A quote attributed to Shakespeare says “Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.” If Shakespeare had lived in contemporary times, I may have been inclined to believe this quote may have been inspired by an encounter with chronic latecomers. Google “African time” and the results would show a shameful habit that has become accepted by many Africans, especially those from the country called Nigeria.
This is not the first time I would be writing about African time. An earlier post in 2015 was more of a lamentation about the tendency of Nigerians to be late for just every event. Thereafter, earlier this year I wrote another piece decrying lateness among Nigerian students outside the shores of Nigeria. Apparently, African (or Nigerian) time is one of Nigeria’s exports. Each time I have written about Nigerian time, I have been triggered by one late act or the other, and this time is not different.
Before I continue, my apologies to the principal actors in today’s rant. They are my friends, so it’s nothing personal, just a learning opportunity if the ranting format can be overlooked. Let me begin.
A group of Nigerian friends recently organised a picnic. The announced start time was 12 noon. On that day, I called the chief organiser by 11am just to confirm that the picnic was to hold as scheduled since I was already in the town on another engagement. To my horror (seriously?), she informed me that it was raining where she and the rest of the party where, so they were planning to shift the picnic to 1pm. However, since I couldn’t return home, I went to the park to wait for 1pm while being harassed by chilly breeze. A few minutes to 1pm, I called again and was told they were waiting for a cab to come at 1.30pm. At 1.30, I called again, expecting that they would already be close. How shocked I was to hear that “the cab has not come”. Finally, when another call at 1.50 informed me that they had not even left the campus, I decided to walk away. My day went from bad to worse, as my phone’s map confused me, then the phone went dead, and finally, I had to get a cab home, paying several times the cost of a bus.
Did my friends apologise? Of course, they did. They even asked me to return to the picnic venue, but I had had enough. Maybe it wasn’t their fault. Maybe their environment made late-coming normal to them. When I got home, I made myself a promise to never attend any event organised by a Nigerian, no matter how close we are, except the person would give me a guarantee that the event would start as advertised. Now I know this decision sounds childish and extremely crazy, but having suffered enough discomfort from the mischief of my compatriots, I am ready to damn social etiquette.
Why are Nigerians dependably late? Why do Nigerians believe no event would or should start on time? It appears our lackadaisical attitude to punctuality mirrors our attitude to productivity. The same way we don’t plan our activities to ensure we arrive at an event on time is the same way we don’t plan big projects and end up with abandoned white elephants, or don’t plan assigned tasks and end up sweating near deadlines. There has to be something fundamentally wrong with the average Nigerian psyche that inspires nonchalance. Maybe if we can exorcise our time demons, we may develop as a country.
Does going early mean I’m a better person? Maybe not necessarily. It doesn’t even guarantee I would achieve more than others. However, I can hold my head high knowing that except for unavoidable situations, I would always be early, even if I feel others would be late. In all the lectures attended at Cranfield, I was late for only one, and that was because the buses ran late that morning. Arriving late that day and then having a challenge joining the flow of the lecture made me decide to switch my bus time and take an earlier bus henceforth to ensure even if the buses were to run late, I would still be early. The only drawback was having to prepare earlier and arrive at empty lecture halls to wait for others to arrive.
Truthfully, there have been times I have thought about reconsidering my stand on being punctual, but each time, I remind myself that my behaviour should not be ruined by others’ laziness. Being punctual is neither being “too serious” nor “forming good”. It’s simply doing the right thing. When some European colleagues tell me that I don’t behave like a Nigerian, I ask myself “Why?” Why should the public notion of a Nigerian be a person who is never early for anything?
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