In an interview appearing in his forthcoming book, For The Good of the Nation – Essays & Perspectives of SLS, the maverick Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi reminisced about lessons his father thought him.

“I remember in 1978 or 1979, I was an undergraduate and my father had retired from the Foreign Service and we were having a conversation in the car. And at that time I was all over the place; I wanted to be a professor, I wanted to be this and that.alt

“But he said to me, ‘This is not how to be somebody. If you really want to play a role in history, you need to define yourself; pick one or two or three things and do them constantly. And these things don’t have to be big things.’ And he gave me examples. ‘If you just decide that every time you give an appointment, you will not be one minute late’. It looks like a small thing but it is difficult.

“But what happens is, after a few weeks or a few months everybody knows you as somebody who is never late for an appointment. And if you hold on to that for the rest of your life, if you are not remembered for anything else, you will be remembered as someone who was never late for an appointment.

“So life is not about ambition, ‘I want to be president, I want to be this, or I want to be that;’ it is about, ‘what is it that I hold that is important that I want to hold on to’?”

This perspective of Sanusi got me thinking about part of the big problem ravaging our country, Nigeria: The erosion of core moral values that are essential for the creation and nourishment of the soul of a country. Values which are held by the vast majority of the people, the breach of which sticks out like a sore thumb and evokes instant opprobrium and rejection by the society.

In Nigeria, there really isn’t one such ennobling and universal value one can lay one’s finger on anymore. Everything seems to have gone to the dogs, a society without a soul. And that is why it is so easy for people in authority (and even sadly those not) to see looting as a necessary (even acceptable) part of life. And not helping oneself to public funds is deemed to be foolish. That is why someone coming out of jail for looting and grievous breach of public trust, rather than being ‘sent to Coventry’, gets welcomed back from jail with sickening celebration and he’s soon given a place of honour amongst the people.

We have lost it!

But back to Sanusi and the simple example given to him by his now late father on time-keeping, and for which anyone who knows SLS would know how much he has stuck with this lesson from his father – never being late, not by a minute, for any appointment he gives or gets, if he can help it.

Timekeeping is a value at a discount in Nigeria, so much so that one can almost say it is next to corruption in the bane-index plaguing the country. So many things are tied directly or indirectly to this abject disrespect for time here. Time, they say, is money. Therefore, any wonder that ours is a bankrupt nation?

One watches time without number how our presidents, governors, and others in positions of authority fail to keep to time stipulated in their appointments or programmes. What is worse is even the total disrespect for the people they have kept waiting. They come with their pompous air of importance and superiority, an hour or two, even three, late and at most times would not bring themselves down to offering any apologies for their gross abuse. We should “understand”, “this is Nigeria”!

And, sadly, these presidents, governors, etc, truly believe it comes with their offices and it is not possible to keep time in Nigeria, even with their appropriated power on the road: sirens blaring and despatch riders clearing the way in traffic for them to have easier passage than us mere mortals.

On the contrary, stretched to its logical conclusion, this act of irresponsibility should be an impeachable offence, if you ask me. It is a demonstration of the office holders’ incompetence at properly managing his time and so public resources; for the human hours he has wasted by keeping people waiting and the imbalance his action has created in the order of things, if computed, are of colossal amount.

It is as if we do not see how real presidents and governors of economies that dwarf ours times over keep to exact time, and on the rare occasions that they are late, even by five minutes, offer profuse regrets as if they had just committed murder.

This is one of the reasons I doff my hat to Mr Adams Oshiomhole, the governor of Edo State (or is it State of Edo, a la Osun?).

I was once at a public function in Abuja, organised by one of the leading newspapers, to which many dignitaries were invited. The hall was full to the brim but the programme did not commence over an hour after schedule because some governor or the other was being awaited, even though some other personalities like Governor Oshiomhole had arrived prompt on time and were long seated.

Then another hour or so after the organisers finally set the event rolling arrived a trio of governors with all their obtrusive and offensive entourage – of courtiers, minders, etc – drum beating, and praise singing. They waltzed their way to the “High table”, disrupting the far- gone proceeding for over ten minutes, while we all watched and waited!

It was a thing of pride and comfort to watch the no-nonsense Adams Oshiomhole rise up for his address, go up to the podium, and berate his erring colleagues publicly and most severely:

“This is an unacceptable conduct,” Adams began, “and coming from my colleagues who ought to be setting good examples for the people of their states, a thing of sadness for me.” And just so the remove any political misreading, he continued, “make no mistake about it, they are my colleagues and friends, but I cannot make any exception of them.”

And as Oshiomhole was still talking, some other governor barged in. “Just come in quietly,” Adams called out, “and take your seat. If you think I’m going to stop my speech for you, you are wrong. Those who come in late must have respect for those they have kept waiting and proceedings that have begun.”

For once I was proud to be a Nigerian and Adams Oshiomhole made me wish I were from Edo State. We certainly need more of him, more of the Sanusis, to slowly but surely bring sanity to this crazed land!

But ennobling values are taught from childhood. In the Prep boarding school my daughter attends in the States, the school Rule Book stipulates which offences carry expulsion as penalty. First is lying. The extension to this is that starting out as a liar guarantees moral bankruptcy and ending up a looter of public funds. Next is lateness, called tardiness. The school would expel for repeated tardiness! The lessons are clear, someone that lies would cheat and steal; and tardiness is disruptive of a smooth-running society, someone that is tardy by nature has no respect for fellow human beings.

Parents, what values do you impart into your child?

Note: The book, For The Good of The Nation – Essays & Perspectives of SLS, which profiles Sanusi as an international public intellectual more than the Governor of CBN, is due for release in June 2012.