Nigeria on the Precipice: The Failing Role Models in Society

By Rev. Dr. Chudi Joseph Ibeanu

Nigeria is on the verge of total collapse! This gloomy fact of her present existence as an entity is widely accepted by all its diverse ethnic groups. Various non-contradictory diagnoses have been made by varied experts in different epochs of her history.

The diagnoses speak from the failure of leadership, corruption, tribalism, illiteracy till the present upsurge of deadly militant groups like Boko haram and Fulani cattle herders.  There is still from my own perspective and in our present historical existence, one malaise that has been manifesting its symptoms in the last years. I call it the dearth of real role models.

For any society to continue to thrive positively and to continuously sustain the hope of her moral stability, it is unavoidably essential that enough role models in different fields of its existence are conspicuously present! Role models are men and women who are of proven and unquestionable character and who have distinguished themselves in different fields of life in their community. Gibson (2004) defines “role model” as a “cognitive construction based on the attributes of people in social roles that an individual perceives to be similar to… to some extent and desires to increase perceived similarity by emulating those attributes” (p. 137).

Sigmund Freud (1921) was the first to develop the idea of role model. He saw “identification” as a psychodynamic process in which one sees his personal identity as being similar to the identity of the role model. The individual tries to copy or emulate particular actions and behaviours of the role model. This process manifests itself in different stages of personality development of an individual – from childhood to adulthood. Scientific researches today have also proved beyond doubts that one´s environment or social milieu influences to a large extent his or her personality development.

When we were growing up, we looked up to many persons, who we admired, whom we wanted to be like, who have positively influenced us in our choice of vocation, trade or profession. These were our grandparents, parents, teachers, siblings, cousins, uncles, aunts, priests, leaders and movie stars. The overriding presence of such personalities in our immediate community and the wider society gave us clarity of purpose and solidity of choice. It gave hope to our future and motivated our aspirations and actions. I can say with great certainty: The society was better because of it!

In those days there was less emphasis on material possession. One is not judged in the society because of “what” he has but because of his sound and unquestionable character. Precisely because of “who” he is! No wonder parents were ready to reject their children with questionable source of wealth. It was the pride of parents to see their children excel in different fields of life without loss of moral fibre. The observations made by Eric Fromm (1976) in his classic work “To Have or To Be” remain consistently true. He points to the two modes of existence that struggle for the spirit of humankind: the “having mode”, which concentrates on material possessions, power, and aggression; and the “being mode”, which is based on self-worth, the capacity for love, productive activity and the pleasure of sharing with others. The having mode, according to him, leads to the universal evils of greed, envy and violence. The greatest tragedy of the human person would be to define himself/herself with what he/she has other than who he/she is: “If I am what I have and if what I have is lost, who then am I? Nobody but a defeated, deflated, pathetic testimony to a wrong way of living” (p. 89).

The overemphasis on material possession and unbridled accumulation of wealth in our present age has disorientated humanity and given birth to all sorts of reckless behaviours that exploit, dehumanise and rob people of their human dignity. In our world today, where wealth, possession and political influence define “personalities”, there has been an alarming dearth of real role models. This has led to the corrosion of decency and the upsurge of the irrational in every sphere of societal life.

The result of an opinion survey in Germany (Statista Research Department, 2003) with regards to the greatest role models of the society put mothers in the first position. Fathers assumed the second position, followed by other personalities like Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela. It was surprising that our sport stars, actors and pop musicians did not enjoy the highest rate of acceptance and acclaim as role models. This implies that in Germany the majority of the people still have wonderful, defining and influential experiences with their parents. Parents still give their children stability and orientation inspite of their human limitations. Such role models as parents convince not through the power of their words but through their actions and behaviours – through their way of life. But the result of a similar opinion survey conducted by “Meinungsforschungsinstituts“ in 2018 based on the imitable qualities like honesty, helpfulness, friendliness and loyalty points to the fact that two-third of the German citizens are of the opinion that it has become more difficult today to find real role models than it was in the past. And such a finding should be of immense concern to all and sundry!

In the last ten years we have watched our dear Country Nigeria being taken over by arrant mediocrity! It is now the order of the day in social media to see politicians, musicians, actors, pastors, self-styled prophets, community leaders, university professors and even priests defile our traditional, cultural and religious values to motivate the youth to pursue wealth at all cost because according to them, “Wealth is Power” – “Ibute ike” in Igbo. They disorientate our youth with the eternal lie sown by Capitalism that “he is nothing, who has nothing” (Eric Fromm, 1976, p. 13).

Instead of trying to inculcate into the innocent minds of our youth those values and principles that have defined our societies, that have made our African communalistic way of life the admiration of the world, they corrupt them with what Mahatma Gandhi (1925) called the Seven Social Sins: “wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, religion without sacrifice and politics without principles.”

Such bad role models exploit the pitiable desperation of our youth, who because they live in an environment that has no plans for them, that frustrates the effort they make and lives them hopeless. The sorry state in which we see our youth exposing their nakedness in rivers and ritual homes shows that they are indeed without orientation and perspective. Their situation is so pitiable like the situation of the Masses in St. Matthew´s Gospel that moved the compassionate heart of the Eternal Galilean: “they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mtt 9, 36)

A good Shepherd is a role model! He leads his sheep in the right direction. He leads by example, goes ahead of the sheep and they follow him. He is in essence a worthy model to follow. He leads his sheep to pasture. The lost and the disoriented ones are brought back to the fold. The sick and the wounded are cared for. The sheep are not led astray. A good leader is sacrificial. He chooses personal sacrifice for the welfare of his sheep. He is ready to die that his sheep may live! He is not like a hired labourer or a stranger, who comes into the fold to devour and to exploit his sheep (Jn 10, 1-18).

The question that everybody is asking today is: Where did we get it wrong? How have our people descended so low? Why are our youth so desperate to get rich quick? Why is there worrisome moral decadence among our youth today? Why are our traditional moral values collapsing?

Irrespective of how we criticize our youth today, we must in all honesty confront ourselves and our larger society to find the answer. A country in which politicians embezzle public wealth, feed themselves and their families fat at the expense of the youth is already at its precipice! The future of a country in which the government describes its youth as lazy and never-do-well without providing enabling environment for its youth to thrive is already doomed! A country that enthrones and celebrates mediocrity should start writing its funeral oration. A country in which false and uneducated prophets are promoted by governors, movie stars, community leaders and priests is destined to self-destruction. A country in which fraudsters, yahoo boys, drug dealers and internet scammers that flash their lavish lifestyles in our communities and churches and are often celebrated as “role models” should begin to celebrate its requiem. A country in which the majority of its population live on the principle of “I am what I have” is already on the precipice!

Our country is in dire need of good and credible role models; MEN and WOMEN who are ready to swim against the sweeping current of materialism and mediocrity. Men and women, whose solid and unquestionable character is of supreme importance than their popularity – men and women, who, though not being angels, having their human limitations, stand up like a star placed on the high mountain, directing their country men and women to truth, to honesty of life and to God! Only such ROLE MODELS could save our dear country Nigeria from falling into the precipice of irreparable destruction! Why not be one yourself!

Dr. Chudi Joseph Ibeanu is a Catholic Priest, Theologian and Psychotherapist (Existential Analysis and Logotherapy) in Austria