Posted: April 22, 2014 in Articles, Critical Review


T.S Eliot in 1927, after his conversion to Christianity, wrote a poem illustrating the travails of conversion and acceptance of a new way of life and belief. The closing lines of the poem; The Journey of the Magi, painted a clear picture of the state of unrest the magi felt inside when they returned from their journey:

“We returned to our places, these kingdoms
But no longer at ease here, with the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods
I should be glad of another death.”

—The Journey of the Magi

Thirty-three years later, Nigeria gained her independence from the British Empire. Nigeria, after her independence found herself in what might be described as, post-colonial identity crisis. This identity crisis caused problems that mainly affected the value system, the language and the entire culture of the indigenous Nigerians. Chinua Achebe, in order to address and illustrate the origin and nature of this identity crisis, went back to Eliot’s poem and borrowed a phrase. This phrase was the title of his 1960 novel, NO Longer at Ease. This novel tells the story of a young Nigerian, in the post-colonial era, Obi Okonkwo, who was given the best of two societies; his indigenous society and the western English society. These two societies prepared him for almost everything but one thing, how to reconcile the values and norms of the two societies. This made Obi Okonkwo no longer at ease, not just with the societies that shaped him, but with himself. Hence, he became lost. The novel; No Longer at Ease ended with Obi Okonkwo, brought so low by his identity crisis, that he was sent off to a correctional facility.

So, what is the relevance of this Chinua Achebe’s novel, fifty-four years after to the modern Nigerian society? Or, to rephrase, has the modern Nigerian society anything to learn from no longer at ease?

From my own perspective, if I substitute the modern Nigerian society for Obi Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease, the answer is yes! It is just that the modern Nigerian society seems unwilling to learn from the novel. The novel shows that the poor decisions, corruption and civil unrest that plagued Nigeria immediately after her independence, which is still evident in her society today, is as a result of identity crisis caused by colonization. Achebe also went ahead in the novel, to send the modern Nigerian society to the only place that she can make amends, and come at peace with herself from within in order to resolve her identity crisis, a correctional facility.

Nevertheless, it seemed that 54 long years in this facility is not enough for us to make amends. Still in my perspective, I think what Achebe really wants from us is to evaluate the norms and values of our indigenous society and that of western society which have come to shape us, find a middle ground, and accept that we have been changed and shaped into new people. Then as new people, instead of struggling between our metamorphosed selves and the old dispensations, we should accept our new selves and strive to make the best of what we have become. We need to define, refine and inculcate new set of values. That is the only way of coming out of this correctional facility that, No Longer at Ease has sent us to, a reformed, unconfused and efficient society. Which to me is the ultimate relevance of Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease, to the modern Nigerian Society.

Echebi Joseph writes from Lagos, Nigeria.

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  1. Ezeamalukwuo says:

    I remember the day you brought this book to my house and I remember what you said, or rather what you read out from one of its reviews which read; “This book is unfortunate to have been published when it was, and has now found itself in the shadow of “Things Fall Apart” because People are still caught up in the euphoria of “Things Fall Apart” that they failed to realise that this book exposes the issues of contemporary Nigeria.”
    Yes! I do agree, and I feel that from all the books that Achebe wrote, that NO LONGER AT EASE (and There was a Country) is the most relevant to the present day Nigeria, because it captured a period though pre independent but not so different from post independent Nigeria: The issues of Discrimination, Segregation, Bribery and the burden of expectation of an over extended African Family System, or society…where everyone expects the head, or the richest in the family to provide for the rest of the family…we see this today in families with one big man in it…we even experience it in the expectations of our parents and kinsmen, that most times we end up living not as we had envisioned but as we have envisioned ourselves in the society’s eyes…

    Good Analysis Joe, keep it up and many more to follow.

  2. LegendaryCJN says:

    The difference between “Things Fall Apart” and “No Longer at Ease” is very slight to the point that literary critics have called the later a sequel.
    If we remember vividly, things started falling apart for Okonkwo and Umuofia, not when the white man brought their religion, but when Okonkwo came back from exile. Things become No Longer at Ease for him that he decides to act without first understanding with what he has declared war…he could not decipher between the ‘new religion’ and the ‘new government’, which runs concurrently. The outcome is a fatal mistake.
    In the same vein as his grandfather, Obi Okonkwo could not sit down to recocile the two worlds he has return to meet. He plunged headlong into trouble and more troubles that could have lead to the same point as Okonkwo.
    What I learn however, is that in order for our contemporary society to move ahead, there’s every need for individual and collective reconciliations.
    Well done Joseph.

    • Echebi Joseph says:

      Thank you LegendaryCJN. Just like you pointed out…not thinking it through, has been the bane of an average Nigerian and the society at large. It is time we paused to reevaluate and reflect on where we’ve been, and then, where we are heading to. Thanks oncemore.

  3. Adaka Timothy says:

    Yes! it is not actually easy for one to strike a balance between the norms and values of the western world and that of our indegineous society. just as it is not easy to make ends meet (cos dey will never meet except the moment one drops dead). Education is actually the key that unlocks the ‘6th sense’ that will help us to strike that balance. The likes of Chinua Achebe, Cyprain Ekwensi left us with these piece that helps to reason (not think) like a goat chewing cord. So let’s stike that balance (Integrity). Kudos Echebi.

    • Echebi Joseph says:

      Thank you Adaka Timothy. Is it hard to strike a balance? Yes! But, is it impossible? No! We just need to accept that we’ve been biased by the ideologies of these two society, then, it almost becomes a walk in the park.

  4. Anene Francis says:

    I so much love that novel (though the one I read had some missing pages at the beginning and ending. Inheritance things lol).
    *This analysis is so on point yet concise. Well done mr Echebi.
    *That ‘correctional facility’ part got me laughing. 54 years is more than enough o but we have being playing truancy all along. When we are ready to change, that change would come swiftly. Times are changing, cultures and the likes are being modified. Unfortunately, we (in general) are slow in catching up. Hope still dey sha… Good work..

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