-By: Toyinbo Olumide
African time culture was more popularised in Nigeria before now, but somehow, it has been localised both by name and conduct just as it has been. Perhaps, other African countries might have cut any attachment with the culture, but what is very much obvious is that most Nigerians, if not all, are yet to get their blood and fluid cleansed of the deadly syndrome. Going by the Online Collins dictionary, “African time” and by extension,”Nigerian time” simply means ‘unpunctuality’. Its simply meansshowing lackadaisical attitude to time and its implications. A Ghanaian writer, while commenting on the simple lack of punctuality andthe lax attitude to time in Africa commented that: ‘one of the main reasons for the continuing underdevelopment of our country is our nonchalant attitude to time, and the need for punctuality in all aspects of life. The problem of punctuality has become so endemic that lateness to any function is accepted and explained off as ‘African time’’. In localising the time-syndrome, it is not false to say the syndrome of the Nigerian-time has eaten deep to the fabrics of the societies in Nigeria. Without any sanction attached, most Nigerians walk in always very late to events, but when there are special sanctions to be issued out, we tend to drop the true nature.
The irony of the matter lies in the fact that Nigerians are fashion-conscious, and we as well attach so much importance to decorative elements. We use fashionable wristwatches and hang attractive wall-clocks on our walls, but fail to dance to the tune of timeliness they play. Another ironical thing is the fact thatwe make so many jokes about it. I stumbled on a joke online, it goes thus- ‘‘while everyone else made it at the same time to the presence of St. Peter, the custodian of the heavenly gates, the Nigerian showed up two hours late.’‘ Not really surprised though, Nigerians would even go late to their own wedding. When asked by St. Peter why he was late, he responded ‘‘Oga, that’s how we roll in my own countries, the actual time is two hours after the scheduled time, that’s why I‘m here now. He then promised St. Peter, ‘‘I will be punctual from now on’‘. At this, St. Peter responded and said, ‘‘don’t worry, I will help you to be punctual and I will begin by sending you early to hell.’‘
Something noticeable is the fact that people are now resorting to lies and deceits to enforce that people are punctual to events and to advocate their timeliness. An event happened in UI on Friday, and I had the privilege to be one of the planners of the event, the body of persons facilitating the event told us strictly that they would be around by 10am as we relayed to them that that will be our starting time. They emphasised that everything must be set before they enter the venue, including the attendants or else they might just have to go back without maximising their mission because they have no time to waste. The Head of the Event-planning committee brought up a smart move which we embraced. We formulated a broadcast, we put 9am prompt as the starting point, just because we knew our people and their peculiarity. Trust me, apart from the event-planning committee members, the first person came in thirty minutes after 9am, from there, people started coming in oneand twos. The event started 10am prompt despite not-too-encouraging-attendants. To show the lackadaisical attitude of Nigerians to time, people were still arriving till 12 noon for an event slated for 9am and even beyond. What can we say, it is just in the blood. No shame! The academic and learned atmospheres which ought to be spared of the syndrome are mightily infested.
Dr.Tonye David-West, a political scientist based in USA, long time ago lamented about the use of deceits and lies to maintain timeliness amongst Nigerians. He claimed he was invited for a naming ceremony. Unknown to them, he said the parents sent out two types of invitation cards. On one, they wrote ‘6pm’ as the starting time and the other they wrote ‘4:30pm’. The former was sent to non-Nigerian and African guests, mostly colleagues from their work places, and the later was for the Nigerians and Africans. He relayed that he got to know about the trick when he got to the event at about 4:30pm and found no one there. Upon calling the celebrants to ascertain the time, they confessed their trick. In his case, he confirmed that the Nigerian and the African guests arrived at the same time as the non-African guests who were on the mark at 6:30p.m.
Even occupants of the political corridors, leaders, acclaimed intellectuals and people with influence in the country are not left out of the infestation of the heinous syndrome. The country can only boast of few of its members who stick to time. Recently, a voice identified as ‘the voices’ lamented on the poor attitude of a notable Nigerian to time at an event in a brief article. The event was hosted by ANUNSA in conjunction with the Kingsley Moghalu Initiative. As reported, the event was slated to commence exactly 12pm with special inclusion of ‘No-Nigerian time’. The programme started an hour late amidst the poor planning. As if that was not enough,the acclaimed initiator of the event, Kingsley Moghalu, a presidential candidate, did not arrive at the event till about thirty-six minutes past 3pm. Overall, this shows the attitude of a typical Nigerian to time which we must defeat with all hands being on deck.
Nigerian time is just far more than what we can just imagine on the surface. The syndrome found its way to the whole system. Infrastructure, amenities and welfare services obligated to be done by the government are not done with high sense of urgency or punctuality no matter the need for prompt action. SonalaOlumhense, a popular Nigerian columnist described project-construction in Nigeria as perpetual as a result of the influence of the Nigerian-time culture. Illustrating his assertion, he used one of the key disclosures in President Buhari’s speech, the President made it known in his New Year address speech that, of the nine roads to receive ‘special attention’ in a scheme in which ‘each geopolitical zone will benefit by an equal amount of #16.67billion’. With the infestation of the Nigerian time syndrome under which there is no hurry, most of those roads have been under permanent construction and reconstruction, unlike some other countries where projects of public interest are sped up. Government projects in Nigeria have starting date just like gaining admission to Nigerian public varsities, but no end-date as the case maybe, all credited to the syndrome.
It is high time we dewormed the worms of unpunctuality eating deeply into our flesh, blood and fluid. The Nigeria-time culture has never helped us, but paint us with colours of irresponsibility and nonchalant attitude to things that matter internationally. There is a need to stop slacking in doing things at the right time, and at the time needed most. This message is to everyone attached to Nigeria. Attaching serious value to time is a need for us, as well as respecting other people’s time and commitment too. There should be zero-tolerance for lateness especially for public events, our tolerance makes it flourish and it is enough! Let’s start surprising ourselves by attending to issues, events and occasions promptly. With that, we tend to boost our productivity level, our identity and as well redefine the Nigerian-time to be punctuality rather than ‘unpunctuality’.
Yes! We can! Let us start by setting the pace here in UI.