I had gone to a parastatal in the Federal Secretariat Abuja for enquiries. My initial displeasure was with the man at the security point who all but almost stripped me of my bag and dignity by behaving as if there was a gate fee for getting into the Secretariat. He used his eyebrows, adjusted his cap, and gesticulated a great deal in order to get me to water his nest, give him some kickback as part of my barter for access. It is not as if I have not met his kind but he was wasting my time and driving me insane with his antics. Of course, I don’t suffer fools gladly, so I don’t give these citizen beggars anything. It does not matter what they say and how they behave, I don’t let their antics get to me.
So Mr. Security tried everything for 15 minutes and still did not succeed, so he let me into the parastatal. The entire scenario should be the subject of a book, believe me, and I am considering it. Here is a working title, “How to access a Nigerian parastatal: the role of the soliciting security man”.
Anyway, having achieved entry with a sigh, I proceeded to the office of the director I was looking for. I was shocked to find a young lady, feet stretched on a sofa, in the outer office speaking loudly in vernacular with the two other staff that were sitting in office chairs. Not only were they totally out of character, they were eating different types of food – corn, moi moi, amala and egusi – in the outer office of a director; a director’s office people, in a Nigerian office space.
Merde! The whole office had the aroma of a confused restaurant. The strong aroma of egusi in red oil and the overhanging smell of smoked fish clung to the walls of the office like a cloak. There was an admixture of bean pudding, a bit of stale chicken and the fresh fried greens of vegetable. I held my breath to prevent me from being overwhelmed by the combination of aromas.
In spite of my standing very still and observing them in this dastardly act, they just carried on eating. I was some kind of interruption. They looked up and continued their chatter. Amazing!
I lost my voice at first from shock, then when I found it, I said, “Good morning, I have come to see the director!” They looked at each other and broke into a cacophony in vernacular. They asked each other where the director was. I am gifted with speaking seven languages and the ability to glean from two others, so I pretty much picked up what they were saying even though they believed I could not understand, or maybe they did not care if I did. There was an argument about where he had gone for all of five minutes in my presence. I was scandalised. When they finished their high-drama, one of them suddenly jumped up recognising me. She turned on her charm and attempted to massage my ego. How she loved me on TV, how I was her best newscaster, blah blah. I deadpanned and asked her where her director was for the umpteenth time. I wondered if they would have left their seats if they had not recognised me or if I was just someone requiring information. They had largely ignored me carrying on with their amala and moi-moi, in a government agency.
I was quite shocked by this turn of events but it was not the first time that people with responsibility for outer offices would be so irresponsible. Oftentimes, they are on their phones while a visitor is making an inquiry, or they claim ignorance of information they are supposed to have, or they are chewing gum and making indecent noises with it. Unfortunately, this applies more to the womenfolk than to the men.
We should be the change we need to see. Nigeria will not become a nation to be reckoned with when people who are our first contact in ministries, departments and agencies are eating or ignoring a customer. Customer care is at an all-time low in Nigeria and something needs to be done about it, and quickly too.
What about the supervisors? What about the director whose office I was visiting? I get the sense that he is aware that his staff are slack and not worthy. But I have also learnt that while I am splitting my spleen, the director could have come in and missed the point completely by playfully taking some of what the girls were eating for his own pleasure and declaring, in a true Nigerian style, “Look at these girls oh! Una dey enjoy”, while chewing some of the moi-moi. The change has to come from us.