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On Punctuality

 Value :  a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life. (Oxford Dictionary)

3 weeks ago, I began a Leadership Development course. There were at least 40 of us, most of us Nigerian. Our instructors were Nigerian (Funmi), Australian (Britta) and Dutch (Ocke).

I learnt a lot in that course; I might blog about my experience in the near future. Right now, though, I want to tell you about an incident that happened on Day 4 of the 5-Day course. But a little backtracking first. Day 1, and we all identified values that were most important to us. Ocke told us that his people, the Dutch, were very practical and blunt, and so he appreciated directness, respect for other people and punctuality. He laid quite a bit of emphasis on just how important punctuality was to him. How he always was punctual to his appointments out of respect for other people and their time, and expected them to return the courtesy. Long and short of the story, he extracted a promise from all of us that we would be punctual to our sessions.

Fast forward Day 4. It rained. Heavy. Medium. Heavy. Medium. Class was scheduled to start at 8 am. At 8.20 am, less than half the class was present. I was among this number, and so I got to watch Ocke redden with anger, tapping his foot impatiently while trying to keep up a pleasant demeanour. It didn’t last long. Eventually,  he stood and reminded us, in a voice that barely contained his irritation, of our promise on Day 1. He pointed out that he, a foreigner, had brought an umbrella with him because he knew it rained a lot in June. He couldn’t understand why “But it’s raining” was a valid excuse for being late to an appointment. He didn’t understand why we hadn’t brought umbrellas, considering that we should know our weather better than he. Britta, another facilitator couldn’t understand why we couldn’t make the sacrifice of making the ten-minute walk in the rain, especially as it wasn’t that heavy.

We had our excuses. Rain could cause a cold. It was unsafe. We didn’t have umbrellas. And at the bottom of the entire matter was something none of us could voice. We had automatically assumed that class wouldn’t start at 8 because it rained. A silly assumption, baseless when you give it some serious thought, but an assumption we acted on all the same.

Ocke used some pretty harsh words on us. And he ended with a classic, “I’m sorry but this sort of attitude is why Nigeria will keep being the way it is, despite all the good things going for you.”

Touché.

We were all professionals, mostly Engineers, some with an MSc. already. We were educated, articulate, young, vibrant, smart people from middle-class to upper-class backgrounds. But it didn’t occur to us to sacrifice our personal comfort to keep a promise we had made. And should we have had to “promise”? Punctuality is basic courtesy, it’s professional, it should be taken for granted.

Nigeria has many problems, “African Time” doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. My opinion is that our value system is inherently flawed, and so it cascades down to the other, more practical things. Like being on time for even the least important of appointments, out of respect for the other person and his/her time.  Like making personal sacrifices to keep to a promise we’ve made that now seems unreasonable. Because we gave our word, see?

At this same course, I saw a poster that read, “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.”

I made some deductions from this quote. Our country is the sum  of us all. We get the exact kind of country we deserve. Conversely, if we started to act like we ALREADY had the Nigeria of our dreams, we would DESERVE the Nigeria of our dreams. And that would be a first step to actually  getting it. And so I made a personal commitment  to be punctual to my appointments, no matter the cost. Honestly, most times it doesn’t require a “sacrifice” more difficult than getting up from bed fifteen minutes earlier, or logging off my computer earlier than I planned. But there are times when I’ve had to be heroic and ninja-like in my activities. Once, I actually ran to the amazement of the people I was whizzing past!

It might not seem like much, but I think that if we all adopted a value and tried to live it as heroically as we could, we would (pardon the cliché) make a difference. So what value would you like to work on? And do you have any tips/experiences on  punctuality?

30 Comments

  1. Nnaemeka says

    You are a good child, because you have seen this.
    I’m usually (un/in/non)punctual, so I will henceforth readjust my values and lifestyle. Ergo, I must drop this phone and get to work!!

  2. Sir Farouk says

    I am punctual most of the time, I try to be at an event or meeting ahead of time to scout the area, make sure I am at the right place and so I am relaxed. Tardiness irritates me, I feel that lateness should be the exception not the norm as it is currently. If you will be late, call ahead of time to let the person expecting you know you will be late. If as a nation we cannot be faithful and kind to time then time will not be kind to us. We are a nation of procrastinators, pushing today’s problem to tomorrow not realizing that tomorrow may never come.

  3. BengKing says

    I enjoyed reading this.
    As I was reading it, I envisaged the group I would most likely fall into if I was in the learning event. Punctual of course! I have had discussion on this with many people in the past. All Nigerians. Majority saw no reason in walking under the rain especially to keep up with an appointment especially since the the other party would also not honour the meeting punctually given the circumstance.
    I think this orientation should change.

    • It should. And considering Nigerians’ revulsion for rain, you’d think we’d all own umbrellas. Mba! It’s raining, nothing can be done. End of story.

  4. Ah well. Many times I’m late because I know others will be late. Many times I could be just on time and then forget something important at home (like my passport on the way to the airport) and then be delayed by any small hitch on the way. So my resolution is to be a little ahead of time and pack my stuff well ahead of time. I’ll also ignore the fact that Nigerians will be late.

  5. I’m quite punctual.. Even to the point of arriving minutes before time and it does hurt if the other party can at least be on time.

  6. At the risk of rewriting the post, I’ll say it’s not so much an ‘African’ time thing as a ‘daft Nigerian’ thing. Ghanians and Botswanians keep to appointments. I made a New Year Resolution back in 2009 to be punctual. So far, I’ve (mostly) kept to it, except when I know for a fact that the other party would be late. Then I make sure it more late. Tardiness should be a sin. I know for a fact that it makes me sin (think anger and lost patience)

    • Lol! It’s actually a venial sin, in Catholic parlance. If you’ve wasted someone else’s time, you have to confess it because you could’ve made them sin.

  7. olotu isimenmen says

    this is very well said and i can so relate to it. i used to be punctual and tidy but most nigerians were complete opposite so it was like i was over-doing things.Its time for Change!!!

  8. I don’t know if it’s mainly a Nigerian thing to follow the crowd blindly or blend in with the convention. Anyhow, I believe it will take each one of us to stand different, no matter how awkward or “alone” it may seem. By the way, it is always tight to be on the side of shining excellence than mediocrity. This is a great post, for if I never thought punctuality critically important, I now do and hope to be better.

  9. I am fanatical about being on time – every time. I need it to keep my head on straight. And when people do not show up on time for appointments with me, I give them once chance where I explain calmly (read: lecture them) on the importance of being on time. I think the neurosis started when I began working for a corporation where the door was locked when meetings started; in other words, if you have a meeting from 8-9am, then at 8:01, the door is locked. For someone like me, it was paradise. I totally loved it!

    I like reading your blog, by the way.

  10. My punctuality is fine. One value I need to work on is commitment. There I said it. Its so hard for me to keep my mind on one thing. Its always rushing from one thing to another.

  11. I really enjoyed reading this article — I am one of those unfortunates that are never punctual. I just put so much into my day/night that I rarely show up to anything on time. Your commitment has inspired me, however, and I will make a pledge to also commit to punctuality, for myself, as well as for those around me, for a greater good! 🙂

    Heidi

  12. Awele says

    Osehmen,

    When I heard two days ago that you had started your blog (which I knew you would), I just had to check it out.
    I am honestly blown away by your writing! its written with such honesty and realism……its easy to understand……. in short, it just amazing. Please keep it up.

    I definitely see why you consider yourself “deep”. Lol.

    Awele O.

  13. I’m tempted, like you, to believe that our flawed value system is solely to blame for our punctuality problem. Then you get to experience Nigerians in “oyinbo” societies still exhibiting this trait and begin to wonder if this punctuality thing is an inherent trait passed down from generations. It seems we are mostly always relaxed about punctuality when it comes to functions involving other Nigerians, whether it be work or play. It’s different though when more oyinbos than Nigerians are involved. I’ve come to the conclusion that our society is not necessarily to blame. I think it’s more of a crowd mentality thing. Even if you plan your wedding in the North Pole and you provide free transportation and lodging, as long as it’s majorly Nigerians involved, people will be late. You’ll always hear excuses like, “it rained” or “there was traffic” or, my personal favourite “nah you wan open the place?”.

  14. On point. Totally. We go by different names, some cloaked in religion and belief but we don’t honour our words, or keep our country clean.

    I love Nigeria but I have to admit that daily I find myself in a dilemma, in a bind. I have to constantly keep myself on my toes – to call ahead when I know I’ll be late, not to take people for granted, to honour my word. To trust and believe and respect myself…..so others can!!

  15. nice post osemhen! I know what group I’d have fallen into, those in the rain or just about to leave their rooms. coincidentally, just yesterday I made a decision to make punctuality one of my core values, today I was punctual to my first appointment and late to my 2nd (cos I didn’t think it’ll make any difference). It’s not good enough, I know, and since I’ve made it a core value I’ll have to rise above the thought of whether or not the other party will be punctual too. Thanks for reinforcing that conviction.

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