12 July 2009

Tunji Proposal by Sylva Nze Ifedigbo

The door grumbled as it opened. Tunji stepped in and while shutting the door with his left hand, scanned the room for the Director's Secretary. He had been here two hours ago. The lady secretary had not reported to work. Indeed, no one in the office had. He met a cleaner in blue overall sweeping the office. She didn’t look very pleased with what she was doing. She was muttering to herself while flogging the tiled floor with the broom when Tunji stepped in. Reluctantly, she told Tunji to leave as no one had come. She made it sound like Tunji was stupid to have shown up so early. Tunji had to look at his leather wrist watch again to be sure. It was 10.05am. He walked out shaking his head from side to side.

To while away the time, he walked to the ministry’s security post. That was the only place he could find a chair. An old man was on duty. He wore a uniform marked with the badge of the Nigerian Legion. He smiled at Tunji as he shifted his buttocks on the wooden bench to make room for Tunji’s buttocks.

“Corper abi?” he asked his eyes at the large brown envelop Tunji held securely in his armpit.

“Ah, no sir”

“Ok. You dey find job? I hear say dey don dey give job. Na true?”

“No sir. I am not here for a job. I came to see someone, but she is not yet around”

“No problem. Just wait small. Dem go soon come”

Tunji waited for thirty minutes. Sikiru the old security man had kept him entertained. There was the happy tale of how gallant he was in the battle fields in the Nsukka sector during the civil war. And the not so happy tale of not having received his pension in over six years. Tunji was familiar with both tales. His own father was a Nigeria Railway retiree. At the start of the civil war, he was stationed in Enugu.

Tunji checked his wrist watch and yawned. He thanked Sikiru and headed back to the office of the Director of Planning. The office was on the fifth floor. He walked past staff of the ministry signing the time book in the lobby. They exchanged pleasantries with plenty questions. Questions about how the night was and how their family members were. They were not in a hurry. It was already 11.00am.

Power was out in the building. Tunji took the staircase. At every landing, he heard the workers exchanging pleasantries. They shuffled their feet as they walked. It irked him that workers should be turning up for work at almost noon. He prayed silently that the Director's Secretary would now be on seat. He was still saying the prayer when he stepped into the office.

The secretary Miss Agnes was on seat. She was holding a mirror to her face. Her other hand was busy with a pencil at her eye brows. The rest of her make up kit was spread out before her on the table. Two other staff of the office had also arrived. Mr. Ekpo was arranging his table. His lips whistled the tune of Sunny Okosun’s which way Nigeria. Hajia Jumai was on the phone. She was talking about having a new consignment of original Gold, just fresh from Mecca.

The drumming in Tunji’s heart increased on seeing Miss Agnes. He almost jogged to her table. It was a month since he submitted his proposal at the minister’s office. It had been the product of a dream. One of those rare occasions when you remember what you dreamt of at night the morning after. The picture had been very clear. This was it no doubt. The cyber cafĂ© opposite his house provided the materials he needed. He would come there when they were opening up at eight and wouldn’t leave until lunch time. Soon he just plugged his laptop and assessed their wireless service without being charged. It took close to two months to get the thirty paged document ready. Fresh from the spiral binders shop, he had deposited a copy at the Ministers office.

After two days he returned but was told his proposal was still in oga’s office. The young man - a corp member - who he met had advised that he shouldn’t bother checking back that week. The next week, Tunji returned. A part of him expected that as soon as he identified himself, he would be given a hero’s welcome and immediately ushered into the Minister's office. The minister should have gone through his carefully written proposal he thought and would be waiting to meet the person that came up with such great ideas. That day, he sat for close to five hours waiting. The minister was in a meeting and his secretary was in there with him. At about 5.00pm, a visibly exhausted secretary emerged from the meeting to inform him that his proposal has been minuted to the SA on Works.

That sowed the first seed of fear in Tunji. A friend of his Mustafa who once did his industrial Training in the office of a minister had revealed that any correspondence to the minster that was not read and treated by the minster himself had already began a journey to the akara sellers stand. The SA’s were very notorious in consigning brilliant proposals into the waste bin. They didn’t waste time on mails that didn’t promise to yield money. For such proposals, they had a ready verdict. It was either KIV or PA boldly written across the mail. KIV was for ‘Keep in View’. It meant that perhaps the mail interested the reader but he is so short of time at the moment to really study it. KIV labeled proposals still had some hope which was subject to how pressing the author was. The Put Away ‘’PA” labeled mails however were doomed. Those were collected periodically and off loaded to akara sellers for wrapping hot bean cakes.

Mustafa had related how shocking it was that after taking in a heap of files into an SA’s office to treat. You hear the bell a short while later requesting that you come and carryout the files. Work has been completed. He got to find out later that the SA’s hardly opened the first page of the document before either designating it as KIV or PA. The only proposals that got serious attention were from those who had the right connections.

The next day Tunji arrived at the office of the SA on works. The night before, he had spent hours before sleep coming against all forces of KIV and PA on his proposal. He spoke in tongues. He had just learnt how to do that at his new Pentecostal Church. That morning before stepping into the SA’s office however, he had found himself reciting the Hail Mary. His heart was tearing through his chest. He didn’t walk, he floated in. He floated out shortly after. His proposal was still on the SA’s table. He as advised to return later in the day. When he did, he was told the proposal had moved again. This time, to the Director of Planning.

That was yesterday. Tunji had hardly slept that night. He didn’t know whether to feel happy or sad. His proposal had gotten neither a KIV nor a PA. Did it imply the ministry was buying his idea? Of course they should Tunji had tried to reassure himself. What he was proposing was a fool-proof way of permanently handling the problem of refuse disposal in urban Areas in the country. It was a model, he was certain would attract world attention if well implemented. It was even more. That was his ticket out of poverty and into fame.

“Good morning ma” Tunji bowed like a Catholic priest in front of Miss Agnes’s table.“ I was informed that my proposal was sent to the Director yesterday and….”

She interrupted him with the wave of her hand in the air. It was like saying I have heard enough of your rubbish. Without speaking, she pointed at the whistling Mr. Ekpo. Tunji’s eye followed the direction of the pencil on her hand. By the time his eyes made the journey back, her hand had resumed the lining of her eye brows.

Tunji turned around and walked to Mr. Ekpo. The whistling stopped as he gave Tunji the what can I do for you look. After explaining, Mr. Ekpo picked up and tossed a hard cover notebook marked “Incoming Files” across the table towards Tunji.

“Check for it inside there” Mr. Ekpo directed.

Just as Tunji was about flipping the bulky book open Mr. Ekpo spoke again.

“Did you say it is a mail or a file?”

Tunji noticed another bulky notebook which had lost its back cover marked “In coming Mails” at the other end of the table. He wasn’t sure which it should be.

“Sir, I am not sure. When I submitted it at the minister’s office it was a mail. I don’t know if it has been entered into a file before reaching here”

“Where did you say it came from?”

“SA on Works sir”


“Yesterday” Tunji wondered if he hadn’t just said all these in his initial explanation.

“Go back there and tell them to check if it left as a mail or as a file. If it is a file, copy the name of the file and the file number. Makes sure you see it with your eyes in their out-going book that it came here. I don’t want anybody to come here and give me unnecessary trouble this morning abeg.”

Mr. Ekpo sounded more like he was in a quarrel. Tunji found himself blurting out an apology before spiriting out of the office. Two other ladies had come to see Hajia Jumai. They were bargaining to buy the gold chains and earrings just out of Mecca.

The SA’s office was on the first floor. The Ministry’s large generating set was humming in the distance. Tunji took the elevator. He shared it with two women. A tiny baby with a running nose held on to one of the women. The baby yearned for her mum’s attention. But her mum seemed to need some attention herself. She was complaining to the other woman. She was close to tears. Her salary had not been paid for two months. The new e-payment policy had consumed her salary. Tunji wished he could help.

The door to the SA’s outer office was open. Mallam Musa hugged his table as he slept. Tunji looked from him to Mrs. Njemanze who was admiring a pack of lace material. The seller had obviously just left. It was she he met yesterday. He walked over to her his eyes pleading. She seemed happy. It was probably the lace she had just bought. The proposal was now a file. Tunji got the name and the number. As he rushed out, he wondered if it was saliva he just law flowing from Mallam Musa’s mouth unto an open file.

Tunji's breath came in heaves when he got back to the office of the Director of Planning. The elevators were engaged so he ran upstairs. Miss Agnes’s chair was empty. She had been making up to go out. Hajia Jumai was pointing out something about a gold bracelet to one of her customers. She insisted it was 24 karat. Tunji walked to Mr. Ekpo who was whistling again. Few minutes later, he was flipping through pages of the bulky “In-coming files” booklet.

After locating the file in the “In-coming file” register, Mr. Ekpo asked him to do same in the “Out going file” register. The file had not been entered into the "out-going" register.

“The File is still inside” Mr. Ekpo declared looking in the direction of the Directors office.

Tunji felt weak in the knees.

“But sir... My God!, what kind of rubbish is this?”

“Please, don’t come here and ask me any yeye question. Do I look like the Director?”

“Can I see the Director?”

“What for? Your file is on his table and when he is through with it, it will come out. The problem with you people is that you are not patient at all. You want it now now. Don't you know the Director is a very busy man?”

“Sir, you don’t understand. It’s been over a month now since I submitted that proposal. How can they just be tossing me up and down like that?”

“Young man, you don’t know how the civil service works. You don’t just do things. Everything has to follow the due process.”

Due process. Tunji repeated those words in his mind as he left the ministry building. He wondered if the due process also entailed a Director not reporting to work even at 2.00pm. He had thought he was doing government a big favour when he developed his proposal. Now, it was obvious he had just signed up for a protracted jamboree. Government business was a protracted jamboree. Due process was the word to justify it.

It was another two weeks before the Director of Planning got to treat Tunji’s file. For every day of that period, Tunji had come to the ministry. He started the day at the security post with Sikiru. They had become close friends. Tunji got to know that Sikiru had seven children. The only one who was being educated was his last son Bode. Bode was in the NDA. Sikiru said he wanted his son to be an officer. He fancied Bode would have a better deal as an officer than he had as a mere illiterate recruit. He even hoped that one day, his son could lead a coup. Civilians were messing everything up he said. His pension was yet to be paid.

One morning two weeks after, Mrs. Agnes ushered Tunji into the Directors office. The thick bald man sat with his protruding stomach against the edge of the large office table. Tunji walked in feeling inadequate in his t-shirt and jeans. Had he been pre-informed of this meeting, he would have worn something better. A long shirt, trouser and a good tie would have done. The Director stood up to shake his hands before asking him to sit down. This was it Tunji thought. He could remember this scene in his dream.

The Director congratulated him for such a brilliant proposal. If every young man in the country was as enterprising as Tunji, then the nation would indeed progress, he praised. He then asked Tunji to explain certain aspects of the proposal which according to him, “were not too clear”.

With the fervor of a professor let loose from an Ivory Tower, Tunji proceeded to deliver a talk on the Integrated Waste Disposal System for Cities. It was his document. He developed it from scratch so he knew every detail. As he spoke, the director made notes on a writing pad. He kept nodding his head like a lizard. At the end, the director thanked Tunji once more and promised that they would get back to him soon. A memo needed to be prepared and presented to the minister on the issue. These things take some time. The director offered Tunji N2000.00 as a token for transport.

The N2000.00 was all Tunji ever earned from that proposal. As he left the office that day, his heart alive with floods of joy, the Director made a quick call to one of his boys. Here was a proposal that could turn him into a billionaire. The opportunity he had been waiting for had finally come. He wasn’t going to act sleepy on this. His boy copied verbatim all that was in Tunji’s proposal and resubmitted it with a different name. The Ministry gave approval a while later.

Tunji waited on end to be called by the Ministry. That call didn’t come. After a month of waiting, he returned to the ministry to find out what was happening. The Director of Planning was on leave. No one could say anything about his proposal. There was no trace of his file. On one occasion, he had insisted on seeing the Minister. He was going to fight the injustice being mete out on him. The minister's secretary said no. Tunji raised his voice and had to be thrown out of the building by baton wielding policemen.

A few months later Tunji saw a news item in the newspaper. It was about the award of a huge contract on Integrated Waste Disposal For All Nigerian Cities. In the picture accompanying the news was the Minister smiling like a school child. Beside him was the representative of the foreign company that was awarded the contract. The face at the far end of the picture looked familiar. It was the Director of Planning. He looked pregnant in his unbuttoned suit.

Tunji Proposal was written by Sylva Nze Ifedigbo
Copyright Sylva Nze Ifedigbo 2009.

Sylva Nze Ifedigbo was born in Abuja Nigeria in November 1984. He attended School for the Gifted Abuja and holds a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Nigeria. In 2007 Spectrum Books published his debut novel “Whispering Aloud”. His essays and short stories have appeared in Nigerian dailies as well as online.


C.P. Nwodo said...

A thought-provoking story on the ills and rots in our civil service system. Keep up the good work.

Ojo said...

Intrigue-driven narrative-this is a perfect blend of suspence and treachery..this surpasses any fictional work i have ever seen.Gud work Nze

Tomi Davies said...

Well this is the story of the Nigerian public sector in a nutshell - where dreams go to die! Tunji, The Director and poor Sikiru litter today's Nigeria. How sad

Valentine C odoh said...

A well articulate story on a daily happening in our society. Though a fiction but not far from reality. Keep it up

antivirus said...

i told u dat u were going to go places. keep it up

Bindhu said...

This is wonderful Nze! Simply brilliant and well placed. But ill have to say the govt sector works the same everywhere ;).

yinka said...

Interesting story and a depiction of what goes on in the Ministries and other government sectors. God have mercy on many Tunji out there.

Anonymous said...

Nze, your narrative proxies a situation I am familiar with. Keep up the good work.

D. Ifeanyi Nwachukwu said...

A sad commentary on a people who have jettisoned from the ship of state, all the tools necessary for building a great nation. Tragic.

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

This happens everyday in our part of the world. Stolen ideas, lackadaisical attitude to work and absolute break-down of the civil service. Thanks for this...

chiomarh said...

Nze this is a nice work but i'm almost doubting if it's really a fiction or one of those heartbreaking expriences one of has been thru. the story is so real part of it if not all has actually taken place somewhere. Ride on Bro!!!

JD said...

Not a bad attempt. The ending seemed so abrupt and too neat (no surprises)... almost journalistic in the presentation.

Some minor characters were well drawn.

sylva nze ifedigbo said...

Thank you all for your comments.
@Chiomarrh, Thanks sis for checking it out.
@Jude Dibia, I feel so honoured.

Masimba Musodza said...

You read this and you just know that there's a stronger connection to real life. As a Zimbabwean, I am mildly surprised how similar our situations are-a government that is actually reluctant to bring in progress, ineptitude and apathy in the civil service. And I remember having no choice but to spend long hours in internet cafes. Well done


The message of this story was very well conveyed. So many of us spend time talking about these issues, but to see how you discussed it from a literary perspective was exciting. I am glad I read this this morning.

thesim said...

This story left me with moist eyes.

thesim said...

This story left me with moist eyes.

D. Ifeanyi Nwachukwu said...

A sad commentary on a people who have jettisoned from the ship of state, all the tools necessary for building a great nation. Tragic.

Valentine C odoh said...

A well articulate story on a daily happening in our society. Though a fiction but not far from reality. Keep it up

Tomi Davies said...

Well this is the story of the Nigerian public sector in a nutshell - where dreams go to die! Tunji, The Director and poor Sikiru litter today's Nigeria. How sad

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