By CHICHI ANIAGOLU-OKOYE
Our mouths stink in Nigeria and it is plain disgusting! I believe that at least one in five Nigerians has bad breath, not from any genetic disorder, but simply from poor dental hygiene. I have come to the odd conclusion that many unemployed graduates may not be finding work due to bad breath and body odour. I have had a few come to me for work and much as I sympathised with them, I could not concentrate on what they were saying because all my senses were being assaulted by the stomach-churning rotten smell that seemed to be coming from the bowels of a pit latrine. All I could do was try hard to shorten the interaction and pray for them to leave.
Perhaps we can pardon the unemployed. Maybe they have no money to buy toothpaste and chewing gum for periodic refreshing of the breath, but what can we say about public servants, including governors, special advisers, ministers, top civil servants and the like? I have never seen more ungroomed public representatives of a country than I have of Nigerians. I was at the airport once and saw this bunch of ragtag Nigerian officials going abroad to look for investors. Their hairs were unkempt, their suits looked hand-washed, the collars of their shirts were dirty, and yes, you got it, they had body odour and their mouths stank. It was so comical I asked one of them, whom I happened to know, if it was the circus they were going abroad to bring to their state. He did not get it, of course, and I did not bother to explain.
In all this tragedy, the best part is still the unkempt look; if you want the ultimate disgrace, attend a function abroad where these government “dignitaries” are hosted to a dinner. You will find clanking cutleries, drinks being slurped and people talking with their rotten mouths full of more rot-inducing food, even when someone is making a speech. Should the meal involve bones, then you see people battling to crush the bones and suck out the bone marrow, while periodically licking their hands. The end of the meal signifies the beginning of the war of the “revenge of the toothpick”, where toothpicks are used to attack the teeth in the full glare of everyone and food participles are intermittently flicked out of the mouth, not caring where it lands, and fingers are used to wipe the tip of the toothpicks. No wonder many of these investor-chasing trips, even when they are best intentioned, are hardly ever successful.
Can you imagine if you were a businessman and a group of people come to ask you to invest in their country, say from Cambodia, a country you know very little about and the little you know is all negative? You take one good look at them and despite being the top officials of the country they look so unkempt, would you not wonder who in that country would be able to purchase your products, if the top officials know nothing of deodorants and toothpaste? Perhaps I am being too simplistic and trivialising the many reasons people may not want to come and invest in Nigeria, but those who say that first impressions matter know exactly what they are talking about. If people hear negative things about Nigeria and you send top flight Nigerian executives who are intelligent, articulate, well groomed, smelling nice, with good table manners and so on, will it not begin to cast doubts in the minds of those who had heard only negative things about Nigeria? But when you send those who look like the decay they have heard Nigeria to be, who will come here?
It is a pity that public officers in Nigeria have never understood that looking good is good business, especially when representing Nigeria abroad. If government officials are to be sent abroad for whatever reason, they should be given grooming and etiquette lessons. They should get speech lessons and be taught how best to present their state or federal government internationally. Believe me, other countries do it, even developed nations, because everyone is competing for the same investors. So only the best prepared win the game.
Government officials aside, the private sector is not left out, especially the restaurants and hair salons. Nothing can be more disgusting than going into a restaurant and having a stinking waiter come to serve you or going to a salon and having a hairdresser whose armpit smells come to wash your hair. Ladies know what I am talking about. It’s really bad business.
We in Nigeria have to learn that being clean and well groomed is as important in governance, gaining employment and running a successful business, as the core business itself. So take the bold step and buy that new toothbrush and if someone offers you chewing gum in the middle of the day, take it, they are probably trying to tell you something that words cannot explain!