Towards shaping a new national character | By Gbenga Kayode

In today’s international system, the concept of national character is one of the definitive, critical criteria being applied in according a nation-state such as Nigeria, due respect in the comity of nations. No wonder the concept has remained a subject of historical, socio-political debate and development at different forums in recent times.

National character, operationally speaking, has been described as “a collective character encompassing belief systems, ways of thinking, emotional attitudes, feelings and sentiments” among the citizenry in relation to their interaction with the outside world.

It is, therefore, one other cogent reason why Nigeria as a key player in the global system urgently, should evolve a new national character towards occupying its rightfully deserved pride of place in the scheme of things in world affairs. This becomes necessary because national character is now more often than not regarded as an active political force that must be fostered as the basis for reform in an economy.

As an instance, in the 18th Century, history recorded it that it was generally agreed that “each nation has its peculiar characteristics.” However, back then, there was a variety of opinion, among the philosophers, on what actually constitutes national character.

In other words, there was a debate on the relative influence of physical and spiritual factors in shaping national traits. Nonetheless, the philosophers differed also in their perception of the relationship of national character to political institutions during the era.

But now, the idea has grown in terms of complexity and political importance, just as national character has moved from the realm of speculation to that of theory with immediate practical applications in modern times.

Subsequently, international relations experts say descriptions of national character could range from stereotypes to penetrating sociological analysis, and perceptions of its nature from a series of moral traits to a complex network of relationships among multiple elements in a human society.

It is also an established the fact that the inhabitants cum citizenry of each country constitute a nation with a peculiar set of characteristics in the light of which the global world describes them. For instance, it has been said that “pride, shrewdness, poverty, ignorance, bigotry, superstition, vanity, ridicule, ceremony and jealousy describe the Spanish”, while the British (Nigeria’s former colonial masters) character is portrayed as “a mixture of good qualities such as intelligence, fair play, industriousness, and generosity”, combined with faults such as “chauvinism, rudeness and ferocity” in games.

How about Nigeria and Nigerians? Despite the glaring indication that most Nigerians are resilient, intelligent, hard working, accommodating and persevering in nature, most players in the international system when describing Nigeria and Nigerians as a result of pockets of embarrassing incidents involving some Nigerians abroad, are merely comfortable with associating the country with vices such as drug peddling, human trafficking, corruption, bribe-for-contracts, ethno-religious crises, kidnapping, and other unprintable, disparaging misnomers.

Some of the recent untoward incidents involving such Nigerians which usually instigate foreigners to effortlessly portray the country and its people in a bad light in the eyes of the international world are not far to fetch.

Many have cited bribery scandals involving certain multinationals operating in Nigeria, with no apparently inconclusive prosecution of the alleged Nigerian suspects in the scandals; the onboard attempted suicide bombing involving young Nigerian Faruq Abdulmutallab, who had attempted to blow up an American Delta airplane enroute Detroit, United States, on December 25, 2009; and the continual, needless volley of violent attacks on innocent Nigerians by the Islamist fundamentalist sect, Boko Haram. These cases have no doubt negatively affected the country’s reputation in no small way.

Even in the world of sports where Nigeria had been the toast of the global sporting community for years, following victories recorded by the national teams, male and female, in different sporting fiestas, especially football. Regrettably, pride of place hitherto occupied by Nigerian Dr. Amos Adamu on the prestigious Governing Board of FIFA in Zurich, Switzerland, was lost over an alleged bribe-for-vote scandal in respect of fraudulently influencing the FIFA hosting rights at a time. Yet, the bizarre incident remains a source of outright global shame on the country.

In view of the critical influence of positive national character on the way and manner the world perceives a nation and its people, it is high time Nigeria and Nigerians realised that what really distinguishes one nation from another in the modern world is a unique combination of positive factors, including a distinctive pattern of interaction and interdependence between them and the peculiar set of moral traits that they produce.

The moral character, which is composed of a mixture of virtues such as sociability, sincerity, national pride and honesty of purpose should form the fulcrum of Nigerians’ relationships both within and outside the country.

More so, Nigeria cannot afford to continue putting up with negative reputation for bad governance, bribery and corruption, ‘419’ syndrome, election rigging, money-laundering, illegal immigration, biting poverty, maternal mortality and decaying public infrastructure. All these need to change so as to begin the process of national rebirth.

There is sure a need for moral regeneration, national renewal, encouragement of personal rectitude and uprightness as well as an enduring value system for purifying individual character. But then, this should start with personal branding by Nigerian regardless of where he or she resides.

Gbenga Kayode is a media professional and Managing Director/CEO, Wordkraft Communications Limited, Lagos, Nigeria.

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