Time in Nigeria can be a funny concept so much so that there is now something known as African or Nigerian time to distinguish it. African time is basically the perceived cultural tendency in parts of Africa of a more relaxed attitude to time which translates to some tardiness on the part of Africans to appointments.
There is a saying in Africa; “Africans do not wait for time, rather, time waits for Africans”. Every culture has a particular orientation towards time and the perception of time in Nigeria definitely takes its cue from African time.
Although there are individuals for whom time in Nigeria does not take its cues from African time, those who live by African time seem to be in the majority. This often causes frustrations for the individuals who consider time in Nigeria to be the same as time in the Western world – it is just not so.
In Africa, there is a more leisurely, relaxed, and less rigorously-scheduled lifestyle that prevails when compared to other parts of the world, especially, the Western world.
In 2003, for instance, Ghana had given the world a perfect example of African time when international journalists in the UK were kept waiting by the king of Ghana’s largest ethnic group who was visiting Alexandra Palace in north London at the climax of a Ghanaian trade exhibition.
The journalist, working with information that they had received, were prepared to meet the Otumfuo Osei Tutu II at the exhibition at 1100. The time was then changed to 1400, but the king did not show up until two hours later when the journalists had already packed and left. the event served to reinforce already held beliefs the world over that Africans are terrible at keeping time.
Some people make a clear distinction between attitudes to time in various parts of the world. A common distinction is to consider the issue along the lines of two extremes; where one respects time above all else and the other prizes events above all else.
People with a time orientation would;
- Have concern for punctuality and amount of time expended
- Carefully allocate time to achieve the maximum within set limits
- Tightly schedule goal-directed activities
- Offer rewards as incentives for efficient use of time
- Emphasize on dates and history
People with an event orientation would;
- Be concerned for details of the event, regardless of time required
- Spend time in exhaustive consideration of a problem until resolved
- Have a “let come what may” outlook not tied to any precise schedule
- Stress on completing the event as a reward in itself
- Emphasize on present experience rather than the past or future
Time in Nigeria seems to have more of an event orientation and although some people chalk it up to cultural differences, a lot of people feel that it disadvantages Nigerians in different ways.
To avoid the ricochets of African time, events in Nigeria are often scheduled ahead of time. The host will indicate on the poster a time that is an hour or two before the event actually intends to start.
Sometimes, these attempt to cheat time in Nigeria can backfire especially when some people who are more time conscious show up to the event early only to meet preparations still in order.
A vicious circle ensues where people do not come early because they expect events to start late and events start late because people do not come early. This is the concept of African time that time in Nigeria sometimes labours under and one that visitors to the country would do well to understand to avoid frustration.
Of course, not all lateness in Nigeria is due to African time. Traffic and the confusing road network is sometimes to blame. Public transportation does not operate on schedule in Nigeria and so one may arrive at a point only to have to wait a few extra minutes to get a bus going in their direction or when they get a bus, they may have to wait for it to fill up.
Traffic is also a commonplace phenomenon in most big cities in Nigeria and when traffic strikes even the best-laid plans will sometimes fly out the window.