I was browsing the bookshelf of Surulere Bookshop when I came across the book. Surulere Bookshop used to be the best bookshop in the whole of Ile-Ife when I was growing up. It was opposite the Palace of the Ooni at Enuwa. If you were standing in front of Ife Museum, you would be facing the bookshop.
I looked at the name of the author. I thought they had made a mistake. I knew Tony Enahoro. Mr. Fisan Bankale, my Government teacher loved to talk about him. Tony Enahoro was a journalist, a politician and an elder statesman. He was also the first Nigerian to be admitted as a member of the famous Ikoyi Club which used to be exclusively for Europeans.
But Peter Enahoro? Never heard of him. I was in Form Three. The title of the book was also intriguing. How To Be A Nigerian. Is there any need for a manual to teach someone how to be a Nigerian? I thought. Then I opened the first page…
Since then I must have bought about 10 copies of the book. People simply love taking the book away. My latest copy was bought last year. I hope to keep this copy for as long as possible. Today, I am going to share an excerpt from the book with you.
But first let me tell you about the author.
Peter Enahoro remains one of the youngest Nigerians ever to edit a national newspaper. He became the editor of Daily Times in 1962 at the age of 27. He wrote under the pen name Peter Pan. If you want to know more about him, I recommend his seminal autobiography, Then Spoke The Thunder.
Let’s go back to How To Be a Nigerian. He titled this The Chairman.
Over to Peter Enahoro:
Next to God, there is nothing that fills the heart of the Nigerian with greater awe than a chairman.
God is divine, but the Chairman rules the temporal. In certain parts of Nigeria, the office of the prime minister (the President) 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 a football match, a wedding reception, a naming ceremony, funeral, political rallies and benefit film shows. Such is the passion that if three cub-scouts are lost in the woods, they will likely appoint a chairman to lead them 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 may be 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 chairmen have a sense of showmanship.
Not only is he expected to distinguish himself in sartorial flamboyance, he carries a bundle of files and a younger relative or servant trailing behind, 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 if in the midst of heated argument, the chairman is compelled to mete out discipline.
Long before the event over which he is to preside, the practiced chairman would spend hours before the mirror, improvising, gesticulating and polishing up his accent so that when he does make his speech, he has everyone confounded. People are accustomed to not understanding their chairman and they will form a most excellent impression if he speaks 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 MC seeking attention but is held up in traffic jam of interruptions as everybody turns to hush-up everybody else.
Protocol demands that the MC keeps the name of the chairman a closely guarded secret until the tail end of the introduction when he may offer it as the highlight of his speech. Although the name has been published in the programme, in handbills and on posters, this stunt is welcomed with joyous approval.
The MC says that it 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 studied London matriculation in Bombay after the war, having retired from the RAF as a full sergeant (loud ovation).
He did not return home, but went to London to seek the golden fleece (a sigh of admiration permeates the audience). He struggled on without a town union support or government scholarship until he passed his BA and his intermediate LL.B (prolonged loud ovation).
Since returning home, our august chairman tonight has been personally responsible for drafting FOUR petitions to the government concerning the improvement of social amenities in our town in particular and Nigeria in general. (standing ovation).”
The chairman-elect rises and strides purposedly to the platform. He bows solemnly and commences: “Ladies and Gentlemen, when I was apprised of the invitation to chairman this occasion, I perceived that there were many better qualified than myself.”
The audience is not deeply touched by this 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 calculated 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 is then evident for all to see that they were never considered.
The chairman speaks: “In this assemblage, I can see Pa Oluwole, Daddy Joseph and other 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 tell you I was quite surprised. However, here we are. I am chairman.”
“All of us here who have 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 here in my pocket.” He fumbles in his pockets and drags out ‘brief introductory remarks’ to last not a minute longer than half an hour...
I can see you laughing! Every time I read it I can’t but laugh! Please look for the book at your nearest bookshop. It is a small book of less than 90 pages. You can finish it while the chairman of your next occasion is dragging out his ‘brief introductory remarks’!