• Friday, July 12, 2024
businessday logo


The ecology of indolence


Oka Obono

It is important to consider- why the average civil servant in Nigeria becomes drowsy at midday; why officials doze off in the middle of protracted debates, in international meetings, at that time. It looks as if something soporific happens to the Nigerian brain at noon, or soon after. Like an ultra-modern smart-looking computer when left unused for a while, it sleeps.

A soundless whistle blows. Across the nation, only trained ears hear it. Then a soft silent mental song accompanies it, the droning of bees, an imaginary lullaby. Elite eyes glaze over, lids flicker, ahead of a sharp snazzy snore, intelligently arrested before it became a full bodied audible disaster.

To paraphrase Rod Stewart, the first nod is the deepest. All others are minor add-ons to this ritual obeisance to Somnus, god of sleep, by his regular devotees. Beyond the classical and Judaeo-Christian theology – God grants sleep to His beloved – there is an ecological dimension to this issue. You could say that a systemic arrangement helps account for this national derangement.

To put it more pointedly, work winds down in Nigeria from one in the afternoon. In the heat and humidity of high noon, deep lethargy sets in. Somnambulism replaces activity. Workers sprawl on sofas, collapse face down on arms spread across their desks and other furniture, or they keep a quiet daytime vigil in the unoccupied office. From noon, there is a sleeping workforce, laggard studentry, revolutionarily sluggish citizenry, and a predatory elite running roguish in pervasive impunities.

Blame it on the schools, which prepare the country for this fiesta of siestas. Bored, tired, and unengaged, the worker drops her head on the desk and starts immediate consultation with her closest ancestress. From the staff rooms of secondary schools to secretaries’ offices in major government corporations, no desk is spared from this idleness. Each has a sleeping head. Yes, I know I exaggerate, but stay with me (and don’t make it look as if you are not one of them).

In the main, Nigerian primary education is composed of the few short hours from 8a.m. to 2p.m. That is it. The cycle is repeated and reinforced in the secondary school. To the Nigerian brain, the message is clear– “work in the morning and no more after that”. This is the origin of the soporific workforce, the key to understanding the structure of Nigeria’s post-meridian indolence. It contrasts sharply with the effects of lengthier school hours in the East African systems and the practices of proactive educators who are adopting longer hours in some Nigerian schools.

If it will not adopt longer school hours and contents to occupy that extension productively, the country should consider the dynamics of work management in countries like Burkina Faso, where the workday is divided into two parts, 8a.m. to 1p.m. and 4p.m. to 7p.m. There, workers work for the same eight hours as in Nigeria but, while diminishing returns set in for the Nigerian workforce, productivity peaks twice among their Burkinabe counterparts. The latter get to business immediately in the morning and break off at 1p.m. for three hours. Work grinds to a halt. Gates are shut. Nothing moves. Years ago, in Ouagadougou, I couldn’t even obtain courier services within this period. A simmering silence took over the streets as the hours passed away and a strange stillness set in, in the Burkinabe sun.

At four, the gates flung open again. Workers returned refreshed, rearing to go. It was energy like I seldom saw it in undiscerning Nigeria. I observed productivity peak twice in this system because, workers came in bright-eyed and clear-minded from their rest to a cooler evening, working with the same zeal as they had left work hours before. Here, before my eyes was a classic example of the political management of human geography. It was a carefully managed state response to the challenge of staying productive in a humid enclave, an unpretentious acknowledgement that sleep could overtake workers in hot and humid weather.

Nigeria is the pretentiousness site of unproductive disregard for this climatological reality. It has two options. Restructure the normal school day by elongating it and preparing the future workforce for one long humid stretch at the office, and stave off climate-induced diminishing returns by doing so.

Or, cause productivity to peak twice by emulating Ouagadougou. In either case, these simple adjustments require broader systemic changes to the security sector because returning to work a second time each day requires a freedom from fear of street level molestation or even kidnapping. In addition, the transportation system should be functional and effective. What good would it serve if a worker were required to return to work from four o’clock, when by 5 he hadn’t reached home for siesta in the first place, if he were stuck in traffic on break?