• Friday, July 12, 2024
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BusinessDay

Late-coming as a national malaise

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 I get nervous when I am running late for an event. I often get the feeling that your timing for arriving at an event determines your character and personality and, therefore, arriving late says a lot about you. It translates to lack of seriousness, disrespect for time, and frivolity. No matter the valid reasons for being late, when I do arrive late at an event, which is rarely, I am on tiptoes and will often tuck myself in the backseat away from public glare, embarrassed and hopeful that no one notices.

But in the last ten years or thereabouts, events in Nigeria have taken a downward spiral. Everything starts almost two hours late, and when I arrive early, I find that I am the only one with a sprinkling of other time-couscous Nigerians sitting in an empty room.

I have had the privilege of being a compere at several national functions where, expectedly, many top government functionaries turn up. I am gobsmacked by the inability of most to come in early, arriving several hours late and struggling to be seen. It’s amazing how we glamorise lateness by showing off. How do you explain, for instance, the arrival of a government official or anyone for that matter to an event two hours after it has started and their insistence on appreciating members of the high table or seeking for seats in the front row? Do they honestly know what time it is? Are they not embarrassed? I watch this ridiculous habit even in churches where people turn up long after Mass has started and they want to sit in front. My word! I get embarrassed on their behalf and I am constantly looking for where to hide my head in shame. Those who arrive late at events and cannot sit quietly in the corner distract us all by waving and jostling and smiling and backslapping. Explain to me what that means!

I had a moment once as compere where African ministers attended a conference in Nigeria. I had been asked by the organisers to compere the gala night which was to start at 7pm. I arrived, as always, one hour before the event to dot my i’s and cross my t’s, to prepare and further research the event in the event of any sudden changes. A late compere will fret and become nervous and can quite easily ruin an event.

It took me one and a half hours to find the organisers. I arrived to an empty hall and a lone DJ. No one knew who was coming or where my contact was. Everyone arrived very late including the organisers. African ministers arrived before them. I have never been more ashamed. Then we were all asked to leave the hall and stand outside so the hall is prepared for the event. Eventually, some of the French speaking ministers said, “C’est normal, c’est Nigerian, c’est common ca” (“It is normal, it is Nigerian, it is like this”). I nearly passed out.

These days you arrive at a Nigerian event and the microphone is being tested right in front of guests who are already seated or the high table is being prepared and banners are still being hung, long after the time stated for the event to start. Shall we change a new leaf in 2013? I wonder.

This particular scenario drives me completely insane. A guest arrives three-quarters way into a programme and goes all the way to the high table greeting and backslapping other guests. This individual, unashamed, disrupts the entire event to ensure that everyone notices him/her. He/she then holds up proceedings while a chair is being sourced to enable him/her sit at the high table.

My father, bless his soul, used to say: “Sit at the back of an event and let them bring you to the place of reckoning because if you sit up front you can be asked to leave the seat for someone with more presence than you.” Modesty is an important virtue which is missing in the Nigerian social circles. The sense of shame has also sadly departed our shores. We have become the butt of jokes within the close-knit international community, for our lateness, our sloppiness, for our greed, our personal rather than our national interest, and our shoddy treatment of all matters related to data collection, or information. A friend of mine from a foreign embassy asked for the biodata of a minister and for six weeks they were still waiting for it. My eyes popped and my tongue seized. This is not how a nation should be defined.

Everything is taken casually in Nigeria. Most things are money-driven. The public service which should have the brightest minds has some persons who are obstacles to development – sluggish, uncaring and unprofessional. A file must never leave a desk within twenty-four hours. For them, it is an aberration. This is to force you, file owner, to drop something before you are attended to. An efficient person is called mumu, haunted and derided by Team Inefficient. Whither Nigeria?