With The Mechanics Of Yenagoa, I want to project positive side of Niger Delta — Afenfia
Michael Afenfia is one of the Nigeria’s most renowned writers. A former chairman of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Bayelsa State chapter and author of Don’t Die on Wednesday, in this interview with The Guardian, the Bayelsa-born author said his latest work of fiction, The Mechanics of Yenagoa, has gone a long way to place his state capital, Yenagoa, on the global map and will further project a positive side of the Niger Delta region. He called on Nigerian youths to take valuable lessons from the book and learn how to avoid the pressure of fitting in to do the wrong things.
What’s the motivation behind this book, the title and setting?
The answer is simple. I wanted to introduce my city to the world. I wanted to put Yenagoa in the map and in conversations. I wanted people to read the book and Google Yenagoa and try to learn something about the place, its people, food, names and culture. I wanted people to read the book and want to visit Yenagoa or spark off some old memories if they have visited before.
Is it a complete fiction meant to creatively mirror the social life in a typically bubbling Niger Delta city or a true-life story you experienced as a boy who grew up in Port Harcourt and spent the better part of your adult life in Yenagoa? Or is it a mixture of the two?
The story is a complete work of fiction. It is not my story or the story of the life of anyone I know. Everything is imagined and written down as the inspiration came. I know aspects of the story mirrors certain experiences in the Niger Delta region and maybe even in Nigeria, but I guess that is inevitable. I believe as a writer, especially one with a voice and a large audience or following, you don’t ever want to lose out of an opportunity for social commentary and even deliberateness in pointing out things you perceive as wrong, just to get people thinking, but most of all be a person that proffers solutions and not just criticize for the fun of it.
As someone who is familiar with the region, while reading this book, one sees a lot of familiar tales of chaos, violence, cultism, illicit sex, flamboyant lifestyle, messy relationships, youthful exuberance etc. Did the above topics make up the thematic preoccupation you had in mind before you penned the book?
I actually don’t see it the way you do though. For me, it’s showing to the world that something as beautiful and captivating as the book, The Mechanics of Yenagoa and many other good things by the way, can come from a region that a while back was known mostly for violence and negativity. For me, this book is intended to switch the narrative and give people something good to talk about Yenagoa, Bayelsa and the Niger Delta.
Your last fiction; Don’t Die on Wednesday, also ended on a similarly tragic note. Is tragedy part of your emerging literary style, choice, imagination or it is just a coincidence?
I would like to believe it is coincidental. I hope it is coincidental even though I have found out over the years of writing and reading other people that tragedies live with you long after you are done with the book. The impact stays with you. Tragedies are more memorable.
Going into details of the story now, you didn’t explain the Reverend character to your readers enough. The information about his atrocities in the book is scanty. And there was no closure on his inequities. Don’t you think his story would have taught lessons to your readers if he had been exposed and shamed?
That was intentional; trust me. You see in life; many issues go unresolved and we don’t always know the answers or have answers to the things that plague us or befall us. If we had all the answers or knew everything then we would be Nollywood or Hollywood, but we are not. We are real people and we are not in control of the dimensions we operate. We don’t go from binary to multiple dimensions at a switch or even at will so in reality we are limited by what we know and what we see and we don’t always see everything or know everything.
There was also no closure on Benson’s potency or otherwise, his wife’s second pregnancy and circumstances surrounding his death — whether he was killed by the holy water or poison from his wife.
I would give the same answer as I did for the last. It was done deliberately because in life we don’t always know everything or get all the answers.
The book has a lot of drama and suspense, which engage the reader all through the journey. But why did Aguero find out about the set up at the end? Shouldn’t there have been a confrontation between the two friends earlier to add to the drama?
I think the book has enough drama without adding more, don’t you think? But on a serious note you can’t put everything in at the beginning, some things come in the middle and others come at the end.
Since the book hit the bookshelf, what has the feedback been like in terms of sales and readership?
It has been great I must confess. It has even exceeded my expectations and I am grateful to all the people that have supported the book so far.
What specific takeaways do you have for Nigerian youths in the story?
To try and not succumb to the pressure to fit in, to belong and to enable our oppressors.