The last time I visited the Nigerian writer Ken Saro-Wiwa in Port Harcourt, two years before he was hanged in the city’s prison, the naked corpse of a man lay on the sidewalk of the Aggrey Road, about a hundred yards from his office. Broiling in the noonday sun, the body was so inflated by the gases of decomposition that it looked as if it might ascend to heaven of its own accord, in a halo of black flies.

Meanwhile, the radio appealed for the “owner” of the corpse, which had so far remained unclaimed for three days, to take it away as it was causing a public nuisance. All things considered, however, life seemed to be proceeding around it normally enough, as if a naked corpse in the street were nothing very remarkable. Which in Nigeria, perhaps, it isn’t.

I mentioned the corpse to Saro-Wiwa, who was only too aware of its presence nearby, and of the unavailing radio appeals to the public spirit ...