A Story of Innocent Criminals.
Just when you thought that the Nigerian literary scene could not blow your mind any further, Michael Afenfia comes into the scene and blows your mind to bits. What stands out is how the mundane and everyday matters of the average Nigerian is fully explored in this story. Ebinimi, the protagonist and narrator’s life is so eventful that with every turn of the page you are wondering what would happen next. Just as you begin to make inferences and predictions, the exact opposite happens and your mouth is left agape wondering what the intent of the author was in turning the story upside down or right side up.
The book does not lack in action as Ebinimi, an educated mechanic in Yenagoa, has his workshop on a property he inherited alongside his sister from his grandparents, and shares the space with a church (Jerusalem Warriors International Church) much to the annoyance of Ebinimi. Ebinimi is no stranger to life’s woes as he and his sister lose both their parents and move in with their grandparents at a young age. Ebinimi’s simple outlook of life which is to pursue your dreams and have the necessary fun alongside your journey, becomes the bedrock for all the decisions that he makes. He enjoys the frivolities of having women at his beck and call while also pursuing his dreams of becoming a mechanic with a solid educational background.
Ebinimi is not the only mechanic in the workshop. He employs three other young men; Saka, Broderick, and Biodun to aid the running of the workshop, with each character bearing his own secrets, ambitions, and desires. Ebinimi’s web of women seems to be his undoing but not all there is to it. In his drive to run a successful workshop, one unfortunate decision to spend money found in a car leads to threats on his life which leads him to the hands of the popular politician, Honourable Aaron Barnabas-Treatment.
All Ebinimi wanted to do was just have a simple life but simplicity is difficult thing to have in a complex society such as Nigeria especially in Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa in Nigeria. He dabbles into many dubious acts even with his noblest intentions. Saka, another funny character also rises to stardom through Ebinimi’s nobility.
Ebiakpo, Ebinimi’s sister also dabbles into scandalous relationships to protect her dignity as a woman and to cover for her husband’s inadequacy. It would seem that Afenfia asks us to look at the characters beyond their actions and examine the motivations for the choices that they make. The Nigerian society has not made it easy for people to make right choices and stay right because the culture of mediocrity is applauded and celebrated. Many young men are left to roam on the streets looking for jobs and younger men are not even able to secure good education like Broderick. It is these lapses in failed systems of the country that make a lot of innocent people criminals.
The desire to make progress and live a life devoid of troubles make charlatans like Reverend Ebizimor become predators and they swindle many of their followers. The failure of societal systems to instil morality and the failure of religion to pursue and preach morality have allowed for many to define their own morality. Hence, selfishness and the drive for self-preservation defines moral standards. It is at times like this, we make excuse for lawlessness.
Though this book is a light read, The heaviness of its themes must not be lost. The humour and sarcasm drive home many lessons. Probably we might conclude that society robs us of our innocence or that we lose innocence in the quest to preserve ourselves? How does one go from self-preservation to self-destruction? These are topics for conversations that this book should start. In all, this book is worth your time! Well done, Afenfia.