Except from “How To Be A Nigeria” a Nigeria Classic By Peter Enahoro.

Next to God, there is nothing that fills the heart of the Nigeria with awe than a chairman.

God is divine, but the Chairman rules the temporal. In certain parts of Nigeria, the office of the prime minister can only be understood if you explain that he is the chairman of the government.

A chairman is appointed to direct a lecture. There is a chairman at football match, a wedding reception, a naming ceremony, funeral, political rallies and benefits film shows. Such is the passion that if three Cub-scouts are lost in the woods, they will very likely appoint a chairman to lead them to safely back to the wolf pack.

What qualifies a man for selection as chairman has never been clearly defined. He may be a wealthy member of the community. On the other hand, he maybe a washed-up but gravely dignified bankrupt. Or, a contributing columnist whose articles in the Press are outstanding because no one understands them.

All experienced chairman has sense of showmanship. Not only is he expected to distinguish himself in sartorial flamboyance, he carries a bundle of files and has a younger relative or servant trailing behind him, bearing an umbrella.

The umbrella is a status symbol and only men of culture and distinction may carry umbrellas in the dry season. The umbrella also falls handy in the midst of heated argument, the chairman is compelled to mete out discipline.

Long before the event over which is to preside, the practised chairman would spend hours before the mirrors, improvising, gesticulating and polishing up his ascent so that when he does make his speech, he has everyone confounded. People are accustomed to not understand their chairman and they will form a most excellent impression if he speak in between clenched teeth.

The chairman is ushered to the platform after an elaborate introduction which has its set pattern of protocol. It begins with the M. C. seeking attention but is held up in a traffic jam of interruptions everybody turns to hush up everybody else.

Protocol demands that M.C. keep the name of the chairman a closely guarded secret until the tail end of the introduction, which he may offer it as the highlight of the speech.

Although the name has been published in the programme, in handbills and on poster, this stunt is welcomed with joyous approval.

The M.C. says that is his bounden duty, his responsibility, his pride and pleasure “to introduce our father for this evening’s occasion.”

“Everyone knows that there cannot be two Chairmen for the same occasion (cheers). Therefore, we can only pick one captain for our boat tonight (prolonged applause). We all know the man I have in mind, but before I call upon him to assume the chair, I will seek your indulgence and his kind permission to digress a little.

“Who is this man who will be our chairman this evening? He studies London matriculation in Bombay after war, having retired from the RAF as a full sergeant (Loud ovation).

“He did not return home, but went to London to see the golden fleece (a sigh of admiration permeates the audience). He struggled on without a town union support government scholarship until he passed his B.A. and his intermediates L.L.B. (prolong loud ovation).

“Since returning home, our august chairman tonight has been personally responsible for drafting four petitions to government concerning the improvement of social amenities in our town in particular Nigeria in general.” (standing ovation).

The chairman-elect rise and strides purposely to the platform. He bows solemnly and commerce’s: “ladies and gentlemen, when I was apprised of the invitation to chairman on this occasion, I perceived that there were many better qualified than myself.”

The audience is not deeply touched by his humility, although they would sneer if he did not take time off from the main proceedings to humble himself in this manner. Everyone knows that Mr. Chairman is only making the customary opening gambit and that what he really means is that no one present is better qualified to be chairman than himself.

With circulated insinuation, the chairman launches a sly attack on his social rivals. By insisting that he had only half-heartedly accepted to be chairman, he unmasks other outstanding figures in the community whose image and prestige are thus diminished, as it then evident’ for it to see that they were never even considered.

The chairman speaks: “In this assembly I can see Pa Oluwole, Daddy Joseph and others elders and important figures such Adio-goldsmith. When the young people came to me and notified that they had designated me chairman, I said to them, ‘What about Pa Oluwole? Have you interrogated Pa Joseph? Did Adio-goldsmith decline? Why me’? ladies and gentlemen, I will tell you I was quite surprised. However, here we are. I am chairman.

“All of us here who have a good family background cannot ask for more when your own people honour you with this kind of choice. I am humbled.”

The demolition of Pa Oluwole, Daddy Joseph and Adio goldsmith is nearing completion. But the chairman is not done. He presses on ruthlessly. “The young people are adamant,” he says plaintively, “and I had no alternative but to accede to their request.”

This unconcealed condescension reduces his rivals to rubble. “I did not even have time to prepare the documents for an opening speech. I just jotted down a few notes which I have somewhere in my pocket.” He fumbles in his pockets and drags out ‘brief introductory remarks’ to last not a moment longer than half an hour.

It is imperative that the chairman makes a donation set at a competitive pitch but which no other can beat -  or dare. This gift is awarded more as a fee for being honoured with the chairmanship, than a contribution to charity.

I once play M.C. at a dance. When Mr. Chairman had concluded his speech, he leaned over and whispered to me that he would contribute*£5, but would I kindly announced that he had given £10? When I raised a quizzical look, he said breezily; “I have to think of my good name, you know.”

The chairman is a romantic figure, an arbiter, a head master, a check-out, dictator and verbal felon. Whether his audience likes (or understands) his sense of humour or not, it is incumbent that they raise raucous guffaws of roaring approval every time he pauses for breath.


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