By: Sylva Nze Ifedigbo
To start with, your boss, the Nigerian big man, most likely owns a protruding, very concave abdomen, which advances before him like a near-term pregnancy when he walks. This is his cherished certificate of membership to the big men club. You are warned never to grow one. The Nigerian big man abhors competition and treats disloyalty like leprosy. Aspiring to look like him is not just competition, it is treachery that attracts severe punishment. There must always be a clear difference between the oga and the boy-boy when both of you are in public. This rule applies across board – do not aspire to attain the boss’ level or position or you will be cut off and tossed away, like weed. The big man must remain the big man and the boy-boy must remain the boy-boy for the world to be at peace.
Your boss is all-knowing and infallible. From his lips spews uncommon wisdom and never-heard-of ideas. Everything he says is correct. It doesn’t matter how ridiculous and embarrassing it sounds. His fart must smell like perfume to your nostrils. When he asks your opinion on any matter (which is a rare privilege, by the way), you must not only agree with his thoughts but also find adjectives to express your awe at such wonderful ideas and how blessed you are to be schooled at his feet. You must know that he is not asking for your opinion, it’s just his way of seeking validation. The day you disagree with him is the day things begin to fall apart for you. Your Nigerian big man boss hates to be challenged and even more so in public. Only traitors disagree with the boss. So shove your plenty degrees and superior ideas up your rectum and conform to the sycophancy parade. After all, if you were any smarter, you would have been the big man and he, the boy-boy.
His entry into a room must evoke reaction. You must scamper to your feet like pupils at the sight of their headmaster and stand motionless like a statue as he strolls by. You had better be loud with your “Good morning, Chief or Ranka Dede Alhaji”. If his hands bear anything, you must hurry and relieve him of such trouble. Your Nigerian big man boss’ hands are too fragile to carry a briefcase or even a newspaper. He needs both hands-free to constantly adjust the loose ends of his agbada or babariga and if he is a politician, to acknowledge cheers from hangers-on and supporters who idle around to catch a glimpse of him. You must pull open the car door for him because he doesn’t know how to and as he sits, you must imagine yourself a military cadet and give a full salute. The closer to a zombie your actions are around the big man, the closer you are to his dinner table, and by extension, the more scraps your hungry mouth gets to catch.
Should his shoes get dusty during a function, you need not be told before you whip out your handkerchief and wipe them clean. You can use your bare hands for the purpose. It shows how humble you are. When he is ascending a staircase, be sure you hold up the ends of his flowing apparel, so it does not touch the floor. By all means, when he coughs, make sure you catch cold. On a sunny or rainy day, you must hold an umbrella over his head while taking a beating from the harsh weather, unprotected. His life matters more than yours. You are, because he is.
You must realise that as the aide to oga, oga-madam, by extension, owns your loyalty and allegiance. In fact, she has the power to warm you closer to oga’s heart or have you kicked out like trash in a second. So be wise. Your big man boss does not joke with his wife. Forget the many mistresses and slay queens you know about. He will do whatever to please this main madam. So do everything in your power to be in her good books. Always seek her out just to greet her and while you are at it, make sure you prostrate or genuflect or both. Compliment her dressing and beauty just enough as not to be seen as openly flirting. Remember, everything she wears fits amazingly. Run errands for her as many times as she asks like a good boy or girl, never grumbling. Drive her. Stay up many nights researching and writing her Master’s Degree thesis. This will buy you a good spot in her heart. But don’t take her smiles of gratitude too seriously. She sees you no more than a hungry fellow hanging around her husband for survival and secretly blames you even for his infidelity.
And the kids? they own you too. You must be of good cheer around them. Always smile no matter how your day is going. Forget you have kids their age; greet them. Should you have the bad fortune of them being of the very uncouth type, grow a thick skin to insults and prepare for events that will make you curse your birth. Woe betides you that your big man’s daughter complains that you were late at picking her up from school which made her hungry and gave her a headache. It wouldn’t matter that it was just a five-minute delay caused by a broken-down trailer close to the school gate. When your Nigerian big man boss tongue lashes you for being so irresponsible in front of the child, swallow hard and remember the bigger picture. Insults never killed no one.
When you achieve anything while working for the Nigerian big man — buy a new car, buy land, build a house, start a business, etc, — ensure to keep it discreet. Remember the first advice I gave you here. Your Nigerian big man’s default impression is that you have been stealing from him or that you are now growing wings and would soon seek to fly away. They don’t want you to become independent of them. Your breaking free upsets the balance of roles. So, they would quickly abort whatever progress you think you are making and leave you in a state of arrested development – at their mercy. So be smart. Gather your loot quietly and then abscond when the target has been met. Take note, however, you will never successfully run away from your Nigerian big man boss, whatever you ever own or become will always be one way or the other, attributed to him. And he will always take the glory referring to you gleefully as “My boy.”
Sylva Nze Ifedigbo, creative writer and social commentator, is the author of Believers and Hustlers. He is available on social media at @nzesylva.