In an interview Chris Ugolo and I had, over four decades ago now, with Chief Wale Ogunyemi, one of the greatest actors and dramatists that ever lived in Nigeria, the late Chief and author of the wave-making play, The Divorce, had in his attempt to state the kind of relationship between a medical doctor and a literary artist, declared: “The medical doctor treats (while) we the dramatists entertain”. While this view may have appeared to be giving separate roles to the doctor and the writer, it has become increasing clear that there are doctors who are writers and that no such separate roles, strictly speaking, really exist: the writer is both a doctor and an entertainer, doctor because he not only therapeutically heals the wounds of an increasingly growing band of followers which constitute his audience and the bulk of his readership, but also entertains them. The healing potential of art screams for attention in a nation such as ours in which things are hardly what they seem to be, a nation in which the more you look the less you see; a nation in which the people’s psyches are constantly being battered by failed infrastructure, failed leadership, failed services, failed promises, failed banks, failed dreams and visions, failed economy – in fact, failed everything. This is a nation that has systematically given us less to cheer and hope for even as the drums continue to beat for a moral paradigm shift in seasons where hunchbacks have become endangered species simply because the warped and twisted imagination of ritualists believes they are secret vaults to prosperity when their hunches are used for sacrifice! In a nation that has no place for dreamers, the writer’s choice has been not just to hold a mirror up to the society, but also to point the way forward in its healing, its re-engineering and its rejuvenation, his vision constantly anchored on an irrevocable mantra: hope
We had the interview with Chief Ogunyemi, as I said before, over four decades ago, and as if to affirm the position that no thick lines really exist between the medical doctor and the literary artist, Nigeria continues to parade a bevy of beautiful award-winning medical doctor writers: Dr Wale Okediran, novelist and former President of the Association of Nigerian Authors, Dr. Femi Olugbile, Medical Director of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital and author of the collection of Short Stories, Lonely Men (Longman, 1987), which won the 1986 Association of Nigerian Authors Prose Fiction Prize, and now, the toast of today, Professor Ewan Alufohai.
Ewan Alufohai, is a Consultant Surgeon, and, in my opinion, one of Nigeria’s best. This is a writer who, as Professor Imobighe says, “besides his surgical knife, lies a surgical pen for dissecting the ills of our contemporary societies and patently providing the precise direction and the available choices open to both the leaders and the led.” (Foreword v). Besides The Moto Boy, he has written a previous novel, Alien to Poverty, and a collection of short stories, His Lordship’s Visitation. In these books, Ewan Alufohai, like a comb strives to rake through the dense foliage of our failures and fears to straighten our values and prune our commonalty. He is a sensitive mirror, refracting our embattled circumstances and showing us the narrow, yet right, path we did not take, are not, and may, perhaps, never have thought of taking, in our quest for self-aggrandizement and blind pursuit of vain glory and lucre.
In The Moto Boy, a novel of twenty-four chapters,Ewan Alufohai largely advances, albeit in a horrifying and scathing manner, the previous themes of failed hopes and blind values. He clinically purviews the dreams and aspirations of a young motor boy who strives to be different from the others who had been before him and to set a new standard for the driving profession in his country. As if to prove that we do not need to first have a name or the wherewithal to bring about positive change of our society, the author deliberately decides to use a lowly hero as solid metaphorical prop. The son of two poor villagers, Jiba has had to abandon his education when his father cannot pay his school fees, and much to the embarrassment and shock of his mother, opts to be a motor boy! Being a motor boy is the last thing Iyajiba would have wished for her son, because she sees it as degrading for her in the polygamous home of competition with other women whose children are in school. But she is soon to yield to him when she sees that he is unrelenting, and finally hands him to his transporter relative, Ademeji, as a motor boy apprentice.
Jiba’s encounters, the speed with which he learns his trade while an apprentice and the revulsion with which he holds the uncanny and reckless irresponsibility of lorry drivers buoyed and incensed by their beliefs in sordid rituals and charms as protection and immunity against road accidents, are critical strands which shapen the story and are instructive to the reader. Jiba distinguishes himself as a motor boy, cutting no corners in his training to be a lorry driver, and in fact goes to the Motor Licensing Office not to bribe the examiners who would be coming to examine him for a Driver’s Licence and certificate, as was the practice, but in fact to request that the examiners examine him thoroughly so that he would be appropriately tested and ready for the world. Jiba, from this encounter, proves to be one who seeks to be an asset to the driving profession and not a liability to other road users. It is, therefore, not surprising that when he passes his test in flying colours, he is further to prove, to the amazement of all his peers, that you do not need to use charms as a driver to avoid accidents. Rather, certain principles must be obeyed: respect for the high way code, regular maintenance of your vehicle and proper focus as a driver. On the part of government, primary attention must be given to road maintenance, because most accidents are caused by bad roads, even when the driver on his part obeys all traffic regulations and maintains his vehicle.
That Jiba becomes a standard bearer for the driving profession and the toast of all is not surprising, because at the very early stage, he knew what he wanted and where he was headed. He looked the strange one, because he refused to do what others did and instead wanted to be different. That he vehemently refuses to be lured into using the so-called ‘protective charms’ after his ‘freedom’ as a motor boy in a world in which the belief is strong that with those charms one would have an accident-free career is bolstered by his early experience of an accident involving Kabiru who was an ardent user of charms. Why didn’t the charms stop Kabiru from having the accident? And so Jiba risks the anger and wrath of his close relatives in insisting that he did not need charms. We are glad that Ewan Alufohai’s novel leads us to the eventual triumph, not disgrace, of Jiba and celebrates his victory over the forces of superstition and retrogression. The national award that Jiba receives at the end of the novel is a salutary affirmation of the relevance of his campaigns for road safety in Nigeria.
It needs be stated that The Moto Boy, an easy-to-read novel, narrated from the third person point of view, is the author’s modest contribution to the campaign for bringing about safety to our roads. The author is concerned that far too many lives are being lost through the carelessness of drivers, particularly those who believe in the use of charms and think that nothing will ever happen to them, even if their vehicles do not deserve to be on the road. As Alufohai himself says: “The interest in road traffic accidents is especially a big issue in medical practice, and for the surgeon, the interest is more heightened as he invariably deals with victims of road traffic accident hence any contribution to minimize the calamity is worthwhile.” (Preface ix). It is noteworthy that Alufohai clearly deconstructs his interest and pain by dedicating The Moto Boy to the legendary Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe, who was maimed in a road traffic accident and is living the rest of his life on a wheel chair, and to the memory of the wife of his “dear friend, colleague and classmate, (Mrs. Anne Isekwe) who was mortally injured in another accident while giving a helping hand to victims of road traffic accident.” (Dedication iii).
In all The Moto Boy is a worthwhile read and a mighty contribution to the plethora of battles for sanity on our roads. I believe very strongly that you would be making your own contribution to ensure that this battle is won by picking up for yourself, your friend and family, The Moto Boy.
Title of Book: The Moto Boy
Author: Ewan Alufohai
Publisher: Safmos Publishers, Ibadan
Date of Publication 2009