In A Man of the People, Chief Nanga, is referred to by the narrator, Odili, as a man of the people, and the most approachable politician in the country. He is the minister of culture and his speeches to the public represent everything that a politician should do and be. But as Odili tells the story, it becomes clear that Chief Nanga does not practice what he preaches. The money that is supposed to go towards helping his community he uses instead to build four-story buildings, which he rents out for his own profit.
Chief Nanga is supposed to be standing up for the traditions and beliefs of the pre-colonial African culture by defending the common man and opposing the European-oriented post-colonial intellectuals. This notion of defending the unique and colorful African culture is evident in another book of his called Arrow of God where he explains in detail the various rituals, artistic creations, clothing, beliefs, politics, and a sense of community and disagreement among tribes in Africa. However, in A Man of the People Achebe focuses more on the politics of West African communities. Achebe shows the switching of power between the old and new styles of politicians and how the old style bush politician, Chief Nanga, is becoming more and more greedy as he learns the political system.
The politicians in this novel stand as an intermediary between the government and the common people but are portrayed by Achebe as the evil side. Chief Nanga learns to be greedy and learns how to win elections through the corrupt system of politics he was against in the first place. The important thing for Chief Nanga is that the people trust him. He relates to them more, because he considers himself closer to the common man and far away from the intellectual, who represents a more European style of living and thinking. By representing his country after colonialism he has the incentive to stay as far away from the European style of life and politics as possible. As Odili explains the story, however, Chief Nanga only tells the people what they want to hear about defending their culture and way of thinking, and Nanga acts in a voracious way to obtain what he wants in his personal life; money, power, and women.
Chief Nanga’s corrupt way of leading the people by telling them one thing and doing another is what eventually brings his reign to an end. Nanga taught Odili when he was young and Odili respected and liked him as a teacher. He learned many things from him and was happy when he heard he was first elected. But as Nanga grew more powerful within his office and country Odili began to grow smarter and he became more aware of the corrupt reality. It was not finally realized though, until he actually had the chance to live with Chief Nanga and witness how Nanga abused his money and power by over-spending his money and having his way with the women he desired.
Odili gives his insight on this situation when he narrates, “We ignore man’s basic nature if we say, as some critics do, that because a man like Nanga has risen overnight from poverty and insignificance to his present opulence he could be persuaded without much trouble to give it up again and return to his original state. A man who has just come in from the rain and dried his body and put on dry clothes is more reluctant to go out again than another who has been indoors the whole time. The trouble with our new nation as I saw it then lying on that bed was that none of us had been indoors long enough to be able to say, to hell with it. We had all been in the rain together until yesterday.”
He goes on to talk about his group of people as the smart and the lucky and how they had scrambled to the one shelter their former rulers left and taken it over. The metaphor here is very powerful and it really makes it clear the point Achebe is trying to explain. The point is that a person who goes from having nothing (Nanga) to having everything is going to be more reluctant to go back to having nothing compared to someone that has had everything the whole time, thus making him more greedy to gain power and more defensive against giving up this power. Odili emphasizes that the new nation was never indoors, but together in the rain, and they desprately needed to experience a little shelter.