Of the things that trouble me a great deal about some of my people, Nigerians/Africans, especially the "educated" ones, is their inability and unwillingness to treat their fellow Nigerians/Africans as nicely as they treat those who are not Nigerians/Africans. This is very troubling. Though the robbery of Nigerians by most of their "educated" leaders only to deposit the loot in foreign countries is an excellent example of this abnormal, shocking behavior, I have chosen, in this article, the bizarre practice called "African time" to prove my point.
What is "African Time?"
It is well known (among Nigerians/Africans) that the invitation card of a typical Nigerian event (be it wedding, conference, meeting, fund raising or party) normally starts very late. It is common to witness a Saturday event, scheduled for "9:00 p.m. prompt," starting with the calling of Drs., Sirs, Chiefs, Alhajis, etc., to the "High Table," around 12:30 a.m., the next day, Sunday, especially among Nigerians in Houston. Consequently, a meeting that will take two hours ends up taking half a day or more. We are now familiar with the first opening remarks by the MC/Moderator, which goes like this: "Good evening or Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. We are running a little bit late; please bear with us."
"African time" has become so annoying and embarrassing to the point that some Nigerians (in Houston) now provide two invitation cards, either formally or informally: one for Nigerians/Africans and the other for Americans. The one for Nigerians/Africans would indicate that the event would start about two hours before the actual time, while the one for Americans would indicate the exact time the event is supposed to start. Why? According to one Nigerian, "they want to make some provision for 'African time,' and avoid annoying and embarrassing Americans." [Probably, in their minds, it is OK to annoy and embarrass their fellow Nigerians/Africans who are punctual. "Na waa!" Inferiority complex is yet to leave a lot of my people alone.]
The above illustration defines what some people call "African time," i.e., the perpetual, habitual tardiness within the Nigerian/African communities, be it at home, Nigeria/Africa or abroad.
While some of us have accepted the above definition of "African time" hook, line and sinker, I do not. To me, "African time" is not African time; it is "selective punctuality/commitment," pure and simple. What is happening right now is that "selective punctuality/commitment" is being disguised as "African time" (just as the stupidity of robbing Nigeria by most of her leaders only to feed, say, Swiss people has been disguised as personal greed). Put differently, Nigerians/Africans are not habitual late-comers because those same Nigerians/Africans who attend Nigerian/African conferences, meetings, etc., late or any time they want, in the name of "African time," actually attend conferences or meetings called by non-Africans/Nigerians on time.
Any one who knows Nigerians/Africans, knows that "selective punctuality/commitment" is an indisputable fact of life within Nigerian/African communities. As such, I now turn to the real driving force behind "selective punctuality/commitment."
"Selective Punctuality/Commitment" and Inferiority Complex
The real driving force behind "selective punctuality/commitment" within Nigerian/African communities is inferiority complex. This complex has distorted the thinking faculties of so many Nigerians/Africans to the point that it has become so normal for them to disrespect, degrade, cajole and disregard their own people of Nigeria/Africa WITHOUT even knowing it. Consequently, they see nothing wrong in attending meetings and conferences called by non-Nigerians/Africans on time only to attend those of Nigeria/Africa very late. Similarly, they see nothing odd in running the affairs of non-Africans in an orderly fashion only to run those of Nigeria/Africa lackadaisically.
There is no doubt that the damage inferiority complex has caused (and continues to cause) in Nigeria/Africa is very alarming. In fact, the damage sometimes appears shamefully irreparable, especially when one realizes that inferiority complex affects so many "educated" Nigerians/Africans who have learned absolutely no single useful lesson from slavery, colonialism and exploitation of Africa. In fact, those in my camp doubt seriously whether they will ever learn anything useful because (as it is widely known) they DO NOT read; books intimidate them; they operate in complete darkness!
Be the situation as it may, I am still earnestly praying that sooner (not later), we all will see clearly the bitter truth emanating from "selective punctuality/commitment," namely, the obvious truth that so many African minds urgently need liberation from the shackles of inferiority complex, mental slavery and colonialism. Specifically, it is my fervent prayer that sooner than later we all will reach the same conclusion with Ngugi Wa Thiong'o, Franz Fanon and Stephen Bantu Biko that some African minds must be "decolonized," because as Franz Fanon wisely and poignantly observed, "The colonized man will first manifest an aggression which has been deposited in his bones against his own people." Yes, you read it right, "against his own people." It is so true!
My fellow Africans, decolonizing/liberating African minds is so necessary that if I have my way, it must be a part and parcel of school curriculum (from High School to University) in Nigeria and Africa. We must eradicate "selective punctuality/commitment" in our midst if we EVER plan to move ahead.
Eradicating "African time" -- the "Selective Punctuality/Commitment"
"Selective punctuality/commitment" must stop. Inferiority complex must be buried 9 feet deeper. Why? Because not only that the robbery of Nigeria/Africa by most of its "leaders" only to deposit the loot in foreign countries constitute the ultimate display of inferiority complex, "selective punctuality/commitment" is also a major consequence of inferiority complex. Accordingly, we must eradicate "selective punctuality/commitment" in our midst. We must respect our own people the way we respect others. We must run our affairs the way we run those owned by non-Africans/Nigerians, and if one really thinks about it, Africa is not asking too much from us.
To eradicate "selective punctuality/commitment," we must constantly ask and provide objective answers to the following interrelated questions:
What does "selective punctuality/commitment" say about my education? What does "selective punctuality/commitment" say about my degrees, my certificates and titles? What is the use of my education when my own people cannot even benefit from it? Why should I attend meetings and conferences called by non-Nigerians/Africans on a timely manner only to turn around and attend those called by my own people [of Nigeria/Africa] late or any time I want? Why should I disrespect myself and my own people only to respect others? Can any one really respect me if I do not respect myself? Why should I practice "selective punctuality/commitment" to my own destruction? Why should I constitute an instrument of my own downfall? Why should I apply my knowledge that "time is money" and "punctuality is the soul of business" only to others and not to myself and my own people? Why should I wash my hands only to crack a nut for a rooster?
My brethren, it is my firm belief that objective answers to the above questions will end, once and for all, "selective punctuality/commitment" which some people mistakenly call "African time." Once "selective punctuality/commitment" is eradicated; once African minds are truly liberated/decolonized, our progress and development will have no bound. PEACE!
By Dr Bedford Nwabueze Umez, Ph.D.
Dr. Umez is a Professor of Government, Lee College, Baytown, Texas, and University of Phoenix, Houston Campus. He is the founder of Liberating the African mind, LAM, and Nigerian Leadership Council, NLC.