A Time for Nigerians

The wedding invitation says the service would start at 10:00am prompt. You get there by 09:50; the church doors are locked. You wonder if you have missed the directions. The church doors are opened at 10:01. People start trickling in by 11:05, the service starts by 11:20, and the bride waltzes in at 11:40. Don’t look surprised. Welcome to Nigeria!

Apart from the ubiquitous Pidgin English, (it’s definitely not “broken”), one other characteristic shared by many Nigerians is the proclivity for lateness, proudly packaged as “African Time”. Apparently, when the concept of time was being introduced, humanity failed to make a special consideration for Africans (spelt “N-I-G-E-R-I-A-N-S”). With a mild dose of truculence, Nigerians decided to make their own proprietary brand of time.

Hardly would a Nigerian be found who has not encountered African time, either as a naïve client or as a benevolent distributor. It’s a glue that seemingly helps to hold the social fabric together. Woe betides any meeting that starts on time.  The participants must be from the Nigerian part of Mars. If it’s a meeting scheduled to be hosted by Nigerians, in Nigeria, the odds are in favour of a late start (someone screams, “Fallacy of hasty generalization”).

It has gotten so bad that allowance is now made for African time during event planning; the same way a project manager incorporates slack time in project planning. Here’s how it works. You want a meeting to start at 4:00pm. In the invite, you state 2:00pm, with the assumption that people would start coming from 3:00pm, enabling the meeting to start at the 4:00pm you have in mind.

It’s a deceptive scheme that continues to entrench lateness in the minds of many Nigerians. Invitees plan to arrive late because they believe that the event would not start early. The hosts also plan to arrive late because they believe the invitees would be late. Everyone ends up arriving late, and as a self-fulfilling prophecy, the event starts late.

The lateness bug has also spread to service providers for events. The decorator is late, the sound team is late, the photographer is late, even the caterer is late. Some events have concluded without food because the caterer factored in African time, and then received the gift of a snail-beating traffic congestion.

Nigerians give several illogical reasons to justify the perpetuation of this ignominious culture. Recently, a certain man tried to “spiritualize” African time. To him, it allows other persons to meet up and “partake of the blessing”. That’s simply a self-serving reason that demonstrates an underlying sense of low value for time.

How can African time be stopped if we don’t see anything wrong with time wastage? Quite a few Nigerians place high value on their time, and the time of other persons. Chronic lateness is seen neither as a vice, nor as an ailment. It’s the norm, rather than the exception. It’s a culture that helps to lower Nigerians in the eyes of others. How would anyone take as serious or responsible, someone who is never early at anything, nor with anything?

However, there’s a glimmer of hope in the distance. Some organisations (mostly private companies) are prioritizing time consciousness. If their personnel can imbibe the culture of promptness, they can influence other persons outside such organisations. In the same vein, some churches have gotten tired of lateness. 7:00am is now 7:00am. If there’s only one person by 7:00am, the pews would join in starting the service.

The wind of change is also blowing towards weddings and funerals, led by time-conscious pastors. I have heard of pastors who start wedding services in the absence of the bride and groom. The couple are free to join the service at any point they meet it (hopefully, not at the benediction). I recently heard of a pastor who started a funeral service without the corpse. The time-conscious family arrived with the coffin midway into the service.

These actions may appear isolated, but gradually, a point is being made in the minds of Nigerians—the point that a paradigm shift is overdue in our perception of time-consciousness. As some Nigerians are converted, they would convert others, continuing the change. As more Nigerians come to abhor lateness, who knows, we may one day become more time-conscious than the Swiss. Then, “Nigerian Time” would be “World Time”.

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