By Bayo Adeyinka
If you live in Yorubaland, there is every likelihood that you’ll be invited to be the chairman at an event- at least once in your lifetime. That’s a statement of fact. We always have ceremonies and events and none is complete without a chairman- parlour weddings, naming ceremonies, graduation events referred to as ‘freedom’, weddings, book launches, alumni events, religious events such as anniversaries, bazaars and so on.
There is an art to handling the role of the Chairman but first, you must congratulate yourself if you are ever invited to chair a Nigerian event. The organizers have looked at your star and it is either you have been perceived to have ‘arrived’ or you’re on the way. Either way, you’re a Nigerian Big Man or Woman. So the first thing you must note is that a chairman never comes to an event alone and never on time. Read that very slowly and let me repeat this for the sake of emphasis. If you’re the chairman of an event, never go there alone and never too early. A true sign of your chairmanship is your lateness. But your lateness must have a method- not too late that the programme is almost over. It is a faux pas to arrive before other guests. A whole chairman! Other mortals must be seated before your grand entrance as you arrive with your entourage. That is why a chairman is never given a single invitation card. You are given many because it is a given that you can never walk alone. I will tell you another reason why a chairman should never come alone later.
As chairman, your appearance determines your acceptance. You must set forth in your agbada and a cap to match. Only an incomplete chairman will wear ordinary ‘buba and sokoto’. Your agbada must be the N1,500 type- the one that overflows so much that you’re always shuffling your arms as you fold the agbada on your gaunt shoulders. You must practice the art of shuffling the agbada overflow so it doesn’t get in the way of your performance. And should a chairman turn out in shirt and trouser or a suit, if the emcee is godly, he will recognize him as a representative of the real chairman. Otherwise, the audience will be informed that the chairman is in traffic. Oh- your cap! Your cap must be higher than that of the other members of the high table and the audience. Your cap gives you brand recognition. By the height of their cap, you shall know them.
When you arrive at the venue, go and sit in the audience. Never you make the mistake of going straight to the high table. Pretend to be humble. A chairman is first introduced and then invited with pomp and pageantry to the high table. Normally, chairmen are not meant to go to the high table alone. They are ‘ushered’ to the high table- sandwiched between two damsels who struggle to collect the chairman’s belongings. Allow them to carry what you’re holding. You don’t need that extra weight. And as you approach the elevated podium, understand that there is a particular way you are supposed to walk. Measured steps. Calculative. Deliberate. Intentional. Don’t scatter your legs like that of a duck
The Chairman must know how to speak different languages in different situations. In a church event, he must know when to say, ‘E ke Halleluyah’. In the mosque, he must know when to ‘salamo’. Since he must give a speech, he needs to learn how to give one. Your speech determines whether they will call you back another time. Or whether a guest in the audience can pencil you down for another event- once a chairman, always a chairman. Your speech must be laced with humour. You must make people laugh even if you’re not a funny bone. Say something that will wow the audience and make them clap. But your speech should never be long. People want to eat and they are not ready for long speeches. Anyway, no one will remember what you said a few minutes after your speech.
As chairman, you must smile at the camera. Smile at the photographer. You have to look good in the pictures. Don’t laugh too much even when jokes are being cracked by the emcee. A chairman can’t laugh hysterically like hyenas. And when it is time for food, please as chairman, take only rice. You can’t be eating amala, draw soup and ‘shaki’ in front of the audience. It is somehow. Eat something light. And should you need more food, please don’t shout. Don’t even raise your hand or beckon at the ‘servers’. You are chairman oooo. Whisper to the next person to you or the emcee. They are under oath to get you anything you want.
If it is time to dance, Mr Chairman, please don’t practice or show your zanku movements. E ma gbe body at all. It is an abomination for the chairman to fall down or your agbada to become entangled like a spider’s web. Mba! Just move from the left to the right with clenched fists. Don’t listen to the emcee or musicians who are praising your ancestors to over dance. Moderation, Mr Chairman. One thing a chairman never fails to do is to get ‘mint’ – new notes- before the occasion. Stuff your pockets with some lower denominations. The lower the denomination, the more times you can give an offering or donation. One of the core responsibilities of a chairman is to donate money. That is actually the essence of our ceremonies. Always put your donation in a sealed envelope. That way, they don’t get to see the actual contents until after much later- by which time you have disappeared.
Mr Chairman Wannabe, I promised to let you further know why you should never walk alone. By the end of the event, the celebrant will give out souvenirs or take-away’ food packs. This is where the people that followed you come handy. You handover your souvenir or gift pack to one of them. Chairmen don’t carry things, remember? As you make your way out after the event, remember to shake almost everyone. As you shake people, it’s okay to say ‘e ku ojo meta’ even when you can swear you’ve not met them before. Part of a chairman’s remit is meet and greet. You enter your car and still throw a few more banters. You must never be in a hurry. Honk a few times and drive slowly away as you exhale.
And that’s how to be a chairman.
– Bayo Adeyinka is a banker, public commentator and social critic living in Lagos.