Our priest has come late again

Casmir Igbokwe

published Sunday, 14 Oct. 2007

The road to the Catholic Church at Ejigbo, on the outskirts of Lagos, is not just bad. It changes the colour of car wheels to brown whenever it rains. Last Sunday, some worshippers in this church (name withheld) had more than the road to grumble about. They had gathered early for the second mass, which was to start at 8.30am. But this service did not start up until about 9.20am – almost one hour behind schedule.

There was no explanation for this lateness, which is becoming perennial. No apologies. Towards the end of the mass, people got the clue of what might have caused the delay. After the formal announcements, there were second collection, tithe collection and thanksgiving collection. The majority of those who came for this thanksgiving came with a tuber or two of yam and a roll of toilet tissue.

As the worshippers danced to the ‘Up! Up! Jesus, Down! Down! Satan’ tune, those who came for the third service were waiting outside. The second service was to end 10.30am. But at about 11.30am, the bazaar committee was still collecting donations towards the church’s forthcoming harvest and bazaar. There was no sense of urgency. No time consciousness.

This situation occurs in some other churches and public functions in Nigeria. There is no problem with a church engaging in fundraising activities. There should also not be any problem with people who willingly wish to pay tithe or sow a seed in order to multiply their wealth. But there is a problem when we have no respect for time; when we show no remorse for our mistakes; and when we continue to believe that it is African to do things the wrong way. The Catholic Church considers it a sin to come late to church. But what do we call it when that lateness emanates from the church authorities.

It is understandable when an event starts five minutes behind schedule. But starting one hour late is unpardonable. In advanced countries, there is a great respect for time, even in churches. If a bus or train is scheduled to leave at 7am, it leaves exactly at that time. Whoever comes five minutes after, will miss that train. Here, when transport operators advertise 7am as departure time, expect that bus to leave around 9 or even 10am.

Poor attitude. Wrong values. These are at the heart of our problems. We often blame our leaders for our predicaments. But we all share in the blame. You pay a carpenter to come and do a work for you; he promises to come tomorrow at 10am. One week after, he may not appear. When he finally emerges with lame excuses, he does the job with substandard and fake materials.

The auto mechanic? You cannot leave your car with him and have peace of mind. Some of them will replace the original parts of your car with fake ones. If you decide to buy the parts yourself, he devises another way of fleecing you. Drive that car for one week and it develops worse problems.

What of civil servants and other workers? Some of them come to work just to chat, lazy about and collect salaries at the end of the month. A banker, for instance, may see a long queue of people waiting to cash money. That is when she may decide to make that secret telephone call to Tony.

I was amused to read about the recent protest march of labour leaders of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria in Osogbo. Workers of the company were reportedly angry over the proposed concession of electricity transmission in the country to Power Grid Company of India. To them, Indian companies in the country do not have good staff welfare record. Nonsense. If they have done their job efficiently, would there have been any need to bring in the Indian firm? If tomorrow, the government decides to bring in a Chinese firm to manage our domestic wastes, people will also complain.

We throw away rubbish anyhow, urinate in street corners and turn pedestrian bridges into emergency toilets. The War Against Indiscipline introduced by the Muhammadu Buhari government almost put a stop to this. But the little gain we made in that era went with that regime. Occasionally, some refuse collectors come to collect domestic wastes in my area. They seem to be from the government. But residents have since learnt to put less trust in them. They dispose their refuse their own way.

We complain about corruption among our leaders. We complain about poor infrastructure. But when an opportunity comes to shame those leaders who put us in this mess, some of us resort to playing the ostrich. Somebody like Diepreye Alamieyesiegha was convicted of looting the treasury of Bayelsa State. A few weeks after his release from prison, some of his people organised a grand reception for him. When I discussed this issue with a prominent Ijaw son, he said his people took that action because they discovered that the former president who persecuted him was also not clean.

This argument is called a you-too fallacy. The fallacy occurs when the conclusion of an argument claims that an accusation is unwarranted because an accuser or another party is open to a similar or worse accusation. By pointing fingers of corruption at the former president, the organisers of that reception wanted to divert attention. Their aim, perhaps, was to repackage their man as a relevant power broker – the Governor-General of Ijaw nation. But there is a limit to how far you can fool a people. 

We are very good in glorifying idiocy. We have no respect for our laws. No respect for traffic rules. No consideration for other road users. In saner environments, once you step onto a zebra crossing, any oncoming vehicle stops for you. If you do that here and escape being crushed to death, then you must be a very lucky fellow.

This is why the recent conviction of six persons who drove against the traffic by an Ikeja Magistrate Court in Lagos is welcome. The six men served 20 days in Kirikiri Maximum Prison. The sentence appears to be harsh, but the fact is that most Nigerians are fearful. They may ignore jingles. They may not heed public enlightenment campaigns. But the moment they know that there is a price to pay for any misdemeanour, they will behave themselves properly.

Leaders of all hue should also lead by example. It is not enough for religious leaders, for instance, to tell their congregation how Israelites crossed the Red Sea. Or how to sow a seed and multiply their wealth. They should impress on their members the need to, among others, repent from African time syndrome, driving recklessly, glorifying illegal wealth and defecating on pedestrian bridges.           

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