On African Time

How do you feel when you hear of “African Time” or “Nigerian Time”?

Since I joined that Nigerian Association that I mentioned earlier, one problem I see so far is a lack of respect of time. When we were setting up the first meeting and we agreed upon 6pm, I asked if it was African Time or actual time. Everyone insisted it was not African Time yet only three of us arrived on time, four if you count the president, who was hosting us. One person arrived five or ten minutes after us, two were half an hour late while two were an hour and 20 minutes late. A mention about the importance of arriving on time was met with nonchalance. The meeting started 30 minutes late.

Worse than the latecomers to me was the time that was taken by the president to summarize what the late arrivals missed…during the meeting! Those of us who arrived on time were now penalized by having to hear a 20 minute review of what we had already sat through. I don’t object to the president briefing them but in this case it should have been done after the meeting. If they were having trouble keeping up with the topic then they could have asked questions (though to be honest the topic wasn’t really one that required knowledge of what happened beforehand).

But this issue of time is one that haunts many of us. African Time and the casual treatment of time may work in Nigeria and other countries (though we really have to ask if it does), but here, when you arrange a meeting with a Canadian, they expect you to arrive on time. A sheepish “Shebi you know African Time” as you waltz in 15 minutes late for a job interview will almost surely cost you the job. If you ever invite Canadians to a wedding, I can assure you they will arrive at least 10-15 minutes early, so if you’re still setting things up at this time, prepare to be embarrassed. If a time has been set for an event, that is the time you will find a Canadian sitting or standing, ready to participate. You will not often see a Canadian driving in to an event at the time he or she is supposed to be standing on stage.

Let me be clear: I am not saying that ALL Nigerians (or Africans more generally) are perpetually late, or that all Canadians are on time or early. However, many Nigerians tend to be late for community functions and there is lack of respect for starting times. I attended a Nigerian wedding last year where guests walked in during the ceremony, almost one hour after it began! Thankfully it was an outdoor wedding because if I was that late and it was a church wedding I would just sit outside until it was over; I can’t imagine risking calling attention away from the ceremony by entering the church, and maybe the latecomers in this situation would not have either.

I’m naturally inclined to be late. I procrastinate and regularly underestimate the time needed to accomplish various tasks. I have a weekly date with my friends and there is a running joke about how late I will be. My weak argument is we don’t really have a set time for this recurring event so am I really late when I waltz in a good 1-2 hours behind the others? But anyway, when I know that my being late will let down the others in my team, I arrive on time. When something is important enough to me, I arrive on time, and I think that’s human nature. In the example of this Nigerian association, these first meetings as a Board should be put into the high-priority category for all of us and deserve the respect of arriving on time.

I was discussing this topic with one of the early birds at our second meeting and he said the problem is that people don’t want to waste their own time, so they come late so they aren’t waiting for an event that is running late to start. So it ends up being a bit of a vicious cycle: people arrive late because they don’t think the event will start on time, and the event doesn’t start on time because nobody is there on time. If both sides of the equation just agreed upon a start time and stuck to it, we’d be fine!

We need to start events on time. If an event is supposed to start at 7pm, that’s when it should start, give or take five or maximum 10 minutes. Those who arrive late will join it where it is. Let’s not run the risk of telling those who arrive on time by our actions that they are not important enough for the event to proceed by not starting on time.

All that I’ve said does not apply to people who indicate ahead of time that they will be late, or who decide to drop by unexpectedly, last minute. And when we talk about being late, five or 10 minutes isn’t bad in my opinion but once you get closer to 20 minutes, it starts to look serious. I’m talking about people who commit to attending an event and then show up sooo late. In the past, the idea of putting 6pm on an invitation for an event that starts at 7pm has been suggested, but wouldn’t it be easier if people started taking the time indicated on invitations seriously, and how will they do that unless people start events on time?

Are you always late or always on time? What tricks can be used to better manage time?

19 thoughts on “On African Time

  1. i am african and i always try to keep time am usually five minutes early everywhere and if i am running late i call ahead to apologise. I guess its the way i was brought up:) the whole african/colored people time thing really gets to me i mean its one thing to be ten minutes late but a whole hour come on now!

  2. i agree with your friend. its just because no one wants to be the on who arrives early so we second guess ourselves and come late. its a vicious cycle. but dont get too hung up on the 'west vs us' difference. white people go to things late too.

  3. I am Nigerian and this irks me as well. I had a church meeting scheduled for 5pm, after driving 1hr + to arrive on time. The other participants arrived around 7pm. I once arrived at an engagement party that did not start until 5 hours after the proposed start time. I can probably give thousands of examples”especially weddings”. I still cannot fully comprehend why people have no regard for time. It can be difficult because one is so used to dealing with westerners who regard time and then “some” african who do not. ” Most” is the appropriate description not some :) I have learned to tolerate it and I usually bring something to occupy me while I wait .

  4. If i am going for a typical nigerian event where i know they will be late i don’t bother going early cuz i will just get upset. Happened to me a few times. Anywhere else i usually keep to time.

    I hope it gets eradicated one day this african time.

  5. I hate tardiness. I hardly go to Nigerian events sha but when I do, I show up late. It is how things are. My advice is this, next time, host the meeting. Set a time and mention the importance of being on time because you have another appointment you want to take advantage of if there is no meeting. If no one shows up at the said time, leave the house and lock your door. That will teach them you mean business.

  6. Always late! I’d say I’m very Nigerian Time – ish Really sad because I hate keeping people waiting but somehow, I just manage too. I think it’s because I don’t give myself enough contingency time for if something happens.I imagine I am Wonder Woman! Always bites in the ….ummm… bum! lol

  7. i think its just a priority thing. What Africans regard as important they will be prompt about it. take visa/job interviews. But parties i think are deemed to be not so important. I wont lie that my timing used to be a +30mins but since i came to the west i have really tried to change

  8. Nigerians tend to go late to events, so what. They get to work on time and I suppose are on time for other important things, like church, football and parents evenings etc.

    When it comes to gigs, meetings and all that hosted by their fellow countrymen they turn up late. Just add an hour to the time stated, and if your the host subtract an hour from the real time you want your guests to turn up. This will ensure you don’t get upset for others customary lack of respect for time.

  9. Hm, this is also called West Indian time which I HATE! It drives me crazy. I don't know, but I take great pains to be early or on time for events. I like arriving to an event feeling relaxed, my make up and clothing in place instead of feeling rushed. Of course, it is not always possible but I am on time 98% of the time. My rational is that I am often embarrassed for late comers and will be damned if I am one of them.
    There was a joke with my friends that I would always be the first person to arrive at any gathering. After I found this out I felt like a loser and started to arrive late but then I found myself arriving later and later and hated it. I was always a sweaty, harried, embarrassed mess when I arrived at the event. I couldn't stand it so now I am back to my nice and early ways (I guess that is the Canadian in me?) and love it.
    The only advise I can give is to call people out on it. If they are upset and embarrassed, so be it. They will hopefully be early and on time the next meet instead of wasting your time.

  10. I always thought that "being late" was being ten or 15 minutes late. If you couldn't make it by then, a phonecall is the right thing to do. Now, I have a Nigerian boyfriend who doesn't have African time (luckily). But some of his friends do… I learned that being late can also mean 4 to 5 hours late… Not practical.

  11. Good points. As a recovering procrastinator, I can relate to'underestimating the time needed to get things done'. I think the turning point came for me when I became so busy that I started to long for more hours in the day. Then I got hit by a keeper of West Indian or African-time, which in the past wouldn't have bothered me, this time however I was livid. Now as every minute is so precious to me I hate to waste others' by keeping them waiting. Also it feels good when I arrive early for a meeting and the other person is the one apologizing for being late- starting a meeting by apologizing for anything shoots your confidence.

  12. I have sadly found myself in the late-comers' clique. This was not the case in the past. I had vented against this in times past. But quite frankly, in Nigeria, you may get used to it especially in non-corporate structures.

    I found out when I get anywhere on time, I had to wait. The waiting will therefore eat into the schedule of the next activity. So how do you really want to control this endless loop?

  13. Excellent narration of the day on how it went, the ceremony itself, the reception and everything in between . Can you do a series on how they met , long distance relationship and how your sister is finding it after relocating to Nigeria

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