The Nigerian oil boom gave people instant money that eventually led them to see an illusion to continuous cash flow when in reality, they were just digging themselves into a huge hole. Karin Barber describes in “Popular Reactions to the Petro-Naira” that, “none of the wealth is produced by labour; all of it is acquired from the petro-naira boom by a variety of methods, none fully admissible but all in varying degrees condoned by the elite” (436). While before this instant boom people worked hard and produced their own goods, now they could have what they wanted without the work. So why work? Since Nigeria had never come into money so instantly before, they did not have a system of which to regulate what was going on with the money. In Andrew Apter’s The Pan-African Nation, he goes into an explanation of FESTAC and how it mirrors the production under the oil boom. This mirroring comes most in regard with the illusion that money will not run out, when in reality the waste keeps building up.

Mobility was a huge issue during the oil boom. While money so easily flowed in and out of places, it was many times lost, stolen or stuck in some crevice unplanned for. Apter states, “the money flowed in through questionable channels and variable forms, creating a convoluted paper trail with no clear material reference” (208). Money would vanish and there was nothing to show for it. The system that was in place served no purpose in this new condition. Mobility was what people craved from the boom. They bought cars and more cars thinking that the automobile itself was the key to mobility. However, even with cars people were fixed, unable to move. Since everyone had cars, there was traffic; since no one fixed roads, there were dead ends; since drivers could collect insurance, they crashed into other cars; since there was no valid system of ownership, people could steal other cars. The process goes on until all that is left is the skeletons of automobiles and the still unpaved roads leading to nowhere. The people were living an illusion until reality finally smacked them in the face and everything stopped, no one was mobile.  What was left was the waste, the broken pieces that were left from their unstable illusion.

In the beginning of “The Stars of the New Curfew,” Okri displays the people in this story to also crave the illusion. They want to be cured by some magical pill even though they’ve tried a million times before other pills that haven’t worked or have caused more suffering. Even the narrator wants to believe that it’ll work. He wants his conscience to be cleared and to believe that he is helping people. The reality of suffering and disease is not something anyone wants to believe. So when by some miracle false medicine is to work or an abundance of money comes into the country without a valid system to go by, people take advantage of it. They take advantage of the illusion so as not to see the reality until they have to come to terms with it. In both of Okri and Apter, money is the means to the illusion. Those who have money have the power to construct the illusion and make it look like a reality. In Okri’s work he writes, “Time was to teach us that those who get on in society, those who rise high and affect events, do so by manipulating, by manufacturing, reality” (117). This vision of reality only lasts until the money is gone, then the screen comes down to the truth of reality and suffering.


About karadim

I am a first year graduate student at American University's MA Literature program.

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