sad and lamentable that Nigeria has not risen above 10 per cent budgetary allocation to education, despite the 26 per cent UNESCO’s recommendation. It has never been the dream of the Nigeria’s nationalists to see a Nigeria where about 10.5 million out-of-school children would be roaming in the street. Apart from the N10.6 trillion ($67 billion) that was reportedly being squandered by the various “Napoleons” in the corridor of power, it would take divine revelation to know the colossal amount that has gone down the drain in the economy. Although the government hit back at Oby Ezekwesili when the former Vice President of World Bank released the shocking revelation, it is yet to respond to the public debate she threw at them.   In addition, despite the N220 billion squandered on the power sector by one of the “Napoleons” in recent times, Nigerians are still dreaming of a country where the “windmill” would be permanently cured of its ancient epileptic bedeviling it.

    Nigerians are looking through the window (just as the animals did in the Animal Farm) whether there is any difference between the era of colonial government (Mr. Jones) and the indigenous government under the “Napoleons” in power. The Napoleon in the Animal Farm is fond of using the nine fierce-looking dogs to terrorise and eliminate any animal that criticises his policy. Are the Nigeria’s security agents, championed by SSS not being used for the same purpose in recent times? Did George Orwell see Nigeria within the context of his book?    Are Nigerians living in the Nigeria that was dreamt by her founding fathers? Is Nigeria celebrating the independence of Mr. Jones or lamenting the indigenous colonisation of the “Napoleons”? Nigerians need to think along this line as she approaches the unprecedented 2015 general elections. It is food for thought!

Bakare is of the Department of Mass Communication, University of Lagos.

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