By now you should know I like telling stories. Stories help to ease the tension of living in our dear Nigeria where leaders steal brazenly, where people in authority seem to have given their souls to the devil, where to hope is akin to wallowing in hopelessness, where things have perpetually fallen apart, and getting the centre to hold is an exercise in futility.
Today let me talk to you about a young man who a doctor conducts a series of tests on. One of his test results is a source of worry for the doctor so he orders further tests.
“On a hunch, I ordered a fertility test to be carried out. I can’t say it is normal; neither can I really pinpoint its origin. But it’s possible your untreated hypertension is the primary culprit. We would have to run more tests to ascertain exactly what went wrong. From the result in that test slip, you do not have the required sperm motility rate to impregnate a woman,” the doctor says to Anthony Mukoro.
But that is not all: “Sixty percent of your sperms cells are dead, another twenty percent is non-motile. At this rate, you may never be able to father a child.”
And thus begins Anthony Mukoro’s quest for healing. He is just twenty-one; he has his life ahead of him. He moves from Port Harcourt, where he has just completed his degree, to Lagos, to stay with his elder sister, and not long after this life-changing diagnosis, he meets a girl named Odufa, who is twenty-three and the elder sister of his female friend.
Odufa takes to Anthony from the get-go, but she refuses his advances on the ground that her sister loves him too. With time, they begin dating. Theirs turns out to be a relationship built on lies. Odufa is in the dark about Anthony’s health status. It takes a visit to Kano, where Odufa is a student at the Bayero University, Kano (BUK), for Anthony to find out she hid her true status in BUK from him. He forgives her but keeps his truth away from her. He eventually lets it out and Odufa promises to be his miracle; she succeeds in proving the doctor wrong by getting pregnant for him.
But Odufa is friends with rage. When she is angry, the heavens can fall. She cares not. She can grab your collar, grip your neck and tear your shirt to pieces. She can even shut the door on a host she is meeting for the first time. She is sweet like that! And when she becomes sober, her knees find it very easy to hit the floor pleading for forgiveness, and her eyes can suddenly become an ocean with a simple message: I am so sorry. It doesn’t mean she will not do it again.
Anthony, eaten up by ailment, finds it convenient to decorate her face with slaps and kicks and blows. But when her rage rears its ugly face, he sobers like a boy denied his favourite cone ice cream. Even when she becomes pregnant, their fight continues. Somehow they stick together even when Anthony’s family forsakes him. Until things fall apart.
Odufa and Anthony Mukoro are the creations of Othuke Ominiabohs. Their stories are contained in a two-part book ‘Odufa’ and ‘Aviara’, in which Ominiabohs’ mastery of suspense, descriptive prose and so on come into play. ‘Odufa’, which was shortlisted for the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa, was published in 2015, and ‘Aviara’ in 2020.
The last bits of ‘Odufa’ are the best for me: They got my heart racing as though on a marathon. Very emotional. It shows how evil we can sometimes be, how we can beat the devil at being bad, and how the line between love and hate can suddenly blur.
When I finished reading ‘Odufa’, I wondered what ‘Aviara’ would be about. Ominiabohs shows skills in this sequel/prequel and succeeds in making my heart race almost from the beginning to the end.
Introducing Zara, a nurse and a childhood friend of Anthony, sure helps move the story forward and gives it a telling touch.
Unlike ‘Odufa’, which is rendered through Anthony’s voice, ‘Aviara’ has Zara as a joint narrator, and there is also a bit of the Almighty technique or the third-person narration. The author’s choice of narrating the story in present tense gives it a different feel from ‘Odufa’, which is written in the past tense.
The two books can make a reader howl or misty-eyed, they are unforgettable. They at times read like sad songs, at times like comedy-inducing poetry and at times like heart-wrenching tragedies. Dialogues and imageries in these books are realistic. They help to develop the plot.
Using interesting and flawed characters, he shines a light on dark recesses. Kano, Warri, Lagos, Aviara and Port Harcourt come alive in these books and, if you have not been to them before, you will learn a lot.
He anchors the novels in such a way that a reader gets a real feeling of what life must have been like in the cities and towns they are set in. I love the intertwining of political and religious events, especially two of our recent presidential elections (the one President Muhammadu Buhari lost to Dr Goodluck Jonathan and the one he defeated Jonathan) and the menace called Boko Haram.
The prose is sharp and the narration is fast-paced, making them very engaging reads. Despite the darkness prevalent in the books, Ominiabohs triumphs in gifting us real page-turners.
Ominiabohs, through ‘Odufa’, explores relationships, ill-health, marrying across tribes, anger problem, the almajiri challenge, and so on.
Influence peddling rears its ugly head in ‘Odufa’. It allows Hakeem to break all the rules in the NYSC Camp in Wukari, Taraba State, without any consequence. He is the governor’s son and only needs to ask and the rules are suspended for as long as he wants it. This is moral corruption, one of the banes of our beloved Nigeria which turns 60 in a few days but is still taking baby leaps.
There is also the reference to misdiagnosis, a common phenomenon in Nigeria. Many Nigerians, including the late Gani Fawehinmi, was for years treating a wrong ailment because laboratories in Nigeria wrongly diagnosed his condition. It took doctors in London to discover he had cancer. It was too late and the man died. The diagnosis, which made Anthony hunger for early fatherhood, turns out wrong. There is no link between hypertension and dead sperm cells, he later finds out when the damages to his kidneys are discovered.
‘Aviara’ deals with redemption, love, ancestry, faith, philosophy, death and self-discovery. ‘Aviara’ is a sad commentary about our dear Nigeria, a nation unable to cater for the health and other needs of the majority of its people. It paints vivid pictures of the scary turns in our nationhood, using Anthony’s medical tourism to India to show what Nigerians go through when their health fails and their nation cannot help them.
With the way ‘Aviara’ ends, I suspect Ominiabohs is after a trilogy. It will certainly be a welcome addition to his highly-recommended body of literary fiction. Take it from me, ‘Odufa’ and ‘Aviara’ are outstanding. Good is not good enough to describe these great pieces. I love them so much I am happily angry to have finished reading them quickly!