A friend of mine once invited me to witness his swearing of the American Citizenship Oath. A Judge presided over the ceremony, and before she swore in the twenty-odd brand new U.S. citizens, she said, “I want you to know that the oath you are about to swear is a legally binding agreement.
This country agrees to defend your rights, and you, in exchange, agree to uphold its laws. Citizenship is a contract. Keep your end and we’ll keep ours. Break the oath and you’re on your own.”
I thought that was profound. I confess, I had never thought about citizenship as a contract. But it clearly is. It got me thinking though: What other contracts do we tend to take for granted, and what are the consequences of breaching them?
Do you turn up for work on time, and stay for the time you are contracted to? When you are sitting at your work computer chatting on Facebook, are you living up to your side of the contract you signed with your employees? When you don’t put your full effort into every single task, yet you collect your full pay at the end of each month, are you not breaching your contract?
Or maybe you’re an employer. You’ve hired people to do a job but haven’t given them the tools they need to do it. You want them to beat the competition, but you are not building their capacity so they can compete. They have to wait days, months, sometimes years for their salaries, even though their bills are not waiting with them. Are you not breaching that contract you made when you hired them?
Or perhaps you run your own business. People pay you for a product or a service. In exchange for their money, you promise them a result. That is a contract. Every time you fail to deliver what they paid for, are you not breaching that contract? Every time a customer complains, is that not a suggestion that you are not living up to your side of the deal?
Or maybe you are a teacher. You are employed to educate. A child will enter your class as a blank slate, and by the time they leave, they must not only have knowledge but know how to apply it. You have a contract with the children, their parents, and society, to make sure that every single child in your care is equipped with the tools only you can equip them with. So when your students fail, or worse, they leave your class with outdated chew-and-pour information that has little or no real-world application value, have you not breached your contract?
You’re a politician. You were elected or appointed to serve the struggling people of Ghana. You promised them solutions to their problems. You promised them better lives in exchange for their votes, but since you took the keys to your V8, the only person whose life has become better is you. Your mandate constitutes a contract, so every single day that you remain in power and your people remain in poverty, you are breaching the contract, aren’t you?
How about you and I, my friends? Citizens. Let’s think back to the story of my friend’s swearing in. Look, I know it’s easy to grow a sense of entitlement when so many things are going wrong in society and every choice of leader is just as bad as the last. I know it’s easy to point at politicians and say “you breached your contract”, but what about us? Are we keeping our end of the deal?
When we litter, when we drive or ride through red lights, when we bribe police officers, when we lynch suspected robbers, when we pee against the wall, when we defecate on the beach, when we build without permits, when we do galamsey, when we connect power illegally, when we fail to report crimes, when we don’t pay the right taxes, when we organise or attend banned events, when we walk into the shop without stopping to wash our hands, when we don’t wear our masks… are all these not ways in which we breach our citizenship contract on a daily basis?
So if we are not keeping our deal with Ghana, why are we surprised that it’s still not the nation we want it to be?
My dear friend, we have all signed contracts with each other, with our children, with our employers, with our nation. And there are consequences to breaching a contract. Only a cheat expects something for nothing. If you haven’t done your due, you can’t claim your due.
So today, on this transformative Thursday morning, I want you to have a word with yourself. Look at your contract again. Read every clause carefully, and comply with every single provision. Only then can you rightly expect the other parties to keep up their end.
My name is Kojo Yankson, and I can’t be in breach, so I’m reading the fine print.
GOOD MORNING, GHANAFO!