Third Prize 2

Third Prize

I Have a Dream

Edwin Akpan (Nigeria) 

The old man, believed to be one hundred and two years old, walks to his chamber and pulls out a worn-out wand. He hands it to me and mutters, “Young man, this should do it.” “Thank you Baba,” I respond, feeling a little bit jittery. “Good luck,” he wishes me as he walks backwards into his ancient chamber with calculated steps. It’s already midnight. I’d gone to see the old man after a long search for a magic wand that could do anything I say. And here I am standing on the threshold of history – a historic moment in my life. I can’t believe that in a few minutes I’ll be transported to a time beyond the now most humans know – anytime I choose. All I have to do is say any date in time and wave the wand three times as instructed by the old man and my wish will be granted… just like that!

It’s my first time travel. It feels like I’ve been waiting my whole life. I am completely overwhelmed with a delicate mixture of emotions. I am thrilled, nervous, proud, and afraid – all at the same time. I close my eyes and with a shaky voice issue what seems like a command, “Take me to the morning of Monday, March 6, 2051 in Nigeria and return me safely after forty days.” Then I wave the wand three times, shut my eyes tightly, and wait for few seconds with my heart pounding hard as if I’m about to die. But nothing seems to be happening… not immediately as I had thought. I shudder still closing my eyes. Just as I’m about to open my eyes, I feel dizzy and a strong feeling to sleep takes over my being as if I’ve just been given a heavy dose of sedative. I struggle to keep awake, but it’s useless as I relapse into unconsciousness for a length of time I’m not aware of. Then gradually, I begin to regain consciousness and finally, I open my eyes and find myself standing atop a magnificent, four-lane bridge with few movements of vehicles to and fro. I see an absolutely stunning environment dressed up in beauty and elegance.

I pinch my hand in a quick test to be sure I’m still alive and conscious. I feel a little pain. So the magic wand works, after all! I exclaim with a rush of excitement shooting done my spine. I turn around to see if I can catch a glimpse of any road sign to know where I am. Luckily, as I look to my left, I see a large road sign across the monumental bridge with the inscription: THIRD MAINLAND BRIDGE, LAGOS. It’s a lie! I tell myself. This can’t be true. This can’t be the two-lane Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos Island I used to know — and on a Monday morning at that! I’m supposed to see heavy bumper-to-bumper traffic jam. As I look back, I see a gigantic Guinness billboard advert and beneath it is a digital clock with date and the seconds counting away: Monday | 06:03:2051 | 08:17:27 A.M. Thankfully, I’d gone this road before sometime in 2011, so I decide to walk down to where I’m certain I’ll find people to talk to. As I get down from the bridge to the bus stop adjacent the foot of the bridge, I discover that the hitherto narrow four-lane freeway has been expanded to eight lanes and the whole environment is spotlessly neat unlike what I used to see in 2011. I let out a loud wow!

With my mouth still open in wonder, I see an orderly queue of people at the bus stop patiently waiting to board a bus to their various destinations. When the buses arrive, I observe that there is no rush or queue-jumping as before. Who taught Nigerians the value of queuing in public places? I ask myself. I move closer to the bus stop with the intention of talking to someone. As I’m about to halt a young man, a commercial bus pulls over to discharge passengers with two other buses following behind. A common feature in the buses arrests my attention. I peep at the three commercial buses one after the other in an anxious bid to confirm my suspicion. What I see make me shake my head in utter disbelief. Commercial bus drivers and their conductors, notorious for their hooliganism in 2011, now in uniform? And with nice neck ties? As I ponder on this remarkable sight, another commercial bus pulls over and I immediately move nearer to peep at the driver’s seat and there again, another driver in the same uniform – sky-blue long sleeve with black trouser and a blue tie to match that make them look like bankers.

To see more of what the Nigeria of 2051 looks like, I dash off towards the street at the back of the bus stop. The street has a collection of beautiful houses. As I stroll down the street, as curious as a cat, I see a young man take the stress to walk down and put an empty plastic bottle he just finished drinking water from in a green thrash container placed on the street for that purpose. As I continue down the street whose sidewalks are adorned with lovely flowers and well-trimmed green grasses, I see more of these green thrash containers with the caption: KEEP NIGERIA CLEAN. Is this really Nigeria? Is this what we will really experience in 2051? I ask myself excitedly. As I bask in the euphoria of the few things I’ve seen, I’m hit by a brilliant thought – a thought to visit a good friend of my mine, Lanre by name and journalist by profession, living in the outskirts of Ikeja, the capital of Lagos state. I’m anxious to see whether the transformation I am seeing in Lagos Island is everywhere, so I start walking back quickly towards the bus stop. As I arrive at the bus stop, a commercial bus going to Ikeja pulls by and I jump in. “Excuse me sir,” the good-looking bus conductor says to me politely, “Please join the queue.” I look around and see disgust on the faces of the people on queue. Embarrassed, I apologize and step down to join the queue. I completely forgot that this is not the Nigeria of 2011 where we behaved as if we were in a jungle.

Soon enough, my turn comes and I gently enter the next bus. As the bus zoom off, I remember that I have no money on me to pay for my fare. What will I do? I contemplate as I remember the humiliating way bus conductors used to treat their passengers who beg for a lift back in 2011 and how fellow passengers would sit seemingly unconcerned. I decide to try my luck with the passengers first. I turn to a fair-complexioned lady sitting to my left and whisper to her that I’m stranded and need to pay for my fare. Without waiting for me to finish talking, she opens her purse and removes N500 bill and gives it to me. I’m completely taken aback as I collect the money. “But… em…” I try to let her know the N500 is too much, but before I complete my statement, she smiles and says, “It’s nothing, so say nothing.” I sit still, speechless.

On my way to Ikeja, I observe with surprise that there are no traffic hold-ups, except for some light traffic that naturally builds up at intersections with traffic lights. As a result, I arrive at Ikeja in about fifteen minutes, a journey that usually takes two hours plus in 2011. I’m pleasantly surprised to see that Ikeja, too, is a marvelous sight to behold with fashionable street lights, clean environment, and fantastic skyscrapers that weren’t there in 2011. As I alight from the bus, I notice something that looks like a public phone booth, a distance away. I walk to it and see a sticker on it that reads: “PUBLIC PHONE. YOUR TAX MONEY IN ACTION.” To see if it actually works, I cautiously step into the cubicle and dial Lanre’s number which, thankfully, is still etched in my memory. I hear it ring and I chuckle with happiness. A deep voice at the other end says, “Hello, this is Lanre.”

“Lanre!!!” I scream, “It’s me, Edwin. I’m here on a mission. Are you at home? Same address?”

“Hey, Edwin! Is that you? Yeah, I’m at home, same address. Can’t wait to see you!” He replies.

I hang up and rush off the booth and head towards Lanre’s home, a trekking distance away. On seeing me from his balcony, Lanre rushes down to open the door for me. After hugging and exchanging pleasantries, I tell Lanre of my mission and he says he’ll be glad to help me out. I narrate all I’ve seen so far and ask him how the stunning transformations I see in Nigeria come about. He assures me he’ll tell me and even more, but urges me to eat something and rest awhile first. I reluctantly agree.

After eating, I try to rest but can’t out of anxiety to learn of the changes in Nigeria. Lanre beckons on me to join him in his home office. “Welcome Edwin,” Lanre begins, “I now write a blog called Nigeria Watch and still maintain a column in This Day newspaper. I’ll answer your questions and if you need more information about how the revolution in Nigeria comes about, visit my blog at”

“Thanks Lanre,” I respond unable to hide my joy. “What happened to the massive traffic logjam that used to bedevil Nigeria in 2011?” He smiles before answering. “Nigeria now has one of the best transportation systems in Africa with state-of-the-art rail and water systems added to her means of transportation. All the major roads have been expanded to eight-lanes. And it’s hard to see potholes on the streets let alone the freeways. These are the main things that explain why you didn’t experience traffic congestion on your way here.”

“Interesting,” I observe.

“Edwin, you know what? Why don’t we tour the country together so that you can see and feel these things for yourself, then you’ll be able to give a firsthand report to people when you’re back to 2011?” Lanre suggests.

“Splendid!” I agree.

“I have many important places I plan to go and write about starting from tomorrow,” Lanre continues, “And the presidential election is taking place this weekend.”

“Really?” I exclaim with anticipation.

Lanre excuses himself and after a while he returns holding some long sleeves and trousers. “For you, Edwin. We’re going to Enugu tomorrow. I’m training some university lecturers there.” he says.

“For me? Oh Lanre, this is so thoughtful for you. I’ll need to iron them now before our almighty NEPA cuts power supply.” I note.

Lanre bursts into laughter. “Edwin, take your time. There are no longer power outages in Nigeria. We now have uninterrupted power supply 24/7.”

“What?” I ask in disbelief. “You’re joking, aren’t you?”

“No, I’m dead serious. In fact, next week will mark precisely twenty full years of nonstop power supply in the whole of Nigeria.” Lanre tells me.

“I still want to see for myself.” I maintain. “That’s your call,” Lanre says and excuses himself again.

Soon, it is night and I feel sleepy, but can’t close my eyes for fear of the big mosquitoes that reigned supreme in 2011 and how I repeatedly suffered from Malaria as a result of mosquito bites, so I call out to Lanre and ask if he has a mosquito-repelling net for me to sleep under or better yet tell me where to buy an insecticide. Lanre laughs me to scorn. “There is nothing like mosquito in Nigeria again,” he reports, “So you can go to bed and sleep soundly. And it will interest you to know that not only mosquitoes have been eradicated, but the dreaded polio has also been stamped out of Nigeria.”

“You don’t mean it?” I object.

“Well, it’s true. If you see any mosquito tonight, I’ll offer you a thousand bucks,” Lanre wagers, smiling confidently.

I hop into bed and soon doze off. And for the first time in my life in Nigeria, I sleep soundly outside a mosquito net without hearing the annoying songs of mosquitoes in my ears nor did I find red spots on my body resulting from mosquito bite. In the morning, I note that electric power is still on everywhere. So, Lanre is right, after all. Later, as I iron the clothes that I’ll wear to Enugu, I remember with sadness how in 2011 I had to wear a rough dress to speak in a seminar that had over two hundred people in attendance because there was no power supply for five days and the small generator I had couldn’t power my 1500 watt pressing iron.

Later, we hit the airport with Lanre to catch a flight to Enugu in eastern Nigeria for the training program. On getting to Muritala Mohammed Airport in Lagos, I notice what I saw at the bus stop the previous day – queue and orderliness. And I can’t help but also notice that there is no loitering – a major characteristic that messed up the airport environment decades back. On landing in the airport in Enugu, I observe the same orderliness and discipline. After the training, Lanre suggests we go by road instead of air so that I can see more of the changes to write about. It’s already 4:15 PM, so I suggest to him that we should buy ticket now so that we can leave tomorrow morning since it’s almost a 12-hour journey from Enugu to Lagos. Lanre replies that we can hit Lagos in 5 hours tops, and then reminds me that the roads have been expanded and in good states.

On our way to the motor park to rent a car, I see two Lincoln Navigator SUVs – the latest model – drive by with the inscription NIGERIA POLICE. Surprised, I tap Lanre and point to it. “Is that the police?” I ask. Lanre chuckles and tells me that the fortunes of our police have changed, that the government now takes good care of them and equips them with modern equipment. Then I remember how the police used to drive in pitiable rickety pickup trucks in 2011 and how they used to mount illegal check points to extort money from motorists. But on our long drive from Enugu to Lagos, we only encounter two police checkpoints. And even though the particulars of the private car we hire was due for renewal by a day, the police only caution and advise us to renew it as soon as possible and wish us a safe journey without requesting for any money!

On our way to Lagos, I observe that almost all the road is tarred and as smooth as glass. The highways and the streets are well lighted at night and there are no potholes. Forty years ago, many places in the country had been almost inaccessible and the only accessible roads were ravaged by dangerous potholes and erosion. Today nearly the whole land can be penetrated by a traveler going alone. More than one hundred and fifty different regions and cities have fallen suddenly open, and the traffic of trains, boats and buses between them offer ways of vanishing into the wilds. True to Lanre’s prediction, we hit Lagos just a few minutes shy of 9 pm – less than five hours’ journey. Compared to the Nigeria of 40 years ago – a nation still frozen in corruption and bad leadership – all this is unimaginable.

The next day, I decide to go through Lanre’s blog: As the page opens, I’m greeted by the latest post: “Nigerian Students Win Nobel Prize!”

“Wow!” I exclaim as I click to read the full report. I discover that two Nigerian students from Obafemi Awolowo University, Temidire Joshua and Juliet Momodu were named as joint winners of Nobel Prize in Physics for their breakthrough work in solar energy generation. Curious to know how this came about, I click the educational category to read the posts under it and the things I see marvel me. I read that three Nigerian universities — University of Nigeria, University of Lagos, and Obafemi Awolowo University are now listed in the top ten universities in the world! And getting admission into any Nigerian university is like being admitted into a space shuttle heading for the moon. And unlike forty years ago where students dropped out for lack of funds, education is now free! The government now foots the bills from basic education to first degree. And students who write university admission examinations now stand a 100% chance of gaining admission because forty five more world-class universities have been built by the government and private individuals, unlike before where our few universities could only admit about 200,000 admissions out of 1.2 million candidates that apply for admission every year. Now, candidates don’t need to bribe or buy their way into the university; they don’t even need to be indigenes of a particular state to be considered first. Our universities now grant admission based on fairness and excellence.

I learn that primary and high school teachers and university lecturers now enjoy mouth-watering take home packages. “Our reward is no longer in heaven only,” a young teacher is quoted as saying on the blog. Then I recall what happened at the training program in Enugu the previous day. During the training that had about fifty people from different parts of the country, one of the attendees, a young woman fell sick with a disease that required special attention, so she called her husband in Calabar, southern Nigeria. The federal government, who happened to be the organizer of the training, started making arrangement for her to be taken to a special hospital where she’ll be given the best of attention. But her husband wanted her to return home so that their personal doctor who’s been on her case can treat her. So the organizers decided to get her home. Concerned about the time it will take to drive her to the airport and the hours they’ll have to wait for a commercial plane, the government hired a private helicopter and choppered her to the airport, then they chattered a plane to fly her home. I was deeply touched.

It’s Friday, the day for the presidential election. I’m overwhelmed with excitement and apprehension. What is it going to look like? I ask myself, my curiousity rising per second. Before the commencement of voting, I observe that there’s peace and orderliness. I neither see nor hear of any violence anywhere. And as the election commences, Nigerians enthusiastically troop out in their millions to vote peacefully unlike 2011 where there was widespread voters’ apathy and violence in various parts of the country. The next morning, I’m woken up by strange shouts of people on the street as if there’s pandemonium. Panic-stricken, I spring up from bed expecting the worse. I glance at the wall clock and it’s exactly 7am. I dash out to the balcony to see what’s happening. I see people, both young and old, men and women, people from different tribes dancing on the street and singing, “Winner Oh! Oh! Oh! Winner!!!” I rush to the parlour to look for Lanre to give me a hint of what’s going on. I meet him in front of the TV smiling. He tells me the people are reacting to the announcement of the winner of the presidential election. Actually, the Independent National Electoral Commission, the body saddled with the monumental task of organizing credible national elections in Nigeria had earlier called a press conference and told the world: “Read our lips, we’ll announce the result of the Presidential Election precisely on Saturday, March 11, 2051 by 07:00 GMT.” And true to their words, they just announced Mrs Onyeka Okeh winner — barely 12 hours after voting ended!

For the first time in the history of Nigeria, people look beyond tribe, political affiliations, and gender in choosing the leader to stir the ship of the nation. Instead, they beam their searchlight on the content of character, compassion, and competence. What is even more heartwarming is the fact that the Mrs Onyeka Okeh from one of the minority groups in the east, did so with majority of the votes coming from the north. Jubilations are not only in Lagos, there are reports on TV that there are celebrations almost in every part of the country. I even see those who support the losing candidates, though disappointed, hugging and congratulating those who are jubilating.

Local TV reports that the two other contestants Mallam Hammed Goje from the north and Professor Rotimi Adedayo from the southwest have conceded defeat and, in the spirit of sportsmanship, have phoned to congratulate Mrs Onyeka. And when Mallam Hammed was addressing his supporters, a member of his team made a sexist remark about Mrs Onyeka, he immediately cut in and said, “Please, don’t talk to my president like that.” Such is the new spirit and trust in Nigerian politics.

In the following weeks I witness and hear of the selflessness, honesty, compassion, and accountability of our leaders — from the president to the governors, to ministers, to local government chairmen, to sports leaders, to legislators, to corporate CEOs. There’s clear-cut exit from the old order of reckless corruption, notorious looting, and blatant misappropriation of public funds. Immediately after taking the oath of office thirty days after her victory at the polls, President Onyeka declared her asset to the public voluntarily despite the fact that the constitution prescribes that she makes such declaration only to the Code of Conduct Bureau. Interestingly, other public office holders are following suit by also declaring their assets publicly. And after constituting her cabinet, the president ask that anyone in her cabinet who has any kind of business interests must either give them up or leave his or her official position. She makes it clear that she’s not talking about the mere technicality of putting the business interest in some blind trust, but giving it up completely. As a result, four influential ministers including the powerful son of one-time senate president, Jude Anyim, resigned.

In another case, the CEO of Dangote Group, Mr. Imoke Audu, faced with the reality of laying off workers because of a new technology that rendered their jobs redundant, instead of laying them off, hired a consulting firm to help them get jobs elsewhere. And the President of Ajaokuta Steel Company, Mrs Hafsat Ekpo, recently cut his salary by almost half and persuaded other workers to do so in order to keep their colleagues in employment. And unlike before where Nigerian public office holders sit tight whether they were performing or not, the director of National Sports Commission just resigned after Nigeria came second in the All African Games in Algiers after promising that Nigeria will come top. And Federal Capital Territory minister, Toyin Adisa, is the talk of town. Together with the police he battled with a gang-related violence in a countryside housing project in Abuja, but seemed unable to stop it. Then to the consternation of everyone, he moved in to live in the apartment complex! A clear demonstration of courage, selflessness, and compassionate.

While in Kano with Lanre to attend the event to mark twenty years of uninterrupted power supply in Nigeria, I see the governor of Kano state scolding members of his cabinet on a street you’re least likely to find a governor on a weekend. “I’m not pleased with this,” I hear him say, “What are they doing with all the money?” Then he removes his pen and writes something on his pad, then he enters his car and drives off. I ask Lanre if he has any 411 on the governor. And he tells me he once did a report on the governor and discovered that what we just saw him do is what he does on weekends. He rides around with his driver and a cop so he can see the potholes, broken streetlights, caved-in trash cans, abandoned cars, crooked traffic signs, dead trees, missing bus stops, and other anomalies that need changes. Then he will write on his memo to his commissioners:

— Missing bus stop at Ishaya. Why?

— Crooked traffic sign on Ahmadu Bello Way

— Three abandoned cars on Kollington Avenue alone!

— Potholes on King’s College Road

Then the memos would be on their desks Monday morning, and the missing bus stop, the crooked traffic sign had better be fixed and the potholes and the abandoned cars had better disappear when he drove by again the following week. As Lanre recounts this, I feel highly inspired.

During the event in Kano, I learn that almost 60 percent of electric power used in Nigeria is generated from renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and so on and the technology is developed in the country. Curious to know how these transformations evolved, I interview the chairman of National Electricity Regulatory Commission, Mr. Mike Anya. “What’s the secret behind the transformation in the power sector in the country when all hope seemed lost several decades ago?” I ask.

“The fundamentals,” he quips, a little smile playing across his face.

“What fundamentals?” I probe.

“Well,” he continues, “We went into meeting with the ‘cabals’ who were making billions from generator importation and frustrating our efforts to generate power otherwise. We sold them on the benefits of exploiting better sources of power generation and invited them to invest in research and development.

“Thankfully, most of them agreed. Next, we persuaded our best brains abroad to return home and help out which they gladly did. We invested heavily in research, leveraging the infrastructures and human resources in our universities. Then we privatized the national power company and enacted laws to regulate the industry. This prevented sharp practices, encouraged excellence, and created a level-playing ground.

“As a result, massive investment poured in both from within and outside Nigeria. This crashed the tariff. And we make the installation of digital prepaid meters mandatory so that consumers can pay for only what they use as opposed to what was obtainable before where people were billed whether they used power or not.

“Edwin, it’s all about doing the right things and thinking long term. Those are the fundamentals that turned around the power sector.”

As I continue to observe the changes in Nigeria, I notice that there’s a radical change in the character and values of Nigerians. In face, Transparency International just released a list of their newly introduced Top 100 Most Honest Countries in the world and Nigeria is ranked third! As a result of these changes, top websites like PayPal, ClickBank, and so on that didn’t accept Nigerians decades ago have all opened their doors to Nigerians and not only that, they’ve opened regional offices in Nigeria. The erstwhile volatile north is as peaceful as a still pond. And Jos, the former slaughter slab in Nigeria, is now the place to be. With its relative peace, cool weather, tourist attractions, and humane people, people both from within and outside the country flock there in droves for vacation, business, or to live there. The dreaded terrorist group Boko Haram has disbanded.

On my visit to Benin, at the heart of Nigeria, I visit a government general hospital for checkup I see a certain woman persuading her 17-year old son to follow her home. I learn that after spending just a week in the hospital, the boy is reluctant to return home after being duly discharged by the doctor because of the tender loving care the nurses and doctor showed him. It’s was such a moving scene. To think that this is taking place in a government general hospital is beyond belief. The same general hospital that, forty years ago, was characterized by provocative health workers who were poised to transfer their aggression on patients at the drop of a hat. I thank God as I remember with grief how a friend of mine, Adams, died forty-one years ago in my arms in Lagos General Hospital because the doctors wouldn’t attend to him saying there were on strike. Now, there’s no such thing. My checkup cost me nothing because healthcare is now free from ages 0 – 30 and from 50 and above.

As my sojourn in time travel gradually winds to an end, I decide to check on the economy. And I’m glad to discover that Nigeria has joined the league of economic powers in the world, she’s now ranked 12th    in the world with a well-diversified economy. Agriculture has taken over from oil as the top revenue generator; it now generates 34% of income, slightly edging oil to the second spot with 31%, and tourism accounts for 12%. Ten new refineries have been built and Nigeria no longer sends her crude oil abroad to be refined. Nigeria is no longer indebted to any foreign nation or institution and her foreign reserve is the largest in Africa and 10th in the world. And all these I see reflect in the high standard of living of Nigerians.

On the night of the 39th day, I’m reluctant to return to 2011. I regret telling the magic wand to let me spend only forty days in my time travel. I should have said five years, I mourn. I begin to cry but stop when I remember that if God keeps me alive till 2051, I’ll surely experience all I see in my time travel. I keep looking at the clock. As soon as it’s 00:00 hours GMT, I feel dizzy and become unconscious. When I open my eyes, I find myself standing outside the old man’s chamber.