The culture of impunity called ‘African Time’


The greatest form of fraud is the fraud of time”-Jimoh Ibrahim. Charles Darwin said: “A man who dares to waste an hour of time has not discovered the value of life.”

There is a culture of impunity that is ravaging the African nations called ‘African Time.’ This is an attitudinal and unapologetic disregard for other people’s time. It is probably only in Africa or Nigeria that people come an hour late for a programme or meeting and still expect others to welcome them with reference after intentionally wasting other people’s time. Anybody that wastes your time has succeeded in wasting a chunk of your life.

How much time do you waste every day because of the lateness of others? Waiting for a meeting to start, when the other participants have not shown up? Sitting around at a doctor’s clinic where you had booked an appointment for an hour earlier? Awaiting a report that was due last week, without which you cannot move on with your own work?

We really need to wage war against the culture of impunity and indiscipline in Africa, a continent where people arrive on time to watch their favourite movies in cinemas, but will seldom be on time for meetings, lectures, appointments or religious gatherings.

One of the countries that have been ravaged by this habit in the past, Ecuador, has declared a national war on lateness. After years of whiling away wasted hours, Ecuadoran businesses and civic groups have launched a campaign to force people accustomed to habitually missing appointments and deadlines to start showing up on time. Ecuador, a South American country famed for its lack of punctuality, has added up the numbers. In this country, over half of all public events start late.

According to one study, chronic lateness costs Ecuador an average of $2.5 billion yearly. Businesses and civic groups in the country are trying to instill the habit of punctuality in a culture that is chronically tardy. That realisation was enough to spur the country into action, after centuries of lassitude.

A revolution that started in 2003 with the notoriously unpunctual former President, Lucio Gutiérrez, has actually jumpstarted the GDP from $24 billion in 2003 to $69.6 billion in 2010 and $98.6 billion last year. The principle of punctuality is being embedded in the national psyche of Ecuador; it is fast becoming a shared value.

I have only ever attended very few public events that actually started on time. Where the chief guest is a government dignitary, the duly assembled often languish for hours in the hot sun, awaiting the arrival of the bigwig. In fact, the degree of lateness is often directly proportionate to the perceived self-importance of the personage in question.

The most flagrantly late are public functionaries and civil servants. Making you wait is a method employed by chief executive officer, governors, ministers, permanent secretaries, etc to show you just how much more important their time is than yours.

Mike Murdock said: “A major difference exists between the poor, the pauper and the prosperous. That difference is the management of time.” I have also observed that the term, developed countries, encompasses countries with great reverence for keeping to time, while that for developing and underdeveloped countries encompass countries with wobbly regards for keeping to time. In most developed countries, punctuality is a comparative advantage.

One of the major reasons why Africa will continue to lag behind is the penchant for always arriving late to meetings and events. It is no wonder that it takes so long to get anything done here in Africa. Whether it is execution of projects, presentation of budgets or launching of initiatives, the African continent is still many years backward in keeping to time.

Lateness has many disadvantages, but I will like to list out few of it.

It Creates Bad Impression
No matter the virtues you exhibit, coming late to meetings will always create a bad impression about you. The lasting way to create a bad impression for yourself is to always be a perpetual latecomer. Whether as an executive or an employee, not keeping to time will create a bad and wrong impression about you.

It Makes You Lose Opportunities
A perpetual latecomer will always miss out on opportunities. As a businessman, being late is a very easy way to lose your current and potential clients. If you don’t deliver certain services on time or if you fail to be punctual for meetings or events, you will struggle to keep your business up and running.

It Makes You Lose Relationships
I have observed closely that people that can’t keep to time can’t keep relationships. If you truly want to keep relationships, then keep to time.By turning in your work on time, arriving to meetings promptly and showing your coworkers that you respect their time, you will cultivate a quality relationship with your colleagues.

It Makes You Lose Respect
Personally, I have great disregard for people that don’t regard other people’s time. By being late, you are telling others that you don’t value their time. If you continuously fail to meet your timeline, the word will spread and you will develop a poor reputation. Once people associate you with this type of reputation, they will come to expect that you are unreliable and unable to deliver on your promises. The easiest way to build a good reputation is keeping to time.

It Makes You Lose Control
People with penchant for arriving late to meetings are often not in control of their time, which ultimately means that they are not in control of their lives. As one of the management team member in my organisation, I have come to realise that when an event is delayed, certain aspects get thrown off schedule and can really tarnish the event’s experience.

It Is An Act Of Selfishness
People that do not keep to time are always full of themselves. Not keeping to time is an indication that you don’t consider the other person.

It Reduces Productivity
It is relatively impossible to get the best out of someone that has the penchant for not keeping to time. Performance is simply a measure of how well you manage time and resources. Poor time management will always reduce productivity, no matter how skillful and experienced the person involved is.

It Reduces Happiness
It has been observed that people with the attitude of always coming late to meetings are less happy than their colleagues. Promptness has a way of invigorating and energising the body. It feels so good to always be on time for events.

I have often noticed that any time I arrive late for an event, I get flooded with feeling of ‘worthlessness’ and guilt.The Ecuadorian revolution is worth copying in Africa. For African nations to leave the league of third-world countries, we have to shelve third-world attitudes. And, as economists, Kaushik Basu and Jorgen Weibull, pointed out, in a country where everyone is always late, it becomes rational to be late. The more people there are people who are punctual, the greater the benefits of punctuality.

That is why a national campaign, silly as it may seem, makes some sense.One initiative worthy of reckoning is the Time Attendance Management System (TAMS) Summit, otherwise known as the Time Management and Productivity Summit in Nigeria. This initiative started in 2016 and is set out to reward productivity among the country’s workforce.

TAMS philosophy is built on the ideology that individuals, organisations and countries that pay attention to time management usually experience increased productivity when compared with those who pay little attention to time management.

The maiden edition of the summit, themed ‘From African Time to On Time: A Paradigm Shift,’ aimed to draw attention to the economic impact of ‘African Time’ on productivity in the progress of individuals, organisations and nations of the world.Punctuality is gradually becoming a myth in Africa, because it is seldom rewarded. Maybe someday, Nigeria and other African nations will be welcomed into the community of punctual nations.

I believe strongly that similar efforts might help wipe out other corrosive cultural tendencies around the world, such as corruption.Just like the revolution was inspired by Ecuador’s younger generation, I believe African youths should rise up to collectively challenge the malady that has rendered the continent redundant. We must all be guarded by this time management philosophy: You are wasting someone’s time by being late.

In this article:
African TimeJimoh Ibrahim


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