‘African Time’ Syndrome: Issue And Concerns


A few months ago, the National Orientation Agency (NOA) embarked on a sensitization campaign, geared towards drawing the attention of the Nigerian public to the importance of keeping to time. As timely as that exercise was, the underlying significance is inexhaustible, owing to the awareness creation it made on people who perhaps downplayed on the matter. In connection to the aforementioned issue, an event unfolded which I had the opportunity to attend. As important as it was, the time was fixed for 10am. Considering this importance, I made it up to the event quite on time. Surprisingly enough, I met just a single person, waiting to be joined by another. By the time I tapped him from behind, and asked if others had come atall, his response summarized everything. “What else do you expect; it’s African time as usual”.

This now forms the focal point of this discourse. Over time, the issue of keeping to time has increasingly become an object of scorn. Worse still, our attitude towards punctuality to events, church activities, meetings, among others is highly appalling. By way of definition, ‘African time’ can be seen as the tendency to a relaxed, indifferent attitude towards time and starting events or arriving at meetings later than the scheduled time. It is a reflection of the belief that nothing can actually start on time, especially as indicated on the schedule. Consider an event; say wedding which was fixed for 10am starting 10.30am or 11.00am. What would you call this? In fact, how bad is the problem of time consciousness around us? Keeping to time seems to be a negative side associated with us Africans. This perhaps explains why this phenomenon is referred in a lame man’s language as “Africa Time”.

In view of this, one begins to wonder when Africans and indeed Nigerians started having a time that is different from the rest of the world. Sadly, this bad attitude of ‘African time’ has eaten deep into our lives that we no longer find fault at arriving late to events that ought to have started hours before then. For some, it is a normal and usual thing, “afterall, the event in question may not even start on time or people may not have come out yet or one would not just be the first and only person to arrive on time or at worst, the event may not even hold.” All these constitute flimsy excuses for the prevalence of African Time. Admittedly, time is very important in our lives, likewise keeping to it at all times. But many have argued that it is better late than never; meaning that ‘African time’ mentality does not signify anything negative. The understanding in this school of thought is that it is better to go to an occasion late than never attend it at all. People should realize that the act of time consciousness does not only show how responsible one is, but also tells a lot about a person’s character as well as his personality. As it is, this unwholesome attitude might take a period of time to be changed as many Nigerians who subscribe to African time syndrome feel it is prevalent everywhere. Apart from this, some people tend to exhibit this “I don’t care attitude” which puts them in a barrier to making meaningful effort towards change. Like some one once observed, “this time, ‘African time’ is evidently killing Africa…” we should realize that time is time world over and plays same role. Suggestively, events are scheduled on the hour because it is perhaps understood that the chance of people arriving exactly 25 minutes past the time is minuscule. Obviously too, people indicate start time on invitation cards or souvenir programmes as full hour before they  intend to really start anticipating that people will come late afterall.

Hence, we frequently find ‘10am prompt’ on invitation cards; a variant effort to curb tardiness. Ironically, Nigerians are freaks to wears (including wrist watches). Boys and girls both wear them but apparently, the time pieces do not seem to serve such a practical purpose. It therefore shows that it is merely worn to adorn oneself for fashion which of course, should not be the case. Be it clock or wrist watch, its primary function does not stop at telling or indicating time. It is also meant to make one plan and move along with time. Moreover, Africans and Nigerians (in this context), as reasoned by some people, are not always to blame for showing up 30 minutes or an hour late to events. Sometimes, there abound a number of reasons to back up their actions – delayance in public transport, high traffic jam, emergency occurrence, inter alia. You go to a bus stop or junction for instance, to board a vehicle and you find yourself waiting for hours for one to come around and perhaps ply the direction you want to go. Or how would you explain a situation whereby an event is fixed for 1pm and there is a heavy rainfall at 12:30pm? Certainly, you can be sure that only a few will show up on time. The tricky thing about African time is that one knows he will be late but does not know exactly how late. No doubt, lateness to functions or events of any kind is a chronic disease that affects people in this part of the world and it needs to be tackled with all amount of urgency. As a way forward therefore, every individual and group has a task to play in order to stem the tide. It takes a whole lot of sacrifice and self discipline to really achieve a goal (particularly punctuality in this case). A tangible step in this dimension is to expunge the misconception that “as it has been, so shall it be” (regarding African time). Great value should be attached to time as it is the driving force to any meaningful development and success. Time should be set to suit our daily programmes and concrete effort should be made to stick to such schedules. Moreso, it would be profitable to continue sensitizing Nigerians on the essence of punctuality. It is wise that we keep talking about it and for individuals to check if he or she has been “infected” by the disease then seek a cure. The cure then, is very simple; by resolving not to be late even if everyone else would be. The words of an anonymous scholar is convincing in this regard: “a thing remains wrong even if a multitude is involved and a thing remains right, even if few are involved”.However, everyone looks forward to seeing a positive change of attitude in African time syndrome. But can we sit back and expect others to make a move? It is a collective task which all hands must be on deck. Change is what we need and this is why Mahatma Gandhi urges everyone to “be the change you desire in the world”.