I don’t know whether it happens in other African countries or why it is so called but it simply denotes Nigerians’ propensity to be late. In Nigeria it is expected and accepted when you turn up late for appointments. Foreigners find it upsetting and more so, our casual attitude to it.
I recall an uncle’s foreign wife being extremely distressed when no one had showed up at 7:30 for a 7 o’clock dinner party, which when it finally took off by 8 was a big success. Guests or brides, priests or grooms have been known to wait for hours for the ceremony to begin. It is almost standard to find school children and invited guests waiting hours in the sun for a Governor to arrive before an event can start. Our Nigerians in diaspora have carried the malaise with them, when it comes to Nigerian events, they turn up late. I must say that we are all equally guilty, we don’t bother to remind ourselves about the event and we rush about at the time we are supposed to be there. It is assumed that you will take out an hour or two from the scheduled time because you find that on occasions when you make the effort to be there on time, your host or hostess gives you a surprised look like you should know better than to come this early. At a typical local event people will keep arriving until the end, so long as the host or hostess sees you.
Much ado has been made about this but has anybody stopped to wonder whether it is ingrained in our DNA or not. I believe that the notion of keeping to time came with the Europeans and the introduction of the clock or time piece. Prior to that, time for us was fluid. Events were arranged based on the position of the sun and the main village occupation of farming. People will set appointments based on these. . People meet by or before sunrise or sunset before or after farm or market time. I remember my grandmother will send me on an errand and tell me to come back before my shadow gets to a particular length, pointing to the ground. For urgent messages, it will be before this dries up as she spits on the ground.
As the clock and other instruments used to measure time got to be part of our daily life, we became time conscious especially in official matters that may affect our livelihood. This is in contrast to the rural areas where the change is slower and time is mostly personal. The demands of urban life, like employment, moving around and, commercial activity have exerted demands for punctuality. You hardly go late for visa appointments or organized external examinations, so we can keep time if need be. Beyond situations like these we fall back on our old habit of turning up late. It is evident that we can if we want to be on time. It is not beyond us, except when it comes to social events. In this case do you think we will ever stop “African Time”?