An Unflattering Portrait of “Old” Nigeria: Analyzing Mr Omo
Mr Omo from the novel ‘No Longer at Ease’ by Chinua Achebe is a minor character. He is one of the Nigerian men who shares a workplace with Obi, and is Obi’s idea of a typical ‘old Nigerian man’. Indeed, Mr Omo does represent the older generation of Nigerians – as viewed by younger characters and construed by the author – and the readers are led to think him lazy and corrupt as a consequence..
When readers are first introduced to him, Mr Omo is shown to be lazing off during his job, and quickly “pockets a kola nut” when Mr Green walks into the room. This is likely why Obi quickly forms the conclusion that Mr Omo is one of the lazy, corrupt, older generation of Nigerians. Throughout the rest of the novel, there are also several mentions of Obi not knowing certain details of his job, such as the fact that the excess of the fund he received for his journey back to Umuofia needs to be returned, because Mr Omo did not mention it to Obi. This may indicate that Mr Omo is not responsible and thorough in his work, and only does the bare minimum required of him. Thus, readers will look down on him.
Moreover, Mr Omo is someone who is intimidated by the white man and their world. He grovels in the presence of Mr Green, and tries to flatter him, as seen when he personally brings a report to Mr Green after failing to do so on time. This hints that he feels inferior to Mr Green, a European, and he, like other Nigerians, think “the only thing the white man cannot do is mold a human being”. He is also scared of answering the phone, and shows “hesitation” before answering the phone and “relief” when the caller asks for Obi. This shows his sense of discomfort in the world of the white man. The fact that he is introduced as eating a kola nut — a recurring motif in the novel which represents Nigerian culture, further proves the fact that he is a representation of Nigerians in the world of the white man.
Furthermore, it is hinted that Mr Omo is corrupt. When Obi looks for a salary raise, Mr Omo implies that the possibility of such a raise is not “unconnected to his personal pleasure”, showing that Obi will likely have to bribe Mr Omo for such a raise to be possible. This shows the reality of Nigerians in higher positions of power abusing said power for their own benefits. Obi’s conclusion of Mr Omo being one of the corrupt old men is not far from the truth. However, it is worth noting that despite Mr Omo’s potential corrupt tendencies, he is still respected by the people who work beneath him, as seen when his loyal colleagues laughed along with him to Obi’s ignorance regarding contracts. This shows that corruption is either expected of someone in Mr Omo’s position, or Mr Omo is merely experienced enough to hide his abuse of power. After all, in the end, it is not Mr Omo, a corrupt, uneducated, old Nigerian man who gets caught for corruption, but Obi, a young, educated man who was vehemently against corruption instead.
Relating to the previous point, Mr Omo, is, in the eyes of a traditional Nigerian, a successful man. He works as an Administrative Assistant, which is a relatively high position of power, and he has people who work beneath him who are loyal to him. It is mentioned that he is working to fund his son’s education. All these factors make Mr Omo a success in the Nigerian society. He may not have a degree like Obi, but he ends up being the one who shows Obi’s the ropes on his first day, showing readers that experience is indeed more important than education, something that Obi does not realise. Thus, Mr Omo, although representing the Obi’s idea of a typical old Nigerian man, also shows readers that that is not necessarily a bad thing, and that such old man have reached positions of power for a reason. Mr Omo, whether he obtained his job through bribery or not, is ultimately successful as a member of his community and the head of his family.
Mr Omo, although bearing the flaws of the old Nigerian generation which Obi continuously points out throughout the novel, shows readers that such ‘flaws’ are the way the Nigerian society works. It is through bribery, experience, and respect and understanding of the Nigerian culture and social hierarchy that one manages to succeed and survive. Mr Omo may be lazy and corrupt, but at least he does not end up being sentenced to jail as Obi does. Achebe uses Mr Omo to convey this message, reflecting the deeply rooted problem of corruption not only in Nigeria as a country, but in the Nigerian culture and society as a whole.
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