Sunday, 4 October 2015

Why Nigerians should not embrace African Time


BABATUNDE ARIBIDO wrote this on Punch:

We have the least regard for time in this part of the world, that’s why it’s considered fashionable to stroll in very late for events. From job interviews, business, church and offices meetings, most Nigerians relish and embrace the concept of ‘African time;’ which in my opinion, is a destiny killer and robs us of our potential and dignity as a people. We have elevated late-coming to being superior and important. You actually know a Nigerian ‘big man’ by the swagger with which he comes in late to an event, with his retinue of staff and hangers-on making a beeline for the front seat. Masters of ceremonies have had to interrupt important announcements to acknowledge the presence and arrival of the ‘big man’ that came in very late. Continue...........

In addition, many government workers that come in late to work see nothing wrong in it. Several years ago, I had a meeting with a government official that we mutually agreed on for 9 am. I arrived at about 30 minutes early and everywhere looked deserted. So, I sat down in one of the empty offices, with only the cleaner present then, to wait for him. That was the beginning of my ‘waiting period.’ The government official came in at exactly 11 am. From where I sat, I could see him when he alighted from his car. He met a colleague under a tree at the government secretariat, and he stood there for another 30 minutes, engaging in chit-chats that I considered absurd – their chat revolved around aphrodisiacs, the female body parts, pregnancy, extra-marital affairs and their sexual escapades. Not done yet, he went from office to office greeting everybody one after the other and engaging in another round of unnecessary chats, laughing, backslapping and lacing it with lewd comments. And he still gets paid, despite all these frivolities?

Finally, he got to his seat, slumped into the chair and took off his cap, put on the television and ordered for food. I was shocked! I approached him respectfully and asked when our meeting would start. He replied, “My brother, you can see that I’m just coming in. Let me settle down first. Give me 30 minutes.” He was unapologetic. I was miffed. He couldn’t be bothered. I was shivering with annoyance. Without looking in my direction, he picked the remote control and began to search for what I guessed was his favourite TV channel and finally, he settled for one of those notoriously famous-for-lack-of-directions phone-in programmes. A meeting that was slated for 9am eventually started at exactly 1:50pm, with a lot of distractions from his answering phone calls, sending text messages and laughing at the discussion taking place on TV. Till date, that meeting remains one of the most unproductive meetings I’ve ever had; it was a waste of my time.

As I reflected on that meeting, I realised why it is difficult to have productive, innovative, sound and creative professionals in most government offices that can implement policies.

Some employees in the private sector are cut from the same cloth many of those in government sector. While I’m not trying to cast aspersions on the women folk in this piece, some of them often come in late to work and talk about family, food recipes, new dishes, clothes, make-up and jewellery. I’ve worked with female colleagues who, despite their late arrival to the office, would still spend one to two hours engaging in such chatter.

It is sad that employers of labour have to instruct security men to lock out their staff as from 8:05 am. Sometimes, the staff log-in book have to be underlined, counter-signed and taken away from the reception by the Human Resources and Administrative Manager, after the last person in on that day has signed in. Employees have to be threatened with suspension and pay cut in order to make them comply with standard rules and policies that will make life better for them and the organisation. Is it not embarrassing to threaten a supposedly intelligent ‘professional’ with suspension and pay cut just to make him sit up? Why do we need stringent rules and regulations to make us act right?

I was slightly embarrassed the other day when I read a memo allegedly directed at the staff of the a multinational by its new Group Managing Director, which alluded to late coming, with a stern warning of severe actions to be taken against defaulters. I was made to understand that it is common practice to see some staff of the company come in as from 10 am and leave at about 3 pm.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me, I know it’s not the amount of time one spends buried behind the computer at the office that shows one’s level of passion, commitment and productivity. I’m also mindful of the fact that some people could come in late for very good and genuine reasons. I’m not referring to such people. It is those that have made late coming to the office a habit that we should engage with and see if changes can be made to their behaviour and attitude before they are shown the way out.

In more developed countries, some organisations actually allow their employees work from home, as long as they turn in their assignments in record time. Some have flexible working time to allow for creativity and promote work-life balance. I actually have my reservations as to how this would work in a place like Nigeria, because of our level of indiscipline, lack of accountability and the sheer abuse of such privileges and opportunities. I’m almost certain that if we have civil servants and some private sector workers carry out their daily tasks from home, some would still have excuses for turning in it late.

The other day, I saw civil servants prostrating and kneeling before the Governor of Ekiti State, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, for coming late to the office. I was both embarrassed and glad at the same time. Embarrassed because most of the civil servants that were kneeling, prostrating and lifting up their hands in supplication to the Governor are parents, and some of their children would have seen them in that shameful posture on the pages of newspapers and on television. Some of these children will probably ask themselves if that’s the way they want to pattern their lives. It is embarrassing for those parents because it is not something they can hand over to their children as a worthy legacy. When we come late for any event, we communicate our lack of respect for time, for our host, ourselves and the purpose of the meeting. I think Fayose’s decision to take the initiative to inject a certain level of discipline in the state civil service deserves commendation and encouragement. Every self-respecting professional in the state service would not wait to be humiliated before they make adjustments to their attitude to work.

In my opinion, we lose credibility, respect and honour when we don’t show up early enough at our duty posts. A nation and a people that want to achieve excellence and earn the recognition and respect of others must learn to value time and understand its management and investment. We cannot afford to have the front pages of our national newspapers filled with pictures of professionals and parents kneeling and prostrating before a governor for coming late to work; it is not good for our brand as individuals and as a country. Nigeria and her people can be great again if we discard the idea of African time and embrace the actual time.

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