The task of being the face and soul of Nigeria in countries abroad is a tough tough one. It is not easy to be a go-between for Nigerian businesses, support and negotiate for and on behalf of Nigerians, or deal with foreign governments. The job of being an ambassador or running an embassy is not one for learners. Only the best can or should be allowed to do this. This is why I have decided to put together a quick manual for running an embassy abroad. It also has something for Nigerians going to Nigerian embassies.
The Contact Number
You know Nigerians. If you give them your correct phone number they will call you at midnight or before you have brushed your teeth in the morning to ask you a stupid question. They will call you to tell you they just wanted to greet you. They will call you to tell you their wife did not cook for them or their husband came home late. They will call you say they were just checking “if the number is working”. This is why you cannot afford to have someone always pick up the phone at the embassy. People must realise that you will not always answer the phone and this realisation will lead to urban legend that will spread among Nigerians abroad and discourage all those who want to call for foolish reasons. You should not be too easy to reach.
When you finally pick up, there must be no doubt about your irritation or impatience. If someone calls your cellphone with say an unknown number, you must, if you are magnanimous enough to pick the call, scold them and tell them how fortunate they are to be speaking to you because normally, you “do not pick unknown numbers”.
We are Nigerians. We prefer physical visits to this Western invention called telephones. If they are lazy and can’t come to the embassy in person, make them see their folly. Let them know from your reluctance in speaking to them that you did not come there for play. You are only picking the phone number out of courtesy. And they should be grateful for this. Because in many public offices in Nigeria, the contact phone numbers do not even ring.
The embassy building is a safe haven. It means that you do not want a place that Nigerians will not be able to recognise. You do not want a place that is so different from Nigeria that it gives citizens a culture shock. They come there to run away from the strangeness and forced order of the country they are in. They do no want a formal, unfamiliar space. This is why you should allow things like a restaurant that serves beans and dodo in some embassies. Yes, it may smell of palm oil and food when people walk in, but what better to showcase Nigeria than the smell of our food? Also, you want a place that is friendly enough to have children running around in and screaming. Because a quiet Nigerian embassy is not a good Nigerian embassy.
Nigerians are not used to seeing someone at the desk at all times. They may start to feel policed and panic. They need to wait. They cannot leave Nigeria where they always wait and just come to a foreign country where Nigerian processes happen quickly. That would be discrimination against those living in and enduring Nigeria. Make sure that people wait. Nigerians know how to wait. They have been waiting since 1960 for something to happen. The embassy should not be different.
You must make sure you have the minimum. Security doors and all. But you don't always have to use it. We are a hospitable people. People should be able to go in and go out easily, through the security door or beside it.
You can take a Nigerian out of Nigeria, but you should not be able to take the Nigerian out of him. Have embassy staff shout out to each other from time to time. This in addition to the children running about and screaming should raise the noise levels to something close to what it is in Nigeria.
The embassy should be clean but not too clean. Never ever throw away old furniture or equipment. Pile it in a corner that should be out of sight but not too hidden. A determined person should be able to see the clutter and know that Nigerians do not like to throw anything away.
Going to an embassy
As a Nigerian abroad, when you go to an embassy, you want to feel free. The country you are in, especially in those cold European countries, is unkind to you. It makes you unable to do the things you want to do - things you didn’t think twice about doing in Nigeria. Like slapping sense into your child. Or having conversations on the top of your voice. Or asking people what tribe they are so that you can speak about them in a language they do not understand.
If your child messes up, give them a good beating. It is not like the police will come into the Nigerian embassy to arrest you. That building on that piece of land is considered Nigeria. And in Nigeria we beat our children. We beat any devilish behaviour out of the so they can grow to be responsible adults.
If you have food in a takeaway pack, eat it while you wait for the person at the desk to show up. Laugh loudly. Ask people personal questions. Like "You get papers?". Because the embassy is home. And everyone should be able to do what they want in their own home.
I know I have not covered the field, but this is a good place to start. God bless you as you engage with a Nigerian embassy abroad.
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