By Paul Chika Emekwulu
Before African time becomes a problem, there are certain things we can do. Prevention, it is said, is still better than cure. But unfortunately, before African time sets in, some of us don’t care and wait till things get so bad.
We all have had our own case or cases of African time. Who hasn’t?
I’ve had several African time encounters in the past but so far this particular one I want to share was very different. Before I get into it, let me first of all give you my own definition of African time.
African time can be defined as a concept among people of African descent all over the world whereby an engagement scheduled to start at a certain time starts much longer than necessary.
Having done that we can now continue with my story.
As I was visiting a particular part of a daily market in my hometown, Ekwulọbịa, I saw a friend standing at a newspaper stand with one of the dailies in hand. After a while, I noticed that he paid for it. That was an unusual scene because people don’t very much patronize newspaper vendors anymore like in the mid 70s and 80s.
These days what they do is browse through the pages while standing and talk about the issues of the day for hours on end. At times someone will turn himself into a teacher, becomes the object of attention while the rest will be all ears and eyes.
So, when I saw my friend I went over to exchange greetings. As we were talking he asked me if I could accompany him to a funeral ceremony in a neighbouring town. He gave me the time as 2 p.m. on Tuesday while this conversation was taking place three days earlier.
“I’ve to check my schedule when I get home,” I told him.
He promised to call me later on for any details. He did but I wasn’t home to take his call.
We then continued talking and I left after about 20 minutes.
On Tuesday morning, I remembered I had a morning appointment in a city about 15 miles away from my house. To avoid disappointing my friend I had to call him to confirm the time for the funeral. I acquainted him with my appointment and promised him that I would be back before 2 p. m., a time he stated initially as the time for the funeral.
He agreed and was very happy and appreciative.
Due to circumstances I didn’t travel again because appointment was cancelled. I had to call my friend for an update. My call wasn’t taken but later returned. He reaffirmed that the time was 2 p.m. I went back to business, running errands around and outside the house but in the midst of all I remained time conscious. It was agreed between us that he had to come to my house so that we would drive from there to the funeral ceremony after picking up the sister and some other people.
At 2:30 p.m my friend wasn’t at my house and didn’t call me. He didn’t send a text, he didn’t send any other type of message despite the several options available in this age of social media. Looking forward to eating the fattest bone, I continued to wait patiently hoping he would make it in the next few minutes. He later called to give me his location and said he would soon be available. Before then I went to have a change of clothes thinking that I was building castles in the air. As soon as I started pulling off my clothes my phone rang. It was my friend calling me from his sister’s house. Immediately I pulled up and we left.
Now before I continue I want to say something about what I call time specificity. Listen and listen very well
Now because a specific time was involved and mutually agreed upon between us, there was time specificity. What is time specificity? Time specificity is a time situation with a specific time on the clock involved. Time specificity is a required condition for African time. Without a specified time on the clock, there is no African time. There is something interesting about all this.
Without time specificity, lateness and consequently, African time have no power over any individual. With time specificity, another name for lateness is African time. This time like sin, time specificity, and consequently, African time has power over the individual or even group.
Now, in the situation with my friend, had there been no time on the clock, I wouldn’t have been conscious of any reference to time, but there was. Always bear in that without time specificity, there is no lateness. This cannot be said enough. Any time we arrive at an event beyond a specified time for the start of the event, we’ve satisfied the condition for African time and that was what happened in this case. Therefore, if African time had been a crime, a crime had been committed.
African time unfortunately, is loved by many but hated by a few. Metaphorically (doesn’t have to be confessed before a Catholic priest for those of us who are Catholics), African time can be regarded as evil.
Intuitively, we all know when African time is about to be a part of a time situation, but we always pretend. Backed with pretense we then start to shop for excuses knowing very well that most of the time those excuses were made up.
There are certain things we can do as soon as we notice a possibility for African time. That’s next.
When African time is about to set in, it is a wise thing to recognize that moment (Such moments don’t hide themselves.)
Recognizing such moments can be done by being time conscious.
It takes conscience to recognize when African time is about to set into a time situation, and it takes conscience as well to take action.
When African time is about to set in, some people with conscience start engaging in some of these: Get tensed up, start gossiping, start murmuring, start being frustrated, start being apprehensive, start being distasteful of African time, start being uncomfortable, start getting nervous about time, start being abusive to the other party, start being insulting to the other party, start discussing the importance of punctuality, start discussing ways to improve African time, start sharing their previous personal experiences with time, start joking about African time etc.
It takes vision to realize that African time is about to creep in.
In such circumstances the time element is always between:
Group vs Group (Group should initiate communication with the group)
Individual vs Group (Individual should initiate communication with the group)
Group vs Individual (Group should initiate communication with the individual)
Individual vs Individual (Individual should initiate communication with the individual)
Here, groups could be any of the following:
School staff, Prison staff, Hospital staff
Church, Congregation, Council of Chiefs and Elders, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Nigerian Union of, Teachers (NUT), Parents’ Teachers Association (PTA), Catholic Men’s Organization (CMO), Catholic Women’s Organization (CWO), Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC), Mathematical Association of Nigeria (MAN).
Whether individual or groups, as soon as African time is about to set in, the best thing to do is to take action. African time creates image problem for the individual or group and once this happens next is damage control. Damage control, at times could be expensive. Damage control can be managed by taking action. Taking action could involve any or a combination of the following options:
(a) Phone call
(b) Text messaging
(d) Whatsapp/Facebook message etc.
You’ve to consistently stay on the phone or use a combination of the above platforms to stay in touch. By doing any of these you are:
(a) Saving time (b) Being considerate (c) Avoiding conflict (d) Reducing tension (e) Being responsible (f) Being professional (g) Being a Christian (h) Sending a message saying “I should be trusted.” (I) Showing respect (1 Peter 2:17)
(j) Removing elements of uncertainty (k) Not taking the other party for granted (l) Maintaining a clear conscience (1 Peter 3:16, Acts 24:16,1 Cor 4:4,Acts 23:1)
We have cultivated the mindset that being time conscious is about acting white hence the popular “oyibo” mentality about time. In the process therefore, most of us have succeeded in making punctuality a racial issue when it should be a human issue.
Let’s collectively agree that African time is a useless evil concept with no real value, and therefore, has to be fought and discouraged at all levels of our society with any available tool at our disposal. I’m here to assure ourselves that lovers of punctuality are not advocating for a perfect society, rather they are advocating for a better society.
Doing so is not acting white as most of us erroneously think. Moreover, no generation in history had ever sought for a perfect society.
We need a better society but not a perfect society because presently, none exists, none ever existed and none will ever exist.
Therefore, before African time sets in, be wise enough to recognize it, be wise enough to seize the moment and be wise enough to take action, whether as an individual, a group or groups.
BEFORE AFRICAN TIME is an excerpt from an unpublished manuscript titled, African Time by international bestselling author Paul Chika Emekwulu, an award winning author, an Igbo Language activist and author of several books including The ‘GPS’ of the Holy Bible and When Spell Your Name in Igbo is Equivalent to Spell Your Igbo Name in Igbo – A Mathematical Slant. He is available for speaking engagements.