The Nigerian society once upon a time had personalities that were distinguished both in conducts and character to become role models of their time. The youth and protégés of those days have grown in age and status. But the same cannot be said of those sterling qualities that endeared mentees to idols of old. Hence the inquiry: where are the role models in today’s Nigeria and what has happened to them?
Indeed, every civilisation has its torchbearers and role models. They are all-round achievers in their own right, with exceptional positive qualities that are worth emulating. More often, they are revolutionaries whose narrow paths in the thick forests of life have become superhighways used by all today. They show us what is possible in life, through the harmony of thoughts, actions, values, and behaviours. The best life lessons often come from these forerunners – our role models.
These exemplars cut across all ages and races, and both African culture and our ancient civilisation are not an exemption. We cannot in a hurry forget the exploits of the likes of King Jaja of Opobo, Efunsetan Aniwura of Egba, Queen Amina Bakwa of Zaria, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and Margaret Ekpo, to mention a few. Most important, traditional moral values and complementary conducts exemplify the role models, not the wealth or offices that they occupied. It is the aggregation of these two – that is, character and conduct, morality and intellect – that still stand out the African culture and Africans in the global community. Let us take a closer look. The values shared by African moral exemplars are derived from the African worldview, who we are as people, our hopes and aspirations. The African experience recognises the primacy and diversity of interdependent forces, of which man is just one – occupying the middle area of the power hierarchy. Man is at liberty to cooperate, live in order and harmony with other existential forces for common good, or attempt to exploit, manipulate other forces for chaos and collective doom.
In preference for harmony, order and the common good, the ideal values for all to live by are honesty, humility, respect for elders, institution and authorities, discipline, courage, self-reliance, hard work, knowledge, and understanding. At the communal level, individuals exhibit commitment, honour, justice, contentment, conscience, fellow-feeling and empathy, creativity, discernment, and the shared sense of nationhood – ‘one for all, and all for one’. To have these core values is to be called an Omolúàbí, that is, a moral exemplar or ideal character among the Yoruba people of Saharan Africa, for instance. To possess a fine blend of social morality, intellect and private ambitions are to be an ideal character, an ambassador and a role model for the society.Granted that some centuries of colonialism, slave trade, and imperialism did erode the traditional ecosystem in Africa, modern Nigeria still has examples of those moral exemplars who are leading light in both conducts and principles. There were once the founding fathers of our country – Herbert Macaulay, Tafawa Balewa, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo, among others in their time. They are exemplars that are still dominant in political narratives to date.
If those are in politics, the role models suffice in other walks of life too. There were the likes of Idowu Taylor, Akinola Aguda, Kayode Esho, Teslim Elias, Rotimi Williams and even Gani Fawehinmi who were exemplary ministers in the temple of justice of this same country. Even in the military, there was an exemplary Col. Adekunle Fajuyi, who believed so much in Nigeria and solidarity with authority even at the risk of his life he eventually lost to loyalty. There was once a Dr. Thomas Lambo, Dr. Olikoye Ransome-Kuti in the health sector, just like there was a Fela Anikulapo- Kuti in music, to mention a few. They were all paradigms of laudable values, principles, and achievements. Again, the question is: where are their prototypes and even successors in today’s Nigeria?While there is no estimate to rely on, it is safe to say that there are still few role models around, though we no longer have their preponderance in high places, especially in leadership positions. And that is a major part of the trouble with Nigeria at this moment – when most of our worst are leading the best, no thanks to our compromised electoral system and corruptible political recruitment policy. Or to say that we have more strong personalities and success without the strength and quality of character that can still inspire protégés and the youth of today. We can, therefore, say with a measure of certainty that the times are different, and so too is the priority of values.
Today, the worldview revolves around the self, crass materialism, wealth, instant gratification and pleasure for its own sake. And to arrive overnight, none of the traditional values would suffice. Rather, one has to be self-centered, clever, smarter, greedy, streetwise, and ‘get rich quick, or die trying’. This is not the true Nigerian our founding fathers envisaged. Whatever happened to our foundation!
It should, therefore, not surprise anyone that all the social menace that readily quickens a society down the hills of destruction and doom, as anticipated by Mahatma Gandhi of India many years ago, are the norms in our society today – ‘wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, science without humanity, knowledge without character, politics without principles, commerce without morality, and worship without sacrifice!’
It is also not by happenstance that our society is sharply divided between the very rich and extremely poor, the haves and hordes of the have-nots, the few in privileged positions and many in dire straits, few high brows and a network of squalor. For a fact, every man must survive – beg, borrow or steal. And to cross the socio-economic divide by all means possible, we now have the ills of armed robbers, thieving civil servants, prowling politicians, kidnappers, and even the deadly Boko Haram terrorists among other insurgents that are on a revenge mission against the state and the people.
Today, we can only agonise how wayward and degenerate the Nigerian society has become in the absence of the right values and positive role models. However, there may be a glimmer of hope, if the solution will be honest, foundational, organic, and all-inclusive. As a matter of urgency, the family system must be reviewed along with with African culture and the governing universal values that produced the role models of old. In the main, this newspaper believes that when the traditional and universal core values are again domiciled in family circles, school curriculum, and society at large, then the moral exemplars would return or those in search of role models today will become one. But the most important lesson for all of us at this time comes from Marcus Aurelius who says: ‘Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be: be one’.So, let every one of us strive to be a role model from home.