BasseyUbong

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

If only we were more serious about the side issues raised by our primary school teachers a lot of things would go well with us all through life. But we often forget that primary school is the foundational level of education so we brush aside a number of life skills that can build and save us so much. The other levels of education build on the foundation. Some simple but critical cliches, proverbs, and otherwise sayings are the bases of life skills and ultimately survival strategies. One is that a stitch in time saves nine.

Each time I come across a car on the middle of the road disabled by bad bolt joint, I just shake my head sadly. It could take weeks if not months of the wheel complaining at first softly with the decibel increasing till the car cannot go further. At that point, the owner buys a replacement (hitherto it had been “I don’t have money”). The mechanic will charge thrice as much for ” outside job.” It could lead to losses where the driver or owner could not reach a destination to keep an appointment. It could even cost a life if someone was hurrying to a hospital. Imagine such happening with a woman in labour inside! Of course, someone will quickly say God forbid; it is not my portion. If it became necessary to hire a car (if one is available) the cost can be enormous.

Several Nigerians are in the last-minute vanguard. Take the case of a disease none of us can avoid (there are mosquitoes in offices, mosques, churches, banks, and everywhere else). A Nigerian feels ill but keeps moving till he or she is rushed to a medical facility on a stretcher. Laboratory test would declare malaria parasites 3+. When it was 1+ there was an excuse to keep going, “I’m fine” is a regular phrase. Much of the serious illnesses people experience would have been arrested if something was done at the early stages. This includes cancer; for instance, early detection, treatment, and possible removal of one offending breast could save a life while the person lived for decades more.

Or the case of our residence? A tiny crack on the wall can become the source of the collapse of a building. In human relationships, several marriages would have gone on if a simple disagreement was resolved early. Men must know that the biggest mistake they can make is to attempt separation “to teach her a lesson.” In nine cases out of ten making up and returning to the marriage is almost impossible. Same goes for women – a brief break could make the man get an alternative. This is true of organizations including churches. Extended separation generates almost daily reasons for justification of the separation and further delay in reunion.

One of the most wondrous things I have observed particularly in Christian Ibibio is the treatment of old people. No Nigerian government that I am aware of makes provision for the care of the aged. That is left for families and a piteously few philanthropic organizations. Several families abandon their so-called loved ones to the vagaries of time and circumstance. Hunger, disease, inclement weather, seedy accommodation, loneliness are bedfellows of many old people. But as soon as the ‘loved one’ passes on, the children and relations fall over each other to give the world rather than the person the impression that all has been well.

However, those actions that amount to self-deceit and hypocrisy do not hide. A building that was falling apart is quickly refurbished and given a coat of paint in glorious colours; where the abandoned human property was holing up in a shack or one room in a relation’s house, a brand new palace is constructed overnight. Millions of Naira emerge from the blues to give the departed a “befitting burial.” The family is out to give the “last honour” to the deceased. Who actually takes the honour? It is the living, some with debts they will bequeath to one or more generations. If certain normal things had been done early the emergency fundraising (including the sale of family land, in some cases the ONLY family land and viable property) more than nine would have been saved. My mother Madam J. B. Ubong at 89 is never tired of calling for “befitting living” rather than a “befitting burial.” If a family keeps a ‘loved one’ in a cold room like fish for six months to two years, look closely, they did not stitch in time. Although it was the government, imagine that Nelson Mandela was interred on the tenth day after he passed on with Presidents of dozens of countries in attendance. What are we in Nigeria going to do that can match that of Mandela?

At the end of the day, it is about societal values. Several people are steeped in the orientation that things are best done at the final hour or minutes. I found out as a tertiary education teacher that marking examination scripts and compiling results can be concluded within the week after the examination even if the examinees numbered 1,000. Some persons wait until the deadline is but a week away. Then to avoid punishment (sometimes as severe as a suspension for a month or two without salary) they fumble and make errors in recording. It would have cost nothing but time and energy if the marking had been done on time.

One of the biggest and most enduring lessons I learnt in Icon Merchant Bank when it was alive was the assembly line approach to work (I apply it till today). As soon as a file is dropped before a staff, the person pauses, opens the file, and reads the content. In most cases what is required is minuting to the next person. It is lack of it that leads to some tables being swamped by files (sometimes to show how important that person is?). In fact, accumulated files is a sure sign of incompetence if not irresponsibility because persons involved spend critically useful time in conversations and actions that have little or nothing to do with the original job schedule. This certainly excludes periods of travelling which one can say is still problematic for it tells the story of lack of trust of subordinates leading to over concentration of functions on one table. Decentralization of functions is inherent in bureaucracy and a hallmark of every successful organization public or private. I can add that the biggest lesson I learnt during the General Abacha tenure was the uncertainty of tomorrow. I function each day the way Jimmy Cliff sang: don’t leave for tomorrow what must be done today. I am prepared to stretch my system till (wrongly) it refuses to continue. One is pretty sure that the erstwhile EFCC Acting Chairman had plans for the following day, week, month, and year being very sure of his tenure. Imagine that he can no longer have access to his office to remove even intimate items not to talk of official information that can cause him more harm. There was no notice of his removal, one thing every high to low official – private and public – must know. The monkey said: the palm fruit in my stomach is the one I’m sure of; the one in my cheek may end up as the property of the hunter. Use today to the maximum once health and other circumstances permit.

Are some of these issues not well aligned? Take one issue and think about it. It costs less in time, energy, and money to tackle issues as they arise be it health or personal relationships, or management of organizations and groups.

I rest my case on this issue while I take on another lest there is an uncomfortable accumulation that can cause a health problem and expenditure of scarce funds.

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