(Reproduced for archival purposes)
So, you made it out of the visa office. Congratulations! I rejoice
with you. You crossed our borders even though someone deliberately
forgot to mention the yellow fever certificate. And after standing for a
long while you finally understood what the man at the airport meant
when he said you needed to show 'gratitude' for not making you go and take
a yellow fever shot. You wish you had small change, but issokay, you
are in and that is all that matters.
Now, whatever your business, one of the first things you will do is
hold a meeting. Nothing can be done by email or phone. There has to be a
meeting. Sometimes there will be a meeting to set the agenda for the
next meeting. We love meetings; this is the only time we get to run away
from our boring desks and do something really exciting. You can’t avoid
it. So listen closely.
Arrive just in time or fashionably late, a few minutes. Coming too
early means you are desperate or have nothing else to do. Even if this
is the case with you, don’t show it. If you are white especially they
will not be offended. In fact, they will make excuses for you and
apologise on behalf of the traffic, the bad roads, the distance; all
while they are shaking you vigorously and smiling gratefully. Appear
very busy otherwise they will spend fifteen minutes doing chit-chat
asking about your country and if you are married or how many children
you have. If you are looking for a favour however, indulge your host. If
it is a government meeting with any one above the level of a senior
civil servant, cancel all other appointments for that day. If you like
reading, take a big book. The boss might saunter in a full hour after
the set time. This is normal. He will apologise profusely. Accept it
with a smile.
Do not appear shocked depending on where you are, when someone
suggests that the meeting begins with an opening prayer. We love opening
prayers. God is our father and we are His children. Say amen if you
can; if not pretend to bow your head. If you can stomach it, enjoy our
colourful prayers especially if the Christian ones, as they ‘commit’ the
meeting into the hands of Jesus. It is very important. The Muslim ones
will be mostly in Arabic so you won’t need to bother. Just know that
somehow God will be in that meeting.
When the meeting finally begins, don’t get irritated if after the
boss asks everyone to turn their phone ringers off, someone’s phone
starts ringing loudly. Not even if the owner of the phone pretends for
the first five seconds that it is not his. This is normal. They do not
mean to be rude. It’s just that he has two or three phones and he
thought the instruction meant turn only one ringer off.
You must learn to fall in love with our preambles and tautologies
and use of explosive tri-syllabic words. So when one is called to speak
he will first thank the moderator for giving him the chance to speak
followed by general observations on how the meeting is quite important
and why it is a rare privilege to be there. We love words like ‘singular
honour’ and ‘rare privilege’. You should love them too. It is perfectly
normal to say that you are 'happy' and 'pleased' or that something is
'essential' and 'important'.
Be prepared to hear the same comments repeated by almost everyone in
the room. Usually after the first person has made a comment, relax and
play a mental game of how many people can repeat what he said.
Otherwise you may burst an artery. The repetitions will usually begin
with ‘just as the last speaker said’ or ‘I totally agree with what the
last speaker said’, or my personal favourite ‘I want to completely align
myself with the last speaker.’ Don’t be fooled into joy when suddenly
someone begins by saying ‘I don’t want to repeat what everyone has
said.’ This will quickly be followed by a ‘but’, after which he or she
will promptly just that- repeat what everyone has said. This is a
cultural thing- we like emphasis just so you don’t miss the point.
After all the repetitions and winding speeches, little will be
achieved and you may have to adjourn until another day. Be patient.
Nothing ends in one meeting in Nigeria. But don’t run off yet. There has
to be a closing prayer. God must be thanked for a successful meeting;
after all, any of a hundred tragedies could have happened from someday
dying mysteriously to the building collapsing on you. So be patient
while they thank God.
Slowly you will get used to it and you will enjoy holding meetings with the people of this great country.