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In all parts of the world, writers play a very prominent and significant role in the social re-education, re-orientation and re-direction of their societies; Habila intended to do the very same, highlighting and creatively documenting his individual feelings during the era of repression in Nigerian politics.
The novel Waiting for an Angel discovers the reoccurring theme of censorship with the exploitation of the character Lomba, illustrating the way in which prisoners were oppressed, suppressed and subjected by the masses more specifically using Poverty Street in Lagos to represent the generality of Nigerians who were oppressed under the dictatorial military regimes during the 1990’s.
Lomba’s silencing begins by him being subjugated to a prison which act as a metaphor to portray that not only is he politically – but also emotionally, physically and mentally trapped.
Waiting for an Angel portrays the mental trauma that Lomba was faced with; ‘Anger is the baffled prisoner’s attempt to re-crystallize his slowly dissolving self’ this shows that the imprisonment of Lomba has restricted him to feel just one emotion and that is of anger.
This is due to the fact that the prisoners are trapped in one repetitive and monotonous environment, knowing that this is now their home and they will remain here, in the same environment for a long, extended period of time. The process of being silenced has turned them to ‘dissolve’ and change their original selves and personalities and turn them into someone that they are not. The verb ‘re-crystallize’ demonstrates a process of change and modification therefore insinuating that the prison is a place to use anger as an emotion to modify and re-create ones self.
Freedom of speech holds an important value to everyone in today’s day and age. However, this is not and never was the case in the Nigerian constitution. ‘So you won’t. Talk. You think you are. Tough.’ This declarative from the novel illuminates the silencing of the the prisoners; the only time the prisoners are asked to speak it is only in favour of the government and when it comes to the prisoners’ own defence, they are oppressed from speaking and are shut down by those in higher power. This defeats the purpose of the freedom of speech act that is regulated by the Nigerian constitution since there is no actual action or consequence for those who rebel against it. That in itself goes to prove my point in the exploitation of the prisoners, such as Lomba, who faced these prejudices and discriminations whilst in prison and for those who still do face these prejudices in prison during this very moment.
The imprisonment of the convicts were not only physical; the inmates were held captive emotionally and mentally as well as bodily. ‘We listened, our heads bowed, our hearts quaking.’ the prisoners are subdued and casted down and seen as inferior; they feel weak and insignificant in comparison to the people who they are captivated by. This shows the mental effect that this has on prisoners; they are not only oppressed from speaking, but they are also oppressed with their actions and what they want to do. Simply ‘bowing’ and ‘listening’ without retaliating in a sense shows the obedience of the prisoners as more of a command that they are faced with, as if they are given no choice but to ‘listen’ and ‘bow’.
Critic James Copnall supports the notion that the prisoners are living under the unjust dictatorship in the prison; ‘Helon Habila’s novel may not offer any political solutions to the problems faced by those living under a dictatorship but it provides a powerful picture of a critical period in Nigerian history.’ The military supremacy was more concerned in robbing money from the states treasury above anything all during that period and this was when any small hint of disloyalty was mercilessly punished. This leads on to the reason why Lomba was imprisoned in the first place; he was accused of planning a revolt against Sani Abacha’s government and was imprisoned with no substantial evidence besides the small fact that Lomba was a journalist. This also links back to what the critic James Copnall has said, the struggles prisoners like Lomba have faced provide a ‘powerful picture of a critical period in Nigerian history.’
Furthermore, at some point in the novel, Lomba secretly gained access to pen and paper where he could continue his writing despite the fact that pen and paper was seen as a luxury that he could not have during his prison sentence; the fact that he was restricted access to a simple pen and paper depicts the extent of oppression that the prison had gone to in order to silence Lomba and many other prisoners. His writing became his harbour and a place for him to speak his mind as he was not able to literally do so.
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