The Mechanics of Yenagoa, the latest title by Canadian based Nigerian author Michael Afenfia is something of a guilty pleasure. Set in the capital of oil rich Bayelsa state, and boasting a colorful cast of characters- hustlers, sinners and tricksters, all of them- The Mechanics of Yenagoa bristles with mischief on every page. Published by Masobe Books, the fifth outing by Afenfia, a former chairman of the Bayelsa state chapter of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) is a rollercoaster ride through suburban Nigeria.
The narrator is Ebimini the star mechanic of Kalakala street and the CEO of his own workshop, situated on property bequeathed him by his late parents. Ebimini has a first degree in Banking and Finance and an MBA in view from the local University. Business is doing well enough on account of Ebimini’s skill, but also thanks to a Pentecostal church, REVEREND EBIZIMOR AND THE JERUSALEM WARRIORS INTERNATIONAL that shares space with his workshop. Ebimini employs three other apprentices and tries as much as possible to position himself as a rallying point for his employers, family and community.
But the thing is, Ebimini has a knack for making bad decisions. Like really bad ones. Some of these are schoolboy errors- like his constant entanglements in unproductive romantic triangles. While others are on the more serious spectrum. On the merciless streets of Yenagoa, it is a thin line between life and death and Ebimini’s antics will on occasion take him to the edge and back.
These series of unfortunate events start when Ebimini and his apprentices find 500,000 Naira in a car that has been abandoned for a lengthy spell in the workshop. Ebimini’s poor judgement comes to the fore when he makes the decision to keep the money and split it among the four of them. To the surprise of no one, the owner, a local thug comes back for his money.
As if being harassed by a shady fellow with a taste for violence isn’t enough, Ebimini finds new and exciting ways of leaping from frying pan to fire. His girlfriend is pregnant. His other girlfriend may or may not be two timing him. His sister has complications of her own and somehow Ebimini becomes embroiled in local political machinations. These are just a few of the mischief making that Ebimini and his co-travelers get up to.
Afenfia relishes the idea of having his hero- and readers- jump through hoops on an elusive chase for happiness. He arranges the chapters-all forty of them- in short, digestible bits, each one ending with a cliffhanger that demands the pages are turned as fast as one can keep up.
The Mechanics of Yenagoa is divided into two parts, a terrific first half and a second half that sort of struggles to keep up the momentum. Afenfia has a knack for drawing up colorful characters that seem like they could have walked onto the page from the reader’s neighborhood. His writing is steeped in the local flavor but also open enough to appeal to all kinds of readers regardless of provenance.
Breezy and endlessly entertaining, The Mechanics of Yenagoa is packed with enough twists and turns to make a James Patterson thriller look tame. Afenfia isn’t overtly trying for social commentary but it is a testament to how authentic his characters are that it is near impossible to not see The Mechanics of Yenagoa as a critique of the Nigerian condition. And why not? The author touches on family, greed, religion, corruption and even politics. All of these themes are classic Nigerian pre-occupations. It is however to his credit that Afenfia keeps the action going while keeping his writing lean and mean at the same time.
Fancied a refreshing story about ordinary Nigerians behaving badly? It is impossible to go wrong with The Mechanics of Yenagoa.
Wilfred Okiche is a medic, reader, writer, journalist, culture critic, and occasional ruffler of feathers. One of the most influential critics working in the Nigerian culture space, his writing has appeared extensively in platforms like YNaija.com and 360nobs.com. Okiche has provided editorial assistance to the UK Guardian and has had his work published in African Arguments, Africa is a Country and South Africa’s City Press. He has received trainings and acquired experience in multimedia and online journalism. He also appears on the culture television show, Africana Literati. He has participated at critic programs in Lagos, Durban and Rotterdam.