Obi's listlessness did not show any signs of decreasing even when the judge began to sum up. It was only when he said: "I cannot comprehend how a young man of your education and brilliant promise could have done this" that a sudden and marked change occurred.
The above quote is spoken by the narrator in the first chapter of the novel, while Obi is on trial for having taken a bribe. While at the trial, Obi has shown himself to be somewhat indifferent to those around him. However, when his promise and education are brought up, he begins to tear visibly. There is much irony in all of this. First, and on the most basic level, it brings to the fore the idea that Obi sees failure within him. He begins as an idealist, ready to root out corruption in his country, ready to stand up and fight for what he believed. At first, everyone tells him that to take a bribe is not truly wrong as long as you knew how to do it because everybody did it. If he did not take bribes he would not be solving any problems because people would simply offer the bribes to others in the Civil Service. Still, at the beginning, Obi stands for what he believed. It was not until his economic burden became harsh, until his mother died and he lost Clara, that he gave into such bribes.
Furthermore, if one were to dig deeper into this quotation one would find that his education is the very sign of promise. However, this shows itself problematic because his education has been foreign. He finds himself, often times, a stranger in his own country because of this foreign education. At the same time, he found himself a stranger in England. And, further still, he happens to be educated in the same way that English with higher positions in Nigeria (such as Mr. Green) are educated. This causes conflict because it is perhaps because of his "education" that he does not know how to sneak the bribes the way others had. Also, it is this very English education, ironically, that makes him a promising young man. This is ironic for many reasons. First it makes him realize that the kind attitude held by the submissive "old Africans" is wrong. Further, it gives him a double vision. He is able to see both into the minds of the English and those of his own country because he, in a sense, belongs to both cultures. Therefore, he feels that his failure is doubled because he has had so much advantage on his side.