Growing up in Nigeria, one phrase continuously heard was “African time”. It appears the world had a meeting and assigned a special time-keeping system to Africans, with Nigerians as the guardians of this time standard. With such a reputation at odds with the famous timekeeping Swiss, stereotypical expectations assume that Nigerians would never be early at anything, even if their lives were to depend on being early. Unfortunately, while some Nigerians try to defeat this stereotype, some others go extra lengths to ensure Nigeria’s battered image remains unredeemed.
This article isn’t designed to complain about stereotypes or anything of that sort. I noticed I had written no article for almost two weeks and had to do something about that before the lords of engineering completely lay claim to my brain. So, while preparing for an exam with a very impressive (“scary”) failure rate, I decided to take a short break and write about a recent event that almost made me deny my citizenship temporarily.
At Cranfield University, there is a module called “Management for Technology”, compulsorily taken by a set of science and engineering postgrads. The module aims to teach technical-minded students about corporate management. On the first day of this week-long module, the module convenor cheerfully informed the multinational mix of students that anyone who arrived late to lectures would have to sing his/her national anthem for the class’ amusement. To spice things up, fellow students from that person’s country would join the latecomer on stage to display their national pride.
It didn’t take long for the first victim to enter Stephen’s net. After lunch, a dark-skinned student was unfortunate to come in after the lecture had begun. “Which country are you from”? “Nigeria!” At this point, this person was ushered to the front with continuous clapping by students expecting a rendition. Nigerian students were asked to join their comrade on stage, and after prodding by students from other countries who pointed out their Nigerian colleagues, about ten Nigerians stepped forward. To be fair, the closing line of the first stanza, “One nation bound in freedom, peace and unity”, was delivered to a round of applause from the audience.
After the Nigerians, the French fell victim, then Panama, and then the Poles felt their few numbers meant they may never fall foul of the lateness rule, so they volunteered to sing their anthem. Although the anthem-singing was generally funny, the not-too-funny part was that dark-skinned persons (from Nigeria) kept coming late, some as late as forty minutes after a lecture had begun. Stephen kept lamenting about the impoliteness of arriving late and rhetorically asked if those latecomers had lateness customs in their country.
On the last day of the module, awards were given to the countries who sang their national anthems. While the French won “best delivery” for a heartfelt rendition of “La Marseilles”, Nigeria was awarded the “most consistently late country”. We laughed over the comical mockery, but one Nigerian lady met Stephen after the class to protest the award. Let’s call her Lady X. Lady X told Stephen that due to the large number of Nigerians in the class (about one-in-five), the probability of a Nigerian arriving late was higher than that of other countries’ citizens. She further argued that the award to Nigeria would unconsciously perpetuate the stereotype that Nigerians were always late, and that Stephen could have balanced the award by recognizing that some Nigerians were always early in class, and in fact, a Nigerian was the first person in class for the entire week.
Thanks to Lady X, although the class was dispersing and Stephen could no longer address the entire class, he delivered a box of chocolates to the Nigerian who turned on the lights in the lecture room for most days of the week. Though the prize was merely symbolic, Lady X wanted to ensure that a vital point was made—there are several Nigerians who keep to time. Later that day, I got talking with Lady X, and we looked at how the actions of some Nigerians keeps painting the country in a bad light. There are hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of Nigerians spread in countries around the world, but we only get to hear of the Nigerians who push drugs or traffick humans or try to bomb planes. No one talks about the Nigerians working in professional capacities, contributing to the economic growth of their host countries. Can we blame the world for painting us black? No.
The fact is that the world doesn’t owe us anything. No one owes Nigeria a duty to publicise its good people or clarify news reports of “bad Nigerians” by adding that not all Nigerians act like those bad eggs. Even when we talk about corruption, we can accept that it is widespread, but it certainly isn’t as bad as the media paints it. It’s not as if every Nigerian is an irredeemable mass of corruption. There are good Nigerians. We just need to get those good ones in the spotlight. As Lady X told me, we make it seem like the good ones are abnormal and the deviant ones are “normal Nigerians”, whereas the converse is the case. Redeeming Nigeria’s image would take a long time, and all it takes is one or two Nigerians doing the right things and influencing others to play by the right rules. The same way cancer spreads across living cells is the way to redeem Nigeria’s image—one step at a time. We would get there. In the meantime, let me resume work on this box of chocolates.
Image Credit: opinionnigeria.com