The frail figure in front of me offered me a hand and spoke in a heavy voice. “Good morning sir!, You are welcome”. I gathered myself hurriedly, least expecting the blunt welcome. I struggled to put on a smile and reciprocate his greetings. He led us to a dimly lit conference room and offered me a chair to seat myself. I sat lightly respecting the fragility of the chair and turned towards my host and offered him my visiting card. He took it, but offered me none and came straight to the point of our intended visit.
It was my first sales call in the day and here I was; expecting a large corporate conference room of a supposedly ‘large’ media firm in Nigeria. The décor had shaken me thoroughly and I was finding it difficult to focus on my sales pitch and presentation. My colleague in sales who was accompanying me was at his eloquent best, oblivious of the shock I was reeling under.
This was not the first time that I was taken by surprise in Nigeria. But today was different. We had struggled for several days to get this appointment and I was told that entry into this account meant opening the media vertical for our products and services. I opened up the discussion by introducing my company and the solution we were pitching and could see that my host was not really interested in the ‘formality’. “Can I have your brochure? We will study your product and get back to you very soon for a demo. My other colleagues will like to attend the demo as well.”
The tone was very clear. We were welcome, but only for a few minutes. This was not acceptable. After all we had spent about an hour in the crazy Lagos traffic and we deserved better audience.
I stared at his glaring eyes and was about to press on with my sales pitch when my years of experience alerted me like never before. I could see a thin watery film on his eyes trying to give way from the side. He was controlling himself immensely. The red veins in his eyes were reflecting the throbbing in his head and I could see that he was simply in great agony!
My heart raced on this close observation and I was desperately seeking to break the embarrassing impasse. I asked him boldly, ‘ Sir I understand that this is probably not the right time for business discussion, but I can see that perhaps you need some help. How can I help you?”.
He quivered and his eyes shifted slightly. I knew that I had messed this up. I suddenly realised that he may misread me and think that I am offering him some bribe for opening the conversation. I responded quickly by adding, “Sir, do you need some medical help?”.
The watery film in his eyes gave way to droplets streaking down his eyes. He was quick to compose himself and simply shook his head. For the first time, I saw his eyes showed some kind of friendliness. “I just got the news that my child has been caught by the police for drug abuse. I have to rush to the police station to resolve the matter. I am sorry for not being able to meet you at length”, he said.
The words stung me and my heart ached. I had never been in this situation ever in my life.
As I came out of the meeting, I realized that today I had gained a deep cultural experience in Nigeria. The agony of a father who had the audacity to entertain us briefly in spite of his personal issues – just because we had an appointment! His extreme control over his heart, tears and patience to respect the time given to an ‘Oga’- the Nigerian rendition of the popular figure of the patriarch, a caregiver.
My colleague hurried up to catch up with me and he gave the next shocker..”Sorry Sir; this meeting could not be fruitful!”
I did not bother to answer him. For me; I had the most profound experience today which I am unlikely to forget in my life!.