At first Obi is as critical as Achebe of bribery. He refuses to take bribes and also finds it necessary for himself to be a “pioneer” in Nigeria, bringing down corruption in government and instigating change. It seems that corruption runs rampant and that everyone in Nigeria from the “white man” to the Umuofian Progressive Union participates in “seeing” people about what they need done. Men offer money, and women offer their bodies, in return for favors and services. Obi believes that by not taking bribes he can make a difference. He had written, while at the university in London, a paper in which he theorized on what would change the corruption of high positions in Nigeria. He believed that the “old Africans” at the top of civil service positions would have to be replaced by a younger generation of idealistic and educated university graduates, such as himself.
Achebe, however, is not as optimistic as Obi because he has Obi fail. Achebe takes us through the path of how someone like Obi can come to take bribes. The book begins on a negative note: starting with Obi’s trial. It is as if Achebe, by beginning in the end, is saying that Obi was doomed from the start. Obi’s position is a difficult one. He is born in Ibo, but he has been educated in England and often feels himself a stranger in his own country. He has lost his love because of a rule of the past, he has suffered under great financial distress, he has exerted himself because of the expectations others have placed on him, and he has lost his mother. All of this brings the protagonist of the novel to fall into what he once had believed was a terrible and corrupt act. Still, Obi always feels guilt at taking a bribe, and he had decided to stop taking them. By having Obi get caught, even amid an aura of repentance and guilt, Achebe further illustrates the hypocrisy of all who have participated in bribes and now throw stones at Obi. And, at the same time, it tells us that, although he got caught, Obi is still a pioneer because he has sworn to not do it again. It may be that his beginning as a “pioneer” is a rough one, one that has taken a curved path, but it does not definitely mean that he cannot still lead toward change. Still, perhaps Achebe may be saying that this is not true, and that Obi, ultimately, has failed at the task he set before himself.