Have you ever been in a church service where the preacher says ‘something great is going to happen to you” and the congregation echoes now!!! You most probably have. I wonder how the concept of African Time became ingrained in our ethos; if you are an event planner, you might say something like ‘doors open by 5pm’ but you know people will start walking in by 7pm. In all honesty, you really planned to start between 6pm and 8pm – the latter being the preferred choice.
This is pervasive in every facet of life of the average Nigerian; our timing is usually the stated time, plus ‘X’ – ‘X’ being an additional amount of time unplanned for. The most common explanation for this, (where you are not a Lagosian constantly blaming traffic) is the African pride. As Africans, we see ourselves as a pride of lions; we always like to make an entry even though it means the undisciplined act of late coming. Just knowing the meeting was held longer, the flight was delayed, the bus waited, or your date’s imaginations ran amok feels subliminally good.
What we fail to understand is that successful people are extremely time conscious; they understand clearly that time is the value they trade in exchange for what they want. It takes 24 hours in a day to chase a billion dollar deal, and same 24 hours in a day to do nothing. I do not know about other African countries, but in Nigeria, we run a reward system based on work done and not on time expended.
Wages and Salaries are calculated based on work done not necessarily on the value extracted per man hour. For example, if your monthly salary is say, N200,000 ($526), you must have had a great education and resumé to land you that job. Naturally, you are working between 24 to 26 days a month, and most probably on an 8am to 5pm schedule. If you spend about 9 hours a day for 24 days, your hourly income is about N934; this is less than $3 depending on the exchange rate and if you are using the parallel or official bank rate.
Now, this assumption is strictly around white collar jobs requiring significant amount of investment in quality education and personal development – one thing Nigerians are not shy of. Many have masters degrees in layers in their resumé. It is even worse off in the informal sector, as we price strictly around the amount of work done; albeit knowing that we do not have a standard of measurement for this. It all boils down to a game of wits.
How does productivity affect a people’s sense of time? Well, money is generally an evidence or reward for productivity, and time is the initial investment into any productive venture. It follows that the perceived reward for the investment, in this case ‘time’, is generally not strong or serious enough to make the investor (people) commit to maximizing time.
Hence, the reason why some employers have no qualms with hiring when the business does not have enough activities to keep staff productively engaged. This is because time is extremely cheap in Nigeria; with the devaluation of the naira, time is far cheaper now than ever. Maybe Nigeria would even become the new China.
The most important signal of the excess supply of disposable time by Nigerians is demonstrated in our transportation system. It is run on a model that keeps the bus waiting and everybody in it also waiting till it gets filled up before it moves. As opposed to a time-based transit pattern that works based on, well, time.
Really! Why should I show up at the bus-stand early, when the man that shows up one hour later gets to leave at the same time with me? Even though our appointments are at different times – mine possibly earlier than his.
Going back to my church analogy. The preacher knows the pressing needs of his congregation and understands that time deferred (hope deferred) makes the heart weary. So, he does not advocate a future time but declares the present as the time appropriate and appointed for the requisite solution. The congregants then respond in faith, with a sense of urgency.
In the same vein, if we move our reward system from a fixed pay to the extracted value per man hour, we would create a sense of urgency and mindfulness. One that would make people compare dollar-to-dollar, with the value of time expended on an activity.
No more days of working outside contractual hours for free and employers can price jobs differently. Ultimately, they would understand that they really do not need you sitting behind a desk to execute your job description, when it could as well be done in 3hrs and on only three days in a week.
The multiplier effect is not only in the economic development resulting from better use of time but also psychological – as you can see a direct connection between work and reward. An important factor when analysing job fulfilment, I would say. Any individual or entity that shows no respect for your time, really has no respect for you. In managing relationships, time vested is one of the most important switching costs to consider when managing for an exit.
Does this mean Nigerians will stop showing up late for events? Maybe not. However, if any of the guests are productively engaged, they would certainly be giving you their down times. I perceive that even you, as the event organiser, would want to get over with this event and move to the next one ‘right now!’