In Your Wildest Dream
A bleak landscape. The loudest screech you have ever heard…
Your nightmares always begin here. The place is dimly lit, so you have to squint to see clearly. The first thing you see is a rusted signpost that carries “Welcome to Rivers State ‘’ and your eyes widen.
The hot air hits you as though you are standing in front of a volcano, not your place of birth. The shirt you are wearing is now drenched in perspiration and clings to you like a second skin. Then the smell — it is the same pungent one in your grandmother’s room the day she died. Dread runs down your spine and for a minute, you bend over puking your guts out.
This is worse than all the horror movies ever made. Still trying to make sense of this, you look around. The scene is like the aftermath of a hurricane — properties destroyed, dead animals littered on the ground and the huge trees that once stood proudly laid on the roads. But that would be ridiculous, hurricanes do not happen in Nigeria. You see things moving in different forms. It takes a while but you realize that these are, indeed, humans. With their rotting skins and bare-bones sticking out, it is obvious that something unusual has happened here. Is this yet another pandemic?
A dry cough escapes from your throat and you look around, hoping to find water to drink but there is none. And then, like an answered prayer, Heaven opens up and lets out its tears. Mouth wide open, you will some of the droplets to ease the hurt but instead, they burn you. Your skin turns yellowish, pores seeping out of it. Then, you run, looking for shelter from what you once thought would save you. Suddenly, you are no longer standing on dry land but now floating on a sea that rises with seconds. You try to swim to the shore but that is pointless, seeing as the waves battle with one another. You will drown within seconds and so, with your last might, you let out a scream that wakes your entire household.
As the newly appointed Minister of Environment, your head is reeling with ideas. But first, you have to celebrate this feat with a glass of whiskey. Who would have thought that you, a shy kid from Ogoni would reach this level? Memories of your convocation ceremony at Ken Saro-Wiwa Polytechnic, Bori, in 1999 comes to mind. It was the day you were awarded a scholarship to study Sustainable Development at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland because of your outstanding performance in your undergrad studies and contribution to community development.
When the bright-eyed Brit in an ill-fitted suit asked what your motivation was, you smiled and said nothing. Later that night, you wished you had spoken. You wish you had told him how the effects of the oil spillage in Ogoni had permanently damaged your community. It all began when the fishermen came back home one day empty-handed, complaining of a strange smell coming from the water and how mysteriously its colour had changed overnight. Everyone dismissed it as nothing. Then, your mother, who owned a large farm, almost died of a heart attack when she received reports of her crops being damaged by “something black poured all over the farm”.
The medical centre too was getting filled with patients who had respiratory issues. Everyone knew what was behind these recent happenings and soon enough, the chiefs had a meeting with the drilling company and demanded compensation, all to no avail. And when diplomacy fails, war is inevitable. One evening, your family quietly packed and left for Uyo, a nearby town. Your mother’s brother, who was living there, helped your family start all over again. Now, in this office, you vow to do your best to preserve the environment. Deep in thoughts, you almost miss the President’s call.
The interviewer, a lady in her mid-twenties, takes the seat across the room and smiles at you. A few knots loosen in your stomach. Two minutes after and the live interview begins. After some warm-up questions, she asks, “Minister Leton, you will be leading a protest against the President next week. Would you mind sharing what led to this?”
“Sure. I received a call from the President that Southern Soul, a US-based oil and gas company, is looking to extend its operations to Africa.”
“Are details of the contract confidential?” She picks up her pen and opens the rather large book in front of her.
“No. They are asking for a work permit and some acres of land in at least 5 states in Nigeria, preferably in the rural communities where they will build their refineries. In return, they will pay 30% of their income annually, employ the locals and award scholarships to children in these communities”
You don’t miss the look of disdain on her face, “This is an exciting opportunity for Africa as a whole. What are your objections?”
Pausing to take a sip of water from the glass in front of you, you wish this interview could be over already. Keeping calm when dealing with ignorance has always been a problem for you.
You continue, “Have you ever loved someone?”
“What would you do if you knew they were in danger?”
“I would protect them.” She says it as though it is the most obvious thing in the world.
“You have your answer there. I have no vendetta against Southern Soul. I am only concerned because of the danger involved.”
This woman probably thought you were crazy at this point, “Danger?”
“Yes, danger. Oil refinery, in case you didn’t know, is one of the major contributors to the climate crisis. The carbon dioxide released into the environment through this process further depletes the ozone layer. Global warming is a serious issue.”
She pauses before saying, “But trees take in the gas, don’t they?”
Elementary science. Ah.
“Yes. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t if this plan goes through. Remember they are asking for lands. Do you think they are going to build their refineries on top of trees? Of course not, they would have to clear the lands for their buildings. And when this is done, the wood will surely be used by the locals for cooking, leading to more harmful gases in our environment. It’s not like afforestation is practised here or have you seen anyone deliberately planting trees recently?”
“Also, be honest. Do you think the government will regulate their activities effectively? You know that their operation is only going to increase all kinds of pollution in the country.”
“I see sense in what you are saying, Sir. But there are some who say that you are worrying over something that has not even happened yet.”
It’s a good thing your wife made you take some painkillers this morning.
“Who says it hasn’t happened yet? Have they seen the news lately? Reports of deadly hurricanes in Asia and the rising sea level, which are just a few effects of global warming, are all over. It is happening already.”
She didn’t look convinced, but asked, “Another set of people insist that climate crisis cannot happen in this part of the world. What do you have to say to that?”
“This is 2021, they should get informed. Ignorance is no longer bliss. Africa will not be left out of the effects of global warming. In fact, we would be affected the most as we lack proper machinery and resources should this happen. This is why we need to join hands and take care of it. For ourselves and the generations to come.”
A quick glance at her wristwatch told you the interviewer was just about done with you but would remain professional. Were there jobs in Nigeria anymore?
“Do you mind listing some of the effects of global warming?”
“This is another challenge we have. Everybody wants to be spoon-fed. Do your own research and find out everything you need to know about this issue but just know that it is worse than your scariest nightmare.”
She studies you for a while and in that moment, you know. She finally understands. “This feels really personal to you. What is your motivation behind all this?”
You take another sip of water before saying, “Many years ago, I witnessed something horrible happen to a place I love. I was only a child so I couldn’t do anything to save it. But I promised it wasn’t going to happen again. Our environment deserves to be treated with care because this is where we live. Where would we go if something happened to it? Nowhere. This is why this is personal to me. To save our planet, we need to do away with harmful practices like the one Southern Soul is proposing. Rather, we should encourage the planting of trees, environmental sanitation and for the love of God, stop burning woods. Also, the fumes from some vehicles, here in Abuja, can send you into a coma. I am working on introducing a safer system of transportation, preferably electric.”
You look at the interviewer and there is a lingering sadness in her eyes. Sighing deeply, you continue, “Africa is a beautiful place with a lot of natural endowment. It is my dream that in 30 years to come, we would have a more developed continent where there is an abundance of food, water and mineral resources. Where we have clean air and can live without the fear of climate crisis. Is it possible? Certainly. We only have to work together to achieve this dream. Thank you.”
The protest did not hold as the President had ordered men of the force to disperse the crowd. But you are not deterred for you have planted a seed. You live to protest again another day.