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African time or irresponsibility?

Who created this ugly mantra of African time that we have made a part of our daily culture and reality?  A friend recently invited me…

Who created this ugly mantra of African time that we have made a part of our daily culture and reality? 

A friend recently invited me to their organisation for an intellectual discussion. Just before we ended the conversation, he said emphatically “No African time, please”. I assured him that won’t happen with me. I don’t do African time except where I know vividly, going on time will be a sheer waste of time. 

I see African time as a serious menace that irks of irresponsibility, but this is Nigeria where everything abnormal has been normalized. 

At what point did we degenerate into lawless irresponsible people? Yet, we hope to see the magic happen with our nation. Our wait will not be over anytime soon. 

Someone will organize an event to start by 4pm and you get to the venue by 3.45 and nothing has been set up. If you decide to wait, you may see the host of the event still in night wears (jallabiya) and slippers, hurling orders at decorators. Be sure that this event will start by 6 or 7pm. Meanwhile, you would have programmed your time to attend the event for a certain number of hours only. Meaning that with the state of the venue, your own schedule has been disrupted already. The bride comes late to her event; the mother of the bride is also late, so are caterers or video coverage people. We just don’t know the value of time and being on time.

I have been invited to a speaking engagement at a university to start at 9.30am. I was at the venue by 9am and to my surprise, the venue was not even open. I was the only person there at the time. I called the host to notify him of my arrival and he was wondering why I was that early. I had to remind him to check the time on the card. It was at that time the venue was changed. We got to the new venue and that was when they started to set up everything – sound system, banner, cleaning of the hall, etc. This event didn’t start till 11.15am. My paper that was meant to be delivered in 45 minutes was collapsed into 10mins. My plans for that day were completely thwarted and ruined and the day turned unproductive. 

In another speaking engagement that I was invited to by some young people, the same thing happened. It was for 2pm and by 4.30pm I was told that the venue was still not ready. I apologised and told them that I will not be attending as I have other things scheduled for the day. 

Now you see; working with the military has shaped my attitude towards punctuality. It has constantly made me deeply appreciate and respect them. If an event is to start by 9, be sure that by 8.45 am, every principal staff and officers are seated. Once the superior officer enters the hall, all doors to the venue are locked. This is apart from the constant rehearsals before the event to ensure no mistake is done, nothing is left to chance. 

I say it times without number to whoever cares to listen; the military is the only institution in Nigeria that still has a large degree of sanity. Discipline is top-notch; they are super organized as they follow a hierarchy. Punctuality is strictly adhered to and has some form of accountability. If something goes wrong, someone must pay for it. 

Of course, the institution is not perfect as ‘Nigeria has happened’ to it as well but it is still a model to be studied and implemented by Nigerians especially as it concerns African time mentality.

I have come to realize something with Nigerians; we are deeply arrogant people who would give an arm and a leg just to show off. Many people relish the idea of arriving very late to an event just for attention. They want all eyes on them by the time they enter the hall to steal the show. 

Our politicians are most guilty. They have no respect and value for anything at all. Invite them to an event and be sure that they will be there very late just to make a statement and be the centre of attention, and be sure that they would be leaving before the end of the event. These are the people we keep glorifying while they maintain this arrogance and keep rubbing it in our faces.

We cannot always hope to see things change in this nation and think it is one Tinubu, Atiku, Kwankwaso or Obi that will change anything. They cannot! 

We have a rotten system that needs to be overhauled from the bottom up. If as simple as keeping to time is this problematic for almost every ordinary citizen, then we have a fundamental problem. We must stop this attitude of African time; it is irresponsible! It has bred laziness, procrastination, wasted opportunities, inefficiency, and lack of productivity. Any attempt to do the right thing, you are seen as the abnormal Mr know-it-all.

We have to take responsibility for our irresponsibility.

 Maryam Hamza PhD wrote from the Dept of History and War Studies, NDA Kaduna ([email protected])

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