Ethics and Leadership in Nigerian Universities: a Study of Staff-Student Relationship at the University of Lagos

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Ethics and Leadership in Nigerian Universities: A Study of Staff-Student Relationship at the University of Lagos

Dr. Osita Agbu


This article examines the problem of ethics and leadership in Nigerian Universities from the perspective of inter-personal relationships between staff and students, and the implications for attaining the goals of the Universities and the wider society. In a broad introduction, it laments the crisis of state and society in Nigeria, while locating and explicating ethics and leadership as crucial elements of a university.

The findings from the study at the University of Lagos indicate that it is possible even in the midst of the social vices pervading the institution for principled lecturers to positively influence their students in the course of their interaction. The article argues that this will ultimately have a positive impact on the wider society. It therefore calls for greater emphasis at upholding ethical conduct at all levels of University administration.


Nigeria is a society bedevilled by all kinds of social vices in spite of the numerous social institutions put in place by the government to check vices and unethical conduct in the society. The country has been undergoing a monumental crisis of state and society beginning from the 1970s (Agbu, 1995). A worrisome dimension to this development is the rather silent attitude by many at addressing this problem which portends a grave danger not just to individuals and groups, but also the survival of the Nigerian State.

In this inquiry, the focus is on the possible interplay between ethics and leadership in Nigerian Universities, with particular emphasis on staff-student interaction. The University of Lagos serves as our case study in order for us to concretely situate our analysis. A key observation made is that within the university system there are different layers of leadership and expected standareds of conduct by both members of staff and students. However, the experience in respect of this has been most unpalatable and tending towards what may be regarded as a total moral crisis in Nigerian Universities.

In the light of the above, there is the need for us to address our minds to certain pertinent questions arising therefrom. For instance, What types of behaviour do we really expect at the level of staff-student relations? To what extent do the manner of ethical dispositions by academic supervisors influence their students? What are those moral and ethical values that we all share which can help build a decent university community and society? And lastly, how can these ethical and moral imperatives be made part and parcel of the goals of the wider society?

Indeed, it is unarguable that there is a minimum of ethical and moral standareds that is required of a society if it is to survive. There are laws that guide human relations based on the need to have order, harmony, peace and progress. When these basic laws are neglected, the result is total disruption in the social life of a people (Kukah, 1999:14). Again, it is generally recognized that these take their initial roots from the family as a socialization unit and additionally from the educational institutions as a formal context for acquiring wider knowledge. Though, it has been generally acknowledged that we now live in a knowledge society, it is however lamentable that this same society appears to be totally bankrupt of ethical and moral values. For Nigeria, it has been suggested that one of the missing elements in its over forty years of existence is the absence of leaders with the requisite weapons of knowledge and character (Anya, 2002: 22).

On the university system in particular, the crisis of values appears to be the most prominent malaise assaulting the essence of education in the country. It is believed that the situation has degenerated to a point where virtually every cherished principle and ideal of the...
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