One of the rituals of my childhood was writing down New Year resolutions. Under instruction from our parents, my siblings and I distilled our hopes and dreams into written acts. It was inevitable, this rite that accompanied the dawn of each year. It was akin to budgeting for the rest of the year—enshrining the habits we intended to adopt and exemplify as well as those we planned to renounce and excise. The resolutions were meant to serve as ethical compasses for the year, navigation guides designed to illuminate our way, indicating paths to be taken, paths forsaken.
Looking back now, I’m struck by the repetitiousness of it all. If one had preserved those statements of purpose, one would find that a common thread ran through them. Year after year, one promised to adopt the same positive attitudes of mind and to shake off a recurrent set of negative habits. On the affirmative side of the ledger I often wrote down the resolve to take my studies more seriously, to do more of the domestic chores, to pray daily, to invest more time in recreational reading. The negative entries included the pledge never to lie, never to be indolent, never to shirk one’s homework, never to drink or smoke.
The fact that my siblings and I repeated many of the same resolutions—in effect, recycled them—must mean that, at some point, we slackened off, lost sight of the compass we had created for our journeys, discountenanced the paths we had promised to take.
When did this act of renunciation take place? Was it after a mere few days into the year, weeks later, or after some months? I do not have even an educated guess on this question. I don’t remember when, one by one or all at once, I tossed aside my resolutions—and began to live by an accustomed code and mode. In all my years as a youngster, I never once paused to ponder the question. It simply was not an important question for me.
I believe we fail to live up to our New Year ideals precisely because we are deeply human—at once deeply flawed, but also always aspiring to soar, to rise above our baser instincts, to unfurl our better selves. If everybody kept faith with their resolutions, we would no longer have the dismal, fallen world we inhabit, but a paradise populated by wingless angels.
In a sense, because we often stumble, forget, or succumb to the temptation to return to our default messiness, the rites of renewal with which we usher in the New Year may be seen as hollow, a futility. Yet, each year, on January 1, multitudes around the world stubbornly reenact these rites. They make lofty pledges. They offer supplications for terrific transformations in their lives and in the lives of their beloved. Then they settle down to the same dated routine—their lives every bit as bumpy and rocky and unpredictable as in previous years. In spite of this reality—perhaps, even, owing to it—we await the approaching year, ready to pray anew, to hope afresh, to re-inscribe and embrace old, discarded resolutions.
Despite the seeming futility of the New Year rites, I’d like to propose a variant of them to fellow Nigerians. There are 365 days in 2017. Why don’t we turn each of those days into a unique opportunity to make a concrete difference in our life and in the fortunes of our increasingly bereft country?
I make the prescription in the spirit of the purpose-driven code. I challenge readers to commit to one or several acts each day of 2017 designed to reveal a better version of themselves and to achieve a more wholesome society.
There are countless gestures we could adopt to make our immediate environment better. Let me illustrate.
If you’re a teacher or lecturer, recognize the responsibility you bear for shaping your students’ ethical worldview and equipping them with the expertise to be problem solvers. Spend more time each day preparing for your classes. Eschew the temptation to accept sexual or financial gratification from your students in exchange for grades. That way, you’d earn the title of educator, instead of serving to deepen ignorance and sow slot.
If you’re a student, devote more hours in your day to studying. Do not seek to “sort” your teacher by offering your body or cash for grade. Resist any teacher or lecturer who demands that you take the easy, sleazy way out, that you earn an impressive grade by demonstrating your mastery in bed.
If you’re a reporter, resolve to look for and beam the spotlight on cases where the rich, privileged and connected use the agents of the state—the police, soldiers, say—to violate the rights of the poor and downtrodden. Everywhere you look in Nigeria, there are many such violations of the impoverished to take on.
If you’re a lawyer, consider allocating a certain amount each day to pro bono work. There are hordes of Nigerians whose fundamental human rights are daily violated. There are men and women languishing in detention for months and years for crimes they never committed—or, often, for the “crime” of not having the funds to pay off corrupt and power-drunk police officers. Invest a bit of your lawyerly expertise to redressing such egregious abuses and gratuitous violations of fellow Nigerians.
If you’re a civil servant, make a point of arriving at your desk on time and staying at your post through the required hours. Do not dawdle away your work time munching gala and drinking sodas when there are people waiting to be attended. Cease the habit of “disappearing” files to force those who need those files to make illicit payment to you.
If you’re a Nigerian lawmaker at the national or state level, please spend a few hours daily thinking about ways to use the instrument of the law to improve the lot of your constituents. Learn that lawmaking is not a matter merely of arrogating to yourself such flattering but vacuous honorific as Distinguished Senator or Honorable Member.
Whoever you are—Fatima, Bimbola, Ekaette, Ngozi, Segun, Musa, Fynecountry or Okoye—learn to be jealous of your environment. Don’t turn a blind eye to filth all around you. Do not litter the streets with plastic, newspaper wraps, or banana peels. Do not venerate a corrupt politician who has just stolen your present and snatched away your children’s future—only because the thieftain hails from your local government area, shares the same religious faith as you, or speaks the same tongue. To rise to the defense of a man or woman who has disinherited you is to cooperate in your own destruction.
If you’re a pastor, an imam or a prophet, incorporate a few hard truths in your repertoire. Do not assure riggers of elections that God has entrusted them with power. Do not invite embezzlers of public funds to bring up 10% of their loot to the altar in order to sanctify the proceeds of theft. Develop the moral muscle to tell thieves that thieving, in any jurisdiction or guise, is an offense against God.
Whoever you are, wherever you’re located, whatever your station, make a small adjustment in your MO—and become a vital laborer to sustain our lofty dreams for 2017.
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