It is not debatable that society benefits when most citizens are responsible, knowledgeable, fair, and empathetic. Consequently, many societies’ institutions such as the family, traditional communities, religious groups, and schools imbue these qualities in their members. Most tertiary institutions globally also qualify and certify their students based on character and learning. This supposition is that knowledge based on education does not avail much in the absence of good character. The reverse is equally valid as a good character should facilitate the acquisition of requisite knowledge, skills, and dispositions to be responsible members of society. Parents also strive to provide their wards with good character formation to be accountable and make meaningful contributions to society’s progress. Accordingly, children with a good character do not bully others in school, pilfer or wilfully break the rules set down by the school.
All societies, particularly in Africa, agree that behavioural norms support peaceful coexistence, discourage infringements on other people’s rights, and build the community for the good and benefit of everyone. Therefore, a reasonable supposition is that the more the members of the society possess good character, the more the environment of peace, security, and development they enjoy. Rustic African cultures have inbuilt mechanisms and informal frameworks for forming their young and compelling their adults to toe the path of good character. No wonder most ancient African societies enjoyed internal peace, destabilized only by external aggressions. However, increasing acculturation of alien behavioural traits through slavery, colonialism, foreign religion, trade, technology transfers and Western education have shifted the thresholds of what is acceptable as good character and weakened the traditional character formation and control mechanisms. One aspect of the consequences is the high insecurity we currently experience. Good examples include bullying in schools, school and street cults, disregard for peacebuilding processes, banditry, and other forms of religion-based terrorism.
In this era, unacceptable behaviours that define bad character are almost twice what it was about two decades ago. Internet fraud, hostage-taking and kidnapping for ransom, bullying in schools, drugs consumption by secondary school teenagers, and perhaps money ritual murder, to mention a few, were substantially non-existent at anything near their current scale about three decades ago. The combination of the degenerating value system, challenging socioeconomic conditions, and the media have given a fillip to the burgeoning scale of these unacceptable ways of life. However, good character formation, whether at the family level or through cultural norms, always provides substantially impervious defence against these condemnable behavioural traits. Unfortunately, evil lures sometimes present them as attractive norms to acquire and flow with contemporary society. But the modern society, and indeed any era in history, cannot be better defined in the lines of reprehensible outlandish societal norms. Therefore, becoming a bully or consuming harmful substances as a teenager or becoming a secret cult member does not make a student fit better within the school community. On the contrary, it reduces the school to an insecure community harbouring drug patrons and criminals rather than an environment for learning. The same thinking goes for all societies where flawed characters are either given wings or not countered through appropriate character education.
Character education has become very urgent if we have to effectively slow down the speed of degeneration into crime and insecurity by our citizens. The keyword here is to mainstream and make it a priority program of the government through its National Orientation Agency and Ministry of education, civil society organizations, traditional institutions, educational institutions, and religious organizations. In the past, the family, schools, and religious organizations had frontline responsibilities and were assiduously championing civic and moral education. Still, it appears that the societal upheaval of behavioural decadence has either overpowered them or sucked them in. Unless we reverse this trend using more deliberate but intense and appropriately tailored character-building efforts for children and teenagers and a curated program for unlearning destructive behaviours for teenagers and adults, the nightmares of insecurity that have come upon us will not speedily vanish. Traditional institutions need to know that to give chieftaincy title to someone whose source of income and wealth is questionable only encourages a value system that leads to criminal behaviour. Likewise, religious organizations should live up to their bidding by speaking the truth regardless of whose ox is gored and not patronizing members because of their socioeconomic status. Schools should also be places to learn and build good character and not a breeding ground for cultists and bullies. Good character formation is the next big step to effectively deal with the insecurity challenges of our society as it encompasses civic, moral, albeit nonreligion focused and other societal behavioural expectations.
Good character education will consist of three essential elements: knowledge of good character, skills, and aptitudes to support good character, and the disposition to good character. Character education enables the recipients to understand what is good as distinct from what is not societally acceptable. The primary efforts in this respect are to encourage the recipients of the knowledge to practice that which helps build a peaceful and progressive society where everyone has equal rights. In the same vein, the design is also to discourage the tendencies of recipients to behavioural norms infringing on the rights of other citizens, facilitating crime and insecurity, distorting societal norms and values that hitherto promoted peace and good neighbourliness. This kind of knowledge can be structured and pushed out through the media to counter the already pervasive unacceptable and insecurity heightening ways of life. It will also help form members of the society to align with what is good rather than the contrary.
Beyond the knowledge are essential skills to support the building of good character. Knowing that idleness may eventually result in destructive behaviour such as crime and illicit drug consumption is good. Still, it suffices if the one with this knowledge has the skills to get profitably busy. Skills in the context of character formation is not necessarily a learned or acquired ability to act with determined results but comprise the readiness to perform any activity with excellence. For instance, a consultant radiologist may be highly skilled in that area of medicine. However, he might be notorious in his local community for provoking quarrels and inharmonious living by his communication style. Therefore, the consultant radiologist is highly skilled in radiology but possesses inferior character education skills. Thirdly, others can rarely know, experience, and learn from our good character if we do not use every opportunity to show it. The disposition to good character requires that we conform with what is societally acceptable no matter how inconveniencing it might be to us in every circumstance. Patiently queuing and not shunting even when we are in a hurry except in understandable emergencies is a good example. A similar example is the following due process in all circumstances.
With the spate of insecurity in the country, it has become indispensable that every Nigerian share the responsibility for character education. Despite the urgency for all hands-on deck for this rebirth of good behaviour, some institutions should lead the pack. The sincerity of such institutional champions in this character reformation program will largely determine how other stakeholders buy into it. Since this initiative will be most impactful if executed as a national priority, it behoves that the National Orientation Agency working with the Ministry of information should take the lead. Collaborating with consultants and non-governmental organizations with expertise in the subject will develop appropriate character-forming and bad behaviour unlearning programs resonating with age, gender, educational status, etc. Leveraging the media and other national information dissemination networks, the orientation agency pushes these initiatives to counter existing bad character and help sow the seeds for good character. The immediate second layer of engagement will be the Ministry of education working with curriculum development experts to create teachable modules for character education from nursery, primary, secondary, and tertiary levels of education. Also, as part of the program mainstreaming efforts, the National Orientation Agency and the Ministry of Information, working with relevant NGOs, will have to develop communication channels with religious bodies and traditional rulers. The idea is to encourage them to accord adequate importance to character building in the messages to their adherents and subjects.
The approach to effective insecurity minimizing character education should be both formal and informal. The Ministry of education and the National Orientation Agency can create a formalized structure for launching and sustaining good character education campaigns. With an adequately curated curriculum on the subject matter across all strata of educational learning, teachers trained to champion this campaign will leverage the formal structure to unleash the reform. Again, they will urge all government-owned media houses to devote a certain number of minutes daily to push the campaign. Private media could also be encouraged to support the initiative as a strategic corporate social responsibility. The informal approach allows community leaders, church organizations, market women, and political parties to join and amplify the campaign using their platforms. This campaign should last for a minimum of ten years to deliver effective behavioural change and create an environment for long-lasting peace and entrepreneurial growth.
Finally, crime and insecurity are known as destructive behaviours. Those who indulge in these harmful behaviours possess bad character. For several decades we have encouraged this bad character to blossom in our various communities and are suffering the consequences through massive insecurity that has come upon us. Since we know the root cause, we can do something about it, adding to the catalogue of solutions that should return us to an era of peaceful development and economic growth. A conscious return to the formation of the young in good character and the opportunity for the mature to unlearn their bad character will deliver this expectation for the benefit of all if we sustain the campaign over a fairly reasonable time, say a decade. This campaign should be one of the critical public education efforts that the National Orientation Agency and other stakeholders in Nigeria’s peace process should adopt urgently.