Most of the major characters are highly educated young male ‘‘Kangans’’ who reflect on the condition of their country even as they are caught up in the ambivalence of living in or working for a corrupt regime.
Most are given a section of the novel to narrate, or one that is communicated through their viewpoints with the help of the narrator or another character, so that we see the action in their successive views, none of which is totally reliable. The ‘‘First Witness,’’ as the chapter title tells us, is Christopher Oriko, Commissioner for Information, who has been the editor of the National Gazette and is a graduate of the London School of Economics. Rather like Odili in the prior political novel, he is at first in an ambivalent position about the leader, and keeps an uneasy surveillance over his friend and old schoolmate, Ikem Osodi, the journalist, and now editor of the Gazette, who is the ‘‘Second Witness.’’ (The epithet suggests a trial or courtroom, and also adds a sort of historical/biblical view of the action, as if to suggest that history is both being made and judged.) Chris is worried about the condition of the country, where starving citizens of the drought-stricken Abazon region are forced to send a ‘‘good will’’ delegation to the capitol in order to alert the military government of their obviously already dire circumstances. As the book opens, the unctuous Attorney General is brown nosing ‘‘His Excellency,’’ the head of the military government, by undermining Chris, yet the comments of this sycophant do reveal some accurate information about Chris—that he is squirming under the role of information controller for the dictator, whose latest lie is to present the drought as ‘‘fine’’ weather in national broadcasts. Through much of the novel, Chris tries to see events coolly, even when they demand an entirely different response. Chris has chosen many of the members of the cabinet, yet questions his own motives for ‘‘hanging around,’’ finally citing his role as an observer and writer as justification. Chris loves Beatrice, and the section titled with her name reveals him to be self-centered and somewhat self-serving, although genuinely concerned with the problems of his troubled country. When he becomes a political outcast, she is instrumental in making him a more sensitive, self-critical, and open person, willing to listen and talk to less privileged people. Partly thanks to her, he moves from a more detached role, making sure that Ikem's murder is given accurate press.
Ikem, himself an Abazonian, and also a poet, now editor of the Gazette, and a graduate of the London School of Economics, is both more passionate and yet more selfish than his counterpart. A slightly built man, he is in some ways the most courageous of this group of concerned men in the cabinet of the dictator. He is deeply aware of his country's problems and frequently goes against the advice of Chris and the will of Sam, now ‘‘His Excellency.’’ He writes an editorial against public executions and befriends the Abazonian delegation. Ikem's critical eye and satiric ability are acute, yet his involvement with the goings on around him and with people appears limited because he is often an observer and a controlling personality. This trait is underscored in his relationship with Elewa, an uneducated woman who fascinates him. She is his symbolic touchstone with the people, yet he forces her to leave his apartment every night after they have made love, pretending that he does so to protect her reputation (her response to this lie, rendered in pidgin, is noteworthy). Ikem expresses his feelings about what is happening in the country in his speeches at Bassa University, in his editorials, and in his ‘‘Hymn to the Sun,’’ his poetic vision of unbridled masculine power, destruction, and drought and their human toll.
Although there are twelve cabinet members, only a few are described fully and some aren't named. Members less concerned about the country and more out to aggrandize themselves are Reginald Okong, Commissioner for Home Affairs, and the dictator himself, Samson. Okong is described by Ikem as a Rasputin, and by Chris as a man with ‘‘no sense of political morality.’’ He has become a Baptist Minister, ordained in America. He has fooled the Americans into thinking he has had more schooling in his native country than he has, has worked his way through a junior college by preaching...
(The entire section is 1832 words.)