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I have recently been talking a lot at different fora about timekeeping and timeliness in Nigeria. I have spoken about it to university undergraduates, civil servants, corporate organisations and non-governmental organisations. I have unfortunately been caught in the middle when this discussion gets in the circle of the international community but I am going ahead of myself.
I am at my wits end when I arrive at an event on time and as soon as I begin to complain about how everyone is late, I am told in more words than one that in fact I am the one who is too early because, you know, someone laughs, you must take into consideration African time. I am incensed and truly offended. Saying you ought to be late because of African time makes us all sound retarded. I do not believe it when people say it with a grin and a mild chuckle which drives me insane. What exactly is African time? It is meaningless nonsense used to shroud inefficiency and indiscipline. My difficulty is that we bask in it and celebrate it. We arrive at events one hour late and we are waving and cheering and disruptive. Then we insist on seating upfront instead of shamefully sitting at the back. My father, bless his soul, used to say if you arrive anywhere sit in the back until they invite you upfront. He says and wisely too that if you sit upfront, they might send you to the back and embarrass you. But I digress.
I have observed without let how Nigerians think that arriving late at an event deserves a trophy. It is incredible how airlines have taken us for granted. I wonder why they bother to even schedule their flights because domestic airlines hardly leave on time. I have had the indignity of having several delayed flights from Abuja to Lagos and missing important meetings that have been pre-scheduled. Airlines have formed the habit of not informing you of a delay, not explaining the delay and not apologising. We shout and malign everyone else but ourselves. Nigeria has no critical mass and these things which look innocuous to so many are the things that define us as a nation. We are in the grip of self-destruction and we are constantly going to Afghanistan to explain away our problems. No one holds anyone accountable. When you step forward to complain or demand an explanation, Nigerians shout you down, shoo you or tell you the delay is God’s will. We are now translating our ineptitude to God. My goodness!
And so one good afternoon, an airline now famous for unbelievable delays set out in its traditional delay tactics and kept us at the Abuja airport twiddling our thumbs for four hours. When the flight was finally called, hours after its scheduled departure, I was mad as a hatter and had complained to the flight desk throughout the delay. The rest of my compatriots seemed drugged and were good it would seem with the delay. As I boarded I complained to whoever would listen that I had now missed the first day of my meeting. It was clear to me that no other passenger cared as much about the delay except one lady who told me she had constantly experienced the same thing from the same airline. When I said I would now write a complaint letter to the airline because I had had enough, she guffawed. Bristling with anger, I asked her why she was laughing and she said she had written them and no reply was forthcoming since she wrote four months prior. I was even more upset. Then I asked her what she did for a living. This was for me to buy time to process what she just told me. But the worst was to come. I held my breath as she responded.” I am the Namibian High commissioner to Nigeria” It was humbling. I immediately wore the toga of the Nigerian airline and felt a deep and overwhelming sense of shame. This is what we lack in today’s Nigeria. We have lost our sense of shame and so nothing embarrasses us anymore. As an airline what qualifies you to remain in operation if you have no sense of time, no sense of shame and no customer service? Your customers are spending hard earned money to keep you afloat and the least they expect from you is to take them to their destination on time. You provided the schedule which you cannot keep. More worrisome is the fact that there is a myriad of aviation regulatory agencies, whose job is to ensure the airlines do the needful. More distressing is that Nigerian citizens are ready to take rubbish from every service provider and assign delays and crass inefficiency to God.
Time consciousness is one of Nigeria’s biggest banes and reduces our esteem in the sight of other nations. I have met with many members of the international community in my area of field who tell me that doing business with Nigeria at several levels is not recommended because any nation who does not understand that time is money cannot move on to do great things. They add that any nation that wastes hours waiting for an event to start is not worth its weight in gold, any nation who has to wait for a big man for 2 hours before an event starts cannot be taken seriously by the comity of nations. Then they add that the most respected and successful nations keep time.
As a high level moderator, I would often arrive at my duty post one hour or more ahead of the programme start. That is the professional thing to do. Usually there will be no one in the hall, except the DJ. At 15 minutes to the event, much to my embarrassment, people will begin to hang backdrops. Where were they two hours ago? African time? Such arrant nonsense!