Published On: Mon, May 9th, 2016

I shall pass this way but once

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I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” -Etienne de Grellet, Quaker Missionary

 About four decades ago, when I was a junior high school student, a senior, whose name I cannot fully recall now, pasted this note in bold letters by his bedside: ‘I SHALL PASS THROUGH THIS WAY BUT ONCE’. My ‘senior’ was preparing for the West African School Certificate Examinations and the signpost represented his absolute determination to pass all the subjects at one sitting.

Surely, he passed as purposed and he must have moved on to higher projects since then but his signpost made an everlasting impression on my young mind. I could not stop thinking about these words and, over the years, I have found out that they have meanings that are much deeper and wider than the space constructed by my ‘senior’.


As human beings, some of our actions seem to suggest that we lack a basic understanding of our vulnerability and that no one is omnipresent, immutable and immortal as God. At creation, God charged man to multiply and replenish the earth. It was a charge to do good and all the resources needed to carry out this assignment were provided by God himself. He gave man dominion over everything that moves upon the earth. This charge was repeated many times in the Holy book and reinforced by the teachings and actions of the patriarchs.

However, as the world increased in population and complexity, the heart of man became corrupted and completely shifted from doing good. We no longer see the opportunity of holding positions of authority and privileges as a call to service. Rather, we act as slave masters, looking down on people below, removing the ‘connecting bridges’, offering no help to the weak, and behaving as if tomorrow will never come. We condemn and brutally malign those who are not ‘doing well’ or not as privileged as we are. We forget so easily that the race doesn’t always go to the swift, nor the battle to the mighty, nor food to the wise, nor wealth to the intelligent, nor favour to the knowledgeable, ‘but time and chance happen to them all’.


It is there in our history as a nation: From Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as Prime Minister to Dr Goodluck Jonathan as President, the route to the top was dotted by happenstance and not individual wisdom or any exceptional abilities. Whatever position you are holding now or whatever situation you find yourself now, the best approach is to use the opportunity to make things better for the people around you and the environment that you live in. You may never have a repeat chance to do so.

At independence, this country was blessed with men (and women) of vision who knew what to do with the resources and privileges at their proposal. One of them was Chief Obafemi Awolowo who introduced the Free Education Programme in his region among many other things. This singular act changed the lives and fortunes of so many people, their families even unto generations. Little wonder that that era remains golden in our thoughts and records till date.

Awolowo and his contemporaries have passed through this way and they will never pass here again but their good works remain indelible in our memories. The missionaries of old brought evangelism, schools and hospitals to cater for the spiritual, educational and health needs of the people. They have come and gone but their good deeds bear eloquent testimony to their presence in our midst.


We have just one chance in life and whatever we need to do to make the world a better place to live; we must do it now before we stop breathing. You are not using your opportunity well if you are a thief, a kidnapper, a murderer, a rapist, etc or you are engaged in schemes that make others miserable. You are not doing good if you refuse, neglect, or fail to render assistance where it is most needed. If you hoard essential commodities and make people suffer just to make money, you are not doing good. If you steal the money allocated to projects in your ministry, department, agency or company, you are not doing good.

Nigeria will be much better if we all imbibe and act on the eternal words of Etienne de Grellet. You shall pass this way but once and you are advised to do good now because when death comes, you will become a thing, an ordinary corpse that will ooze out foul smell, if not quickly or properly disposed.

We are where we are today because majority of people, particularly our leaders, are not doing good. Let us resolve today to change our ways and follow the path of righteousness to build a just and prosperous nation.

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I shall pass this way but once