Fellow Nigerians, (I hope my disgust at Nigerians’ lack of regard for everything good will not give me out as desiring a revolutionary change) it is with utmost angst that I have to express my opinion on another practice and attitude of Nigerians but to which we pay no respect or regard. This is TIME!
This is part of the virtues and values that have vanished in our society. Time has been defined as “a point of time as measured in hours and minutes past midnight or noon.” This gradual evolution and movement by which man gently but unconsciously transits is an aspect of human life that nature has made so stealthy and magnificently eroding. It ebbs away so furtively that one detects not how one transforms from infancy to adulthood and old age.
A look at the back may be one of appreciation and satisfaction for life and time well spent in achievement and service to man and God but for others may be full of regret at certain brilliant roads identified but not chosen, or opportunities recklessly wasted in ignorance and indiscipline. Executing assignments or carrying out obligations within time as required has become an impossibility to many whose attitudes to time are one of irredeemable self-immolation. A time waster is a destroyer of nature and human values. While this unfortunate attitude reflects in the personal lives of many so it has become a permanent feature of our public or political life. Many governors and top-ranking government officials would not appear at events for which time had been fixed until hours have passed by with their hangers-on lazily engaging in self-degrading charters and banters only fit for the imbecile. In many cases, school children and flotsam and jetsam populating the rank of political parties will line the roadsides in honour of a scoundrel whose only achievement in life is that he is good at destroying the future of unborn children.
Programmes fixed and announced to be held at certain times will never commence on time and you see public officials not recognizing the value of national time being frittered away. The worst aspect is rather than respecting themselves when they surfaced late at the events, they shamelessly conduct themselves by disrupting the ongoing events with the exchange of pleasantries. Recently, I was privileged to be conferred with a national honour by the country, the conferment event of which was presided over by the President of Nigeria.
The event commenced almost two hours beyond the appointed time with no apology from any quarters. Again, a few days ago, I was invited to an education summit at the instance of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the event was to commence at 9 am but eventually, I had to leave at about 11 am when the event would not commence. The worst one was the Chartered Institute of Bankers’ dinner that I had to attend on 25th November 2022. The programme was meant to start at 5 pm but eventually kicked off at almost 8 pm, again with no apology from anyone. I must confess that I was forewarned on the latter by my immediate host that his colleagues never kept to time and therefore advised arrival at 6:30 pm. Even with that, the event still never took off until about two hours later. What amazed me is that the Institute is a regulator of banks and if such a regulator fails to respect time, what do you expect of the banks being regulated in terms of time and other compliance issues? All I can say is “may God help us”.
In all of these, the organisers are ever waiting for one big man or the other, as in the latter case, the Central Bank Governor. Time is a sacred item that is limited in all ramifications. Each human being has a limited tenure and any wastage of part is not recoverable. So, when others waste other people’s time, they are best described as thieves of time. They have succeeded in not only stealing a part of the apportioned time of the other person but also a part of his life. This is mean and wicked in my estimation. This attitude is not limited to the organizers of the events alluded to above but seems to be already integrated into our psyche to the extent that we either regard it as a Nigerian or African thing, by simply describing the failure to keep to time as Nigerian or African time. For me, this is nothing to be proud of but simply an act of indiscipline and corruption. What we fail to appreciate is that each time you distort others’ time through your own irresponsibility, a circle is automatically broken.
That distortion always has multiplier effects on others, directly or indirectly. At times, you even hear leaders arrogantly say that whenever they arrive at an event, that is the appointed time. What a shame! Interestingly, there is a divine injunction in all the holy books that time must be respected. Similarly, our culture mandates the same. Where did we now imbibe this shameful syndrome? It must be part of the ineptitude of the leaders. Most times, leaders themselves, through their protocol officers, await the arrival of a sizeable number of guests before coming to an event. You go for an appointment with some governors and public officials fixed for 9 am, you won’t see your host till 11 pm.
That is a whole day wasted in the life of a man with destructive effects on the economy of the individual, taking a toll on the income that would have been made and the lost contribution to the gross national product. Some people would use the crazy Lagos traffic as an excuse for arriving late at a meeting. I always respond that the failure that created Lagos traffic is another manifestation of our inability to appreciate the importance of time in our personal and collective lives. A system that works would plan for no waste of time to guarantee an effective transportation system, unlike the jungle we have foisted on ourselves over the years. But you, who knew that Lagos traffic could be crazy, ought to have factored that into your movement and schedule. Please do not come and tell us about your efforts and how anxious you were to arrive on time. Your efforts would be of no substance if you have failed to respect our time and our lives.
Leave your home hours earlier and you will discover that you will arrive at your destination on time. As my late mentor, Professor Jelili Omotola, SAN, used to put it, ‘there is no excuse for failure, failure is a failure’. Thus, leaders engage in, tolerate and institutionalize a lack of respect for time and schedules while followers also see it as part of the process of organizing an event. This is part of the incentives that have led to this misconduct. A forthright leader ought to get to an event at the appointed time and leave if the organizers are not ready. Where he is, perchance, unable to meet the scheduled time for a meeting or event, he must show remorse or even consider self-punishment so as not to set a wrong precedent for others to follow.
The alternative is to forewarn ahead. A British leader, not too long ago, got to the Parliament five minutes behind time. He tendered his resignation letter because he appreciated the irresponsibility of his conduct and the effect it must have had on the economy and the lives of others. In this way, a strong message is sent to all that time must be respected. A Nigerian leader would not even consider apologizing. Another version of time wastage associated with our people is an unduly long protocol list. While not spending hours on recognitions at the eventual commencement of events, at times, such recognitions dot the entire program to the extent that it virtually consumes half of the program duration. Practically, every human being that surfaces at the event must especially be recognized. While I do have not so much of a grudge with recognitions if done prior to the commencement of the program; my quarrel is when mounted in the course of the program.
It is in this connection that I recommend the approach of the Lagos state government while serving under Governor Fashola, that it suffices to simply state ‘Distinguished ladies and gentlemen. Certainly, I am not too sure that anybody will dispute the fact that he or she is covered here except such a person believes that he or she is not distinguished. To avert the time wastage, and avoid the often tortuous perpetual protocol list of recognitions, this will do and should henceforth be adopted with the necessary modifications where necessary.
This is a short code to avoid all the frivolities associated with the ugly practice. I continue to say that this is part of the irresponsibility that has taken the country to where it is today. Absolute respect for time is the culture we have over time fostered, developed and nurtured in United Action for Change, aka “Change Nigeria”, a non-governmental organization of which I am the Convener.
The tradition in this organization is that our events must start at the appointed time and where a meeting has only one person in attendance at the time fixed for commencement, such individual present shall start the meeting by reviewing things done in the previous meeting having recited the second stanza of the Nigerian national anthem as our opening prayer.
Whatever item on the agenda he has treated is regarded as treated and others who join afterwards must respect this. We do not condone or tolerate lateness as it is our belief that God who created time does not waste it. Why would a human, whose time is finite, now think he is infinite and decide to be irresponsible with time? There is an urgent need to start changing this narrative. This change must start with the leaders and no one else.
When a leader arrives at an event prompt to time and finds the organizers and other invitees not ready for the event, he must just take his leave letting them know that the people he is elected or appointed to serve do not deserve to have their time wasted. This will let the organizers of the event adjust. The story will go viral on both social and conventional media.
Everyone would know the leader for his strict observance of time. They will not attempt to waste his time another day. By this, we shall be re-orientating our people. Such actions speak louder than voice and thousands of jingles or adverts on radio or television. Time is a divine gift that must, at all times, be cherished and treasured.