“New Year, a new chapter, new verse, or just the same old story? Ultimately, we write it. The choice is ours.” —Alex Morritt
I will start this start with the customary greetings that accompany every New Year and that is to wish my readers, friends and family a very prosperous New Year this 2020. We have ended a decade, depending on how you see it and have begun another. It is only fitting that I dedicate a few articles to this. My 98th article will be in three parts, leading up to the hundredth, which will make it two years that I have been sharing my thoughts on life, the nation and our environment every Thursday in this newspaper. I would not be embarking on this alone as I will be soliciting the support of some writers and friends who have been a part of this journey and have contributed immensely in one way or the other to its success. The list of my supporters is endless; so, I had to carefully select just a few and they are: Aligbe Onuorah, Bunmi Obanawu, Dike Okwelum and Didi Jibunoh.
As it is a new year, it is no surprise that my first article after my birthday article addresses something that is often on the lips of everyone around this time of the year; I am referring to new year resolutions.
When I think of new year resolutions, this quote by someone named D.S. Mixell comes to mind and I find it quite funny and telling: “Many years ago, I made a New Year’s resolution to never make New Year’s resolutions. It’s been the only resolution I’ve ever kept!”
As seen in Wikipedia, a new year resolution is a tradition in which a person resolves to continue good practices, change an undesired trait or behaviour, to accomplish a personal goal, or otherwise improve their life. Historians trace the “custom of making new year’s resolutions” back to the ancient Babylonians, in the time of King Hammurabi, though they generally credit the early Christians—drawing on their Jewish heritage —with marking the start of a new year as the “occasion for thinking about one’s past mistakes and resolving to do and be better in the future.”
Over 4,000 years since the custom began, we’re still at it, even if for the most part it is just us really only going through the motions. We’re not serious about meeting the goals we set for ourselves or we may have been serious at the time we were setting them but that resolve rarely makes it past a few weeks.
In fact, studies show that most new year resolutions will be broken in a matter of weeks. By the time 2020 is over, the vast majority of these self-imposed promises to change our ways will have gone by the wayside. The most common new year resolutions are personal: lose weight, exercise more, become a better listener, be less critical of others, spend more time with family, give more to charity. There are some focus on business and professional goals. Still, new year resolutions are not just personal/individual goals, they could be set for organisations or even nations.
I have always disagreed with the culture or habit of making new year resolutions in the first few days of every year as if, like an eraser, the past can be wiped clean, leaving the present an untainted page with dreams of a bright future. How can you make a new year resolution without reflecting on the past year or past decade? Based on your achievements or mistakes that you reflected on during the period, you should then plan to build on the new year in a way that addresses those mistakes and/or develop on your achievements. For a nation like Nigeria, we must look back and review the past decade in light of our mistakes and achievements before planning again. I know it may be difficult because President Muhammadu Buhari, in looking deep into the past decade, may encroach on President Goodluck Jonathan’s six-year administration, then Jonathan’s administration would have had to reflect on Obasanjo’s eight years before him and Obasanjo’s eight years may find him entangled in Abacha and Babaginda’s regimes, respectively. We can see how this wouldn’t happen and all this boils down to the fact that we are a nation that does not reflect or plan, therefore, always having nothing to look up to.
In my last article, I shared the regrets I have writing every week for 200 million Nigerians and realising that less than one million read the column. Mulling over those regrets, I was reminded of a conversation that I had long ago with a middle aged woman that I met in Abuja and would like to share it with you.
I had attended a workshop that I was participating in where I met this woman. From her look and accent, she must have been a Fulani woman but reminded me of Prof. Wangari Matthai, following her interventions at the workshop. During the workshop, I sat beside this woman whose name I unfortunately no longer remember and we got talking. I had been impressed with her presentation at one of the group sessions and told her as much. She was elated with the compliment as she claimed to be a big fan of me and my work in the environment sector; I was taken aback as I didn’t expect this seeing that she was from a different field. Her next words sobered me and, oftentimes, I still think about the implication. After talking about a number of things I have done that she found inspiring, she ended with a comment about how unfortunate it was that very few people would ever be able to do the things that myself and some other Nigerians have done or even recognize it now.
A big problem with my nation is that we don’t learn from the past to prevent repeating the same mistakes in the present. We don’t reflect or respect history. How do we do better when we don’t know why we haven’t done better so far? How do we ensure the labour of our heroes past is not in vain when we neither remember the heroes nor their labour? So, yes, I don’t regard new year resolutions because they are usually done by the same old people.
I end this article with another quote, in keeping with how I began. According to J.P. Morgan, “The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide you’re not going to stay where you are.” Nigeria needs to decide on change and, this time, an actual change of leaders, policies and ideals.