Title: The Mechanics of Yenagoa
AUTHOR: Michael Afenfia
REVIEWER: Henry Akubuiro
The humdrum lifestyle of a mechanic barely excites a fictional exposé in Nigeria. You seldom come across men on dirty, blue garments with spanners as a worthy cast beyond the comic. Mike Afenfia, however, offers us something beyond silly giggles in a sullied workshop.
The characters in Mike Afenfia’s fifth work, The Mechanics of Yenagoa, do not spawn and the plot revolves around Ebinimi, the popular Yenagoa mechanic, who first makes an impression at No. 9 Kalaka Street as a hardworking, educated, trustworthy, humane character, and his boys (Saka, Biodun and Broderick), who hog the limelight rather fortuitously via an amateur video of them singing a chart-topper.
Afenfia’s plot seesaws exhilaratingly and the canvass spills over into themes of deceit, betrayal, love, (mis) fortune, and comeuppance, the latter which ignites a claustrophobic effect. The story of unrequited love echoes, too, with plenty bellyaches.
Politics isn’t at the heart of this narrative, but the intrigues of a renowned Yenagoa politician, Aaron Barnabas-Treatment, in a bid to undo his rival set events careering, but the author manages to keep the whodunit puzzle till the end. Frankly, there is so much happening in fits and starts that makes the rendering a juicy lollypop.
Told from a first person point of view in a felicitous prose interlarded with Pidgin English, Ebinimi Jacob drives the narrative from the beginning. Through his lens, we see what’s happening to other characters from his interactions with them and stories woven around them. His neighbour, Reverend Ebizimor, who tenders the flock at Jerusalem International Warriors ministry, is a variant of dubious Brother Jero. Well, if you enjoy the leg-overs at The Theatre of Dreams, this fiction allows your credulity to be stretched as well as the man of God weaves his guiles.
Ebinimi admits that sharing a space with the dubious man of God also helps in a way: “Patronage to my car repair shop increased significantly since the church moved in. every single day, power hungry politicians, profit-seeking businessmen, lonely married women and desperate single ladies trooped into No. 9 Kalaka Street, Ovom, under the guise of fixing their cars. But what they really come to do was procure miracles and obtain divine solutions for their problems” (p.5).
Ebinimi is in love with Blessing –“the cockroach in my cupboard” – but when she announces she is pregnant, love melts away suddenly. She does take her pound of flesh at the end, despite reconciling along the way when the going becomes good, and that pound of flesh brings to an end an otherwise Ebinimi fairytale. No deception lasts forever and no secret remains a secret forever, this novel tells. Of course, the boomerang effect says it all when you think you have found an open sesame to get away with murder.
The whole shebang of the plot is tailored towards x-raying modern bastardies in low and high places. With the politician-turned minister, we see the extent to which powerful men can go to protect their personal interest and lavish money. With people like Ebinimi, Reverend Ebizimor and the scheming ladies, we are made to understand that dog-eat-dog principle has become a norm. It is an unrelenting crave for materialism without hard work.
There is a symbolic portraiture of No. 9 Kalaka Street in the novel. On one hand, it is place for solutions of problem –mechanical and spiritual. It is also a place where dreams are made and where dreams are dashed. Remember the travails of Sister Ebiakpor and her husband, Benson; Ebinimi and the pastor. The paradox embodies in this locus is symptomatic of the vagaries of postcolonial African condition.
On learning about his with a narrow escape from assailant while riding his SUV to Amassaoma in company of Adinna, Honourable Barnabas-Treatment compensates Ebinimi for saving his life, for he could have been killed by the assailants if he was the one driving the Toyota Highlander.
Ebinimi is misled by family and friends to share the sum of N500,000 found in the boot of the car of the son of a famous judge in the state brought for repairs, and he details a group of cultists led by Tiekuro to torment and recover the money from him by all means. Thus, large chunk of the money dashed by Honourable Barnabas Treatment has to be redeployed to service the debt, yet the cultists keep hunting for him.
The tempo of the narrative builds up as the politician contracts Ebinimi to plan guns in the boot of his bosom friend, Waritimi “Aguero”, whose father, Barnabas-Treatment claims, was the one behind the failed assassination attempt on his life. The aim of the frame up is to rubbish the man’s political ambition. Ebinimi finds himself in a fix, but he has to do it because he needs money to solve urgent problems. Hence, Aguero is framed up successfully and locked up in a jail. For Ebinimi, it’s a payback to Aguero having snatched his heartthrob, Blessing, from him.
From them onward, Ebinimi begins to work for Honourable Barnabas-Treatment even as he secured a ministerial appointment in Abuja. But, in a bid to silence Saka, one of his boys, it boomerangs, leading to him sustaining severe injuries. The twists in the plot deepen as Blessing and Broderick contracted to get a rented crowd to welcome Honourable Barnabas-Treatment melt away when it matters most. Ebinimi’s saving grace occurs as the visit to Bayelsa by the minister is cancelled.
The end of the plot takes another detour. Reverend Ebizimor, with many damning atrocities linked to him, flees to Abakiliki, where he intends to bear Reverend Kwajok from Plateau State and opening a new church. Ebinimi comes to a sad end with the reappearance of Aguero, hence truncating the possibility of him becoming the chairman of Sagbama local council.
One of the major shortcoming of this work is the over reliance on the element of luck to push the narrative. Again, the stream of favours coming to the way of Ebinimi looks too contrived. But this work, in most parts, echoes a realism that is congruent with today’s contemporary Nigeria, drawing from a locale that we don’t often get a lot in Nigerian fiction. This is a work of promise and a writer on the cusp of transcendence.