Foreigner’s Guide To Keeping Sane in Nigeria
Part 1: Holding Meeting
Now that you’ve 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 it’s ok, 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.
About the Author
Elnathan John is an Abuja based writer and lawyer. Born in Kaduna, he went to the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and is currently in a postgraduate program at the Nigerian Defence Academy. Elnathan enjoys poetry and literary criticism and is currently working on a second collection of short stories