Modernization, Education, and Oil in Saro-Wiwa's "Night Ride"

George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University

Modernization, Education, and Oil in Saro-Wiwa's "Night Ride"

In the following long passage, the narrator, who has been thinking about the way corrupt officials steal supplies meant for the Niberian poor, presents some of Saro-Wiwa's own dearest held beliefs about the need to educate women, move away from a completely agrarian society, the difficulties of so doing, the effects of the Nigerian oil boom, and the suffering it has brought to those displaced:

His role had been to bring education, food, drugs, and succour to the war-weary, battered communities living on the flat scrubby plains where oil wells gushed night and day; the wells which were the main argument of, and fuel for the war.

These farms will be the death of you, my brothers and sisters. he thought. Only that morning he had stood in the village square in Dukana asking them to send the girls to school. But who will help us tend the farm, the women had asked? Who will baby-sit for us while we plant the yams? He was in despair. Each planting season you buy seed yams. You toil from January through December, then you eat the yield. Come next season and you have to buy seed yams again. You don't have a bank account, perhaps a new piece of cloth from the market at Egwanga, and your thatch roof is leaking disastrously. From year to year. And then you have to give your five-year old daughter away in marriage -- so you might buy seed yams to plant. Is that life? Was that why God created you? No, my sisters. These farms will be the death of us. They yield us nothing. Not until we can get more education. So send the kids to school. Send the girls to school. But who will baby-sit for us? Who will help us fetch water? Despair. An old woman had hobbled up to him. My son, they arrived this morning and dug up my entire farm, my only farm. They mowed down the toil of my brows, the pride of the waiting months. They say they will pay me compensation. Can they compensate me for my labours? The joy I receive when I see the vegetables sprouting, God's revelation to me in my old age? Oh my son, what can I do?

What answer now could he give her? I'll look into it later, he had replied tamely.

Look into it later. He could almost hate himself for telling that lie. He cursed the earth for spouting oil, black gold, they called it. And he cursed the gods for not drying the oil wells. What did it matter that millions of barrels of oil were mined and exported daily, so long as this poor woman wept those tears of despair? What could he look into later? Could he make alternate land available? And would the lawmakers revise the laws just to bring a bit more happiness to these unhappy wretches whom the search for oil had reduced to an animal existence? They ought to send the oil royalties to the men whose farms and land were despoiled and ruined. But the lawyers were in the pay of the oil companies and the government people in the pay of the lawyers and the companies. So how could he look into it later? ["Night Ride," A Forest of Flowers, 114, 115-16; second ellipsis in original]

How does this long passage relate to the author's later career and death?

Postcolonial Web Africa OV Nigeria OV Saro Wiwa OV