The Corrosive Effect of Corruption on Nigerian Educational System


Priye S. Torulagha



As Nigerians struggled to tame the psychosocial beast known as corruption, they have particularly beamed the searchlight on the behavior of public officials (civil servants, military and police personnel, elected officials etc.) and former public officials, contractors, business associates of public officials and families of public officials. However, one sector of society that has escaped the penetrating searchlight is education.  The educational sector seems to escape critical observation regarding the conduct of educational bureaucrats, administrators of various educational institutions and the faculty.  It is argued here that the educational sector is as corrupt as the public and private sectors.  Therefore, the war on corruption cannot be won without making a determined effort to purge the educational sector of the psychosocial beast.  It appears that there is a symbiotic relationship between the educational culture and the psychosocial and political culture of the society at large.  What happens to society at large affects the educational sector and whatever happens in the educational sector affects the society at large.  Those in the educational sector learn and adopt predominant values generated by society at large and the society at large learns and adopt predominant values generated by the educational sector.


It is very necessary to clean the educational sector since education is the second or third most powerful and effective instrument of socialization.  Indeed, after the family and possibly religion, education follows as the most important agent of socializing children and the youths generally.  As a result, if children and the youths are not properly socialized, they are very likely to end up adopting destructive social values.  As can be seen, Nigerian youths, for the past twenty or more years, have increasingly adopted habits and tendencies that are destructive to social harmony because the values in society tend to push them in that direction.  Most of these habits and tendencies are eating deeply into the philosophy and moral foundation of education in the country.  The educational sector today, seems to produce graduates who are not sufficiently disciplined and equipped with the appropriate academic and professional skills, hence, have no qualms about breaking the law, perpetually looking for shortcuts to amass wealth and are morally bankrupt.  These developments are byproducts associated with corruption in the educational sector as the society at large continues to spread corruption around.



In critically examining the educational sector, the following hypotheses are drawn:


1.       There is a relationship between corruption and lack of infrastructural development, modernization and rehabilitation of Nigerian educational institutions.

2.      There is a relationship between corruption and lack of concern for student services.

3.      There is a relationship between corruption and the poor state of academic standards.

4.      There is a relationship between corruption and the increasing lack of professionalism and ethical standards by administrators and teachers/instructor/lecturers/professors in secondary schools and institutions of higher education

5.      There is a relationship between corruption and the mushrooming of private educational institutions in Nigeria

6.      There is a relationship between the prevailing culture of corruption, exploitation and amorality in the educational sector and the culture of corruption, exploitation and amorality in the sociopolitical system.

Ordinarily, it would have been more preferable to regard #3 above as the first item on the list of hypotheses for consideration since academic standard is the first goal of educational institutions.  However, it is treated as the third category since the reasons given for hypotheses # 1 and 2 automatically provide the rationale for why there are no academic standards.


1.There is a relationship between corruption and lack of infrastructural development, modernization, and rehabilitation


a.        Indeed, it is very easy to know that something is seriously wrong with Nigerian educational system.  In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, any youth who walked into any primary or secondary school or a university campus automatically felt like being immediately admitted into the school.  The school compounds and campuses were well kept.  The grasses were cut regularly, flowers and trees were well trimmed, new building were always cropping up, efforts were made conscientiously to upgrade laboratory equipments and there was regular painting of the buildings and facilities in general.  The vice chancellors, registrars, deans, chairs, principals, headmasters, professors, lecturers, instructors, teachers and educational administrators both in the schools and in the educational bureaucracies were highly motivated and committed to educating the youths of the country.  The quality of education was very high, thereby, enabling Nigerian students to compete very well throughout the world.  During the decades mentioned, educators maintained high professional and ethical standards.  Educational institutions competed at every level to be the best regionally, nationally, and internationally in terms of academic performance, extra-curricula activities, and infrastructural development. The university campuses at Ahmadu Bello University, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ibadan University, Lagos University and University of Nigeria Nsukka were so beautiful and inspiring.  When the University of Benin was established, the campus was very inviting.  

It was not uncommon for primary and secondary schools to provide decent teachers living quarters.  These quarters were well kept, thereby, adding to the respectability of the teaching profession.


b.       During the decades mentioned above, Nigeria’s best and the brightest students attended higher educational institutions in Nigeria.  Students went overseas for courses that were not readily available in Nigeria.  During the same decades, the children of the elites as well as those of the middle class attended the same schools since academic performance had a great impact in determining admission, whether into secondary schools or universities.  A student who scored very highly in standardized examinations such as the First School Leaving Certificate (FSLC),West African School Certificate (WASC), General Certificate of Education (GCE), City and Guild (C&G) and Higher School Certificate (HSC) gained immediate admission into one of the best schools, regardless of socioeconomic status.


c.       In contrast to the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, the 1990s, and  2000s are characterized by poor academic standards, unorganized extra-curricula activities and wretched infrastructures and facilities.  In short, Nigeria’s school compounds and campuses today are like facilities located in war zones.  They are unkept and in a serious state of disrepair.  Many primary and secondary schools are comparable to makeshift refugee camps in a war zone with broken windows, chairs, and desks.  In some schools, the roofs are leaky and when it rains, classes are interrupted.  Most university campuses today are like archeological artifacts due to lack of maintenance.  It appears that many educational administrators today are not as motivated and committed as their counterparts three decades ago.  This means that some chancellors, vice chancellors, registrars, deans, chairs, administrators, principals, headmasters and teachers really do not care about what happens to education in the country, apart from maintaining their jobs and enhancing their financial wherewithal through embezzlement of allocated school funds, threats and unexplainable indirect fees imposed on students.


d.      Due to the fallen standards, quite a substantial number of Nigerian elite now send their children overseas for higher education.  It is mostly the children of the middle and lower classes who remain in Nigeria to attend universities.  It is unfortunate that the elite assisted immeasurably in destroying public education in Nigeria and after doing so they send their children overseas.


The question is, why were educational institutions, infrastructures and facilities well kept in the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s and not today?  The most likely factor contributing to the retrogressive trend in education, at all levels, is corruption.  Corruption began to negatively affect education in a serious manner in the middle and late 1980s as the psychosocial beast beclouded the minds of those who ruled Nigeria  The scrambled to loot as much as possible by those in position of power resulted in the neglect of the educational sector.   Suddenly, education that was considered to be the corner stone for the development and modernization of Nigeria was ignored, neglected, and starved of the necessary funds and policy initiatives needed to move it forward.   Increasingly, national and state governments started cutting educational  funds, thereby, creating the impression that education was no longer an important strategic tool in directing the country’s growth.  With this development, the looting of educational funds became acceptable.  Thus, it became fashionable to loot funds allocated for academic enhancement, capacity building, infrastructural development, modernization, and rehabilitation of educational institutions.  The looting involved educational policymakers, bureaucrats in various educational ministries, and school officials responsible for administering the schools (primary and secondary schools and universities).


Since  the late 1980s until today, education has been treated as an unimportant variable in the development of the country. Hence, elected officials in the current dispensation rarely talk about education.  As a result, school buildings are crumbling, teachers are rarely paid in some states, the value of teaching has been reduced to a point of irrelevant, so much so that teachers and others are forced to engage in other business activities in order to put food on the table. 



e.  Today, due to lack of concern for infrastructural development, modernization and rehabilitation, the universities do not have sufficient dormitory space to accommodate students who want to live in dormitories.  It is not surprising that university dormitories in Nigeria are always crowded with students, thereby, making it exceedingly difficult for students to concentrate on their studies.  It is not uncommon for five to six students to share the same room.  The unwillingness to invest in infrastructural development, modernization and rehabilitation thwarts the growth of the universities in the country.  Ordinarily, universities like ABU, AWO, IU, UL, UNN etc. would have each gotten about 40,000 students every academic year.  The University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, for example, has over 60,000 students.  In Nigeria, this is not possible since there is no systematic plan for growth, even though the demand for university admission has increased following the increase in secondary school graduation.


2.There is a relationship between corruption and lack of concern for student services


In Nigeria today, there is no concern for students.  This is attested to by the fact that student services are very lacking at every level of education (primary, secondary and university). 

a.        There are less scholarship programs today than in the1970s, and 1980s.  During those two decades, both federal and state governments provided all kinds of scholarships to enable Nigerian youths to pursue higher education either in Nigeria or overseas. 

b.      During the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, many secondary schools had dormitories.  This was the case for both private and public secondary schools.  The dormitories were well kept and supervised.  As a result, it was very easy for a student in the East to go to secondary school in the North or West and vice versa.  Students ate three times a day and were generally well taken care of.  Today, there is a concerted effort to eliminate dormitories, so, an increasing number of students commute from home.  In those days, a visit to Hope Waddell Training Institute or St. Patrick College Calabar or Holy Rosary or Government Comprehensive Secondary School Port Harcourt or Government College Umuahia or Edo Boys High School Benin or Hussey college warri or King’s/Queen’s College or St Gregory College  Lagos etc. was like visiting educational paradise on earth.  These and other secondary schools were very impressive, both academically and infra-structurally.  


c.        In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1080s, the educational environment enabled students to perform superbly.  Students bragged about their academic prowess by nicknaming themselves “math-math-physics”, “bo-chem-zoo”, “the professor”, “Bukuru or acada” or “Akukuo” etc.  Peer groups competed to be the best academically.


d.      During the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, fraternities and sororities were instruments for grooming students to become leaders and conscientious citizens.  Today, fraternities and sororities operate more like criminal gangs.  They do not inculcate leadership qualities but encourage members to engage in hooliganism, violence, and cultism.


e.       In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, vice chancellors, registrars, deans, chairs, principals, headmasters and professors/lecturers/instructors/teachers closely identified with their students and encouraged them to perform academically and assist them in developing their social skills.  In fact, school administrators and teachers/instructors/professors treated the students as their own children and were committed to ensuring that students completed their education with flying colors.  Today, it appears that many school administrators and teachers/instructors/professors are more interested in exploiting the students for their own financial gains.


f.        In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, intercollegiate sports were well-funded, very lively and encouraged by educational bureaucrats, school administrators, and teachers.  Students, especially in the secondary schools and universities, participated in statewide, regional, and national athletic events.  Athletes were well fed and well cared for as they competed. 


g.       Today, due to lack of dormitory spaces, students are exploited by greedy landlords.  Likewise, many students simply hang around the dormitories because there is no where to go.  Sometimes, students have to wait for hours before taking a bath in the crowded bathrooms in the hostels.



3.There is a relationship between corruption and the poor state of academic standards


Today, Nigerian schools are mere shadows of their past, in terms of academic standards.  Quality has been sacrificed due to the insatiable desire by politicians, some educational bureaucrats, school administrators and teachers/instructors/lecturers/professors to find the easiest means to accumulate wealth.  Thus, academic performance is not taken seriously anymore.  The following attest to the retrogressive trend in academic orientation:

a.        It is an open secret that students are occasionally compelled to pay for grades in many secondary schools and universities by some professors/lecturers/instructors/teachers.  Students who have money do not have to even attend classes to get passing grades.  They pay according to the grades they want.  On the other hand, students who cannot afford to pay are sometimes penalized by teachers/instructors/professors and school officials for failing to pay.


b.      On many university campuses, some lecturers, registrars, and record keepers sometimes intentionally withhold students’ grades until they pay a certain amount of money.  In Rivers State University of Science and Technology, some students have been struggling to get their grades and are repeatedly told to comeback by an official that suppose to officially record the grades, even after the lecturers have awarded the grades to the students.  This is an ongoing problem in many university campuses as well, where the rules are arbitrarily set by those who want indirect payments for services.



c.       In particular, in the universities, some instructors/lecturers/professors sell makeshift copies of textbook extracts.  Students are expected to buy the copies or are forced to fail the classes for failure to buy.  It is speculated that many professors accumulate wealth through this way to build houses and establish other businesses.  Selling copies of book extracts is considered to be a very lucrative business for unscrupulous faculty members.


d.      It is an open rumor that many students pay professional examination takers to take standardized examinations for them.  This, it is rumored, seems to be very prevalent in the secondary schools.  It is further rumored that sometimes, principals and teachers participate in the business of paying professional examination takers so that the record of academic performance in the standardized examinations is improved.  According to the rumors, students who are about to graduate from senior secondary schools are expected to contribute funds for the purpose of hiring examination takers.

e.       It is also an open secret that the process of taking standardized examinations involves also paying invigilators at the exam centers to enable them to look the other way and allow the professional examination takers to do their jobs for their clients. 

f.        There is also the persistent rumor that students who are financially well-of sometimes go to the headquarters of various examination councils or boards

g.        to pay staff members to award them high grades for various subjects in the standardized examinations.


h.Due to insufficient funding sometimes snf corruption, education has become a major business.  As a result, unscrupulous educational administrators and teachers/instructors/lecturers/professors earn tremendous amount of money on the side by extorting students to cough out money to them through various ways.  This means that the inculcation of knowledge is no longer the primary reason for being an educator anymore.  In some universities, it is alleged that some professors do not hide their financial schemes as students are told upfront what they need to do if they intend to pass a particular course.



4.There is a relationship between corruption and the increasing lack of professionalism and ethical standards in the secondary schools and institutions of higher education


As stated above, education in Nigeria is increasingly being viewed by many administrators and professionals as a big business.  Consequently, for them, the primary purpose of being in education is to accumulate wealth.  Accumulating wealth involves forcing students to cough out money in various ways and to embezzle allocated funds out-right.  The following developments attest to the increasing deprofessionalization and capitalization of education:


a.        Some teachers/instructors/lecturers/professors, especially at the higher educational level, make their business intentions clearly known to students by telling them what they need to do in order to pass their courses.  Those students who are not willing to play by the prescribed rules of the game are advised to drop the courses before it is too late

b.      Some teachers/instructors/lecturers/professors make sure that any student who takes their courses pay a certain amount of money..


c.        Both male and female students are victimized by the corruption, deprofessionalization and the unethical behavior that seem to dominate education today in Nigeria.  Female students seem to suffer the most because it is alleged that some teachers/instructors/lecturers/professors expect female students to sleep with them, in addition to paying for grades.  Some instructors, lecturers and professors expect female students to pay for grades as well as arrange for hotel accommodations so that the unscrupulous lecturers can have sex with them.  This is regarded as a package of activities that female students are expected to comply with in order to pass a course..

d.       Male students also suffer greatly from the corruption, deprofessionalzation and unethical behavior of school officials and the faculty.  Many male students are forced to join cults in order to increase their ability to influence the educational process.  In other words, those male students who are not financially endowed to pay for grades or just refuse to play along with the financial schemes of the teachers/instructors/lecturers/professors and some administrators are forced to join cults and use the cults to threaten professors who extort money from them.  There are many instances whereby student groups have used the cults to beat up instructors/lecturers/professors for extorting money or trying to sleep with their girlfriends.  Similarly, some female students who refused to go along with the indirect financial schemes of school officials and teachers/instructors have hired cult boys to teach the erring officials a lesson by threatening or beating them up..

e.       Due to corruption and unethical practices, many female students in the universities have turned to prostitution as a means of supporting their education.  They walk the streets and visit customers in order to accumulate money needed to pay the unscrupulous teachers/instructors/lecturers/professors and school administrations who invent financial schemes to extort money one way or another from students

f.        Some, if not most female dormitories, are like whore houses.  In the evenings, cars line up to pick up female students for a good time.  There seems to be no official supervision of the university dormitories at all.

g.       Thus, the educational system is turning many young men into hooligans and young females into prostitutes.  Both groups graduate from the university with no sense of academic discipline and moral responsibility.  Academic proficiency is sacrificed for quick money making schemes.


5.There is a relationship between corruption and the mushrooming of private educational institutions in Nigeria

During the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s, both public and private primary and secondary schools competed to be the best.  Just as there were very prestigious private and religious schools, there were also very prestigious public schools.  Public schools were owned by various governments.  Private schools were either owned by individuals or religious organizations. The religious schools involved Christian and Islamic ownership. In any case, it did not matter in those decades whether a student attended a private or a public school because they were very competitive.


However, it appears that as corruption became rampant in the middle and late 1980s, public schools began to suffer.  During the same time, super prestigious ultra-private primary and secondary schools began to emerge.  It could be noted that some of the pioneering owners of the ultra-private schools were former high level public servants.  These schools charged exorbitant fees, consequently, only children from well-to-do families could attend them.  As these schools cropped up in every part of the country, public schools began to suffer from lack of maintenance.


Thus, it is possible to say that some of the ultra-private schools were built with financial resources pilfered from the public educational system.  This is confirmable based upon the fact that by the early 2000s, an increasing number of private universities owned by former government officials emerged.  It is not a secret that most of the private universities are owned by former senior military officers and public officials.  Under normal circumstances, it is not possible for a former government official to own a university since government salaries are never sufficient to allow for the building of a university.  It should also be noted that in the late 1990s and early 2000s, some Nigerians actually competed to build private universities.  These Nigerians were mostly former ministers, commissioners, high-level government administrators and retired senior military officers.  The implication being that most of the monies used to build the private universities were embezzled from the government.  It is not surprising that between 1999 and 2007, only very few civilian governors invested extensively on public education in their states.  On the other hand, many of them became very wealthy.  They did so by embezzling their state funds to enrich themselves.  Some of them would eventually build private schools to boost their egos.



6.There is a relationship between the prevailing culture of corruption, exploitation, and lack of moral consideration in the educational sector and the culture of corruption, exploitation, and lack of moral consideration in the political system.


If a careful observation is made of the social and political behaviors of the current crops of politicians and public figures, it is possible to say that the current state of corruption and lack of moral consideration originated partially from the higher educational environment, starting in the late 1980s.  In other words, Nigerian universities could be held partially responsible for breeding the kinds of Nigerian public officials, politicians, professionals, public figures, lawyers, etc. today. .At the same time, it is proper to say that the educational sector is greatly influenced by the massive corruption in society at large.  If society is corrupt, then the educational sector will also be corrupt.  Similarly, if the educational sector is corrupt, then society will be corrupted since many graduates would end up becoming public policy makers, public administrators, military and police officers, and politicians, lawyers, doctors businessmen and women etc..


Many individuals who hold positions of power in the country today went through the higher educational system in an environment in which corruption, exploitation, and amorality were rampant.  They survived the educational system by doing whatever was deemed necessary, including bribing school administrators and instructors/lecturers/professors, paying for grades, prostituting, using violence and concocting magical portions.  After years of such practices, they are socialized into a Machiavellian world view in which one had to adopt any means necessary to win.  As can be seen, the Peoples Democratic Party’s politics seem to be dominated by corruption, exploitation, and amorality.  The PDP does everything possible to win, whether by rigging elections, looting public funds, imposing candidates, bribing some people, and threatening and killing others.  It is not surprising that the PDP adopted cult tactics in recruiting political candidates, imposing political candidates, extorting money from political candidates, and threatening and killing opponents.  University cults have been adopting these tactics for sometime, thereby, solidifying the behavior among young politicians today.


It is also not surprising that governors, representatives and heads of local governments of various states embezzled massively without the slightest concern for the plight of their citizens.  They only seem to care for themselves and those who put them in power.  This behavior too could have been engendered by the educational environment.  After all, in the secondary and university environments today, students are forced against their will to pay for services that are supposed to be part of the official business of education.  This is carried forward into the political arena.  At the same time, the political culture is reinforcing the need for students to take whatever action that would enable them to win, regardless of the morality of the conduct.  Similarly, it appears that many school officials are competing with politicians and public officials generally to amass wealth.  If politicians and high government officials are able to loot with impunity, nothing can prevent school administrators and instructors/lecturers/professors from doing the same.  After all, in Nigeria today, the only thing that matters is the accumulation of wealth.


What about some Nigerian public officials and university administrators who attended universities overseas?  How does one explain their behavior concerning embezzlement and lack of concern for citizens?  Their behaviors could be explained in the following manner: (1) Some Nigerians who attended universities overseas were already socialized into the dog-eat-dog educational environment in Nigeria before they left the country to study abroad.  (2) If one carefully examines the academic credentials of many Nigerians who left overseas to go play politics in Nigeria, it is possible to say that many of them do not have the credentials they claim to have had while in overseas.  (3). Some Nigerian returnees are indeed educational drop-outs while they were in overseas.  To make up for lack of educational success, they quickly adopted the dog-eat-dog and the devil –may-care attitude that is prevalent in the country in order to win.  Playing politics the PDP way is their only last chance to make it, therefore, they play exceedingly dirty. (4) Some Nigerians who studied overseas bought their degrees, hence, were never cultured intellectually.  Hence, Nigerian dog-eat-dog politics appeal to them magnetically.  (5) The Nigerian social and political environment is too corrupt and corrosive.  Therefore, anyone who returns to Nigeria to play politics must be willing to dine with the devil, otherwise, the person would not get anywhere.  Consequently, Nigerians who studied abroad and return home to play politics are compelled to do those things that their Nigerian counterparts are doing, otherwise, they would be ostracized and rendered penniless.  In other words, it is not possible to be a saint in Nigeria while the entire socio-political fabric is corrupt.


As can be seen, the Nigerian educational environment, due to corruption, is turning many young men and women into an uncaring, unnecessarily aggressive, and the devil-may-care kinds of individuals.  They have been socialized to believe that  might is preferable to civility, that morality and ethics are not important virtues, and that it is important to win at all cost.  They have increasingly been socialized to believe that it is proper and necessary to take whatever action, including killing in order to prevail.  They learn these behaviors from the administrators and teachers/instructors/lecturers/professors who supposed to mold them into hard-working honorable citizens.  Having used to these kinds of behaviors, many university graduates have become amoral.  They lie, cheat, manipulate, threaten, exploit and kill in some instances   


It will take about ten to twenty years to deprogram the educational culture and to enable students to appreciate the importance of academic proficiency, the value of knowledge, and the significance of being honorable leaders in the future.  There is no doubt that many young politicians, including governors, senators and local government chairs, who have ruled Nigeria in the last seven years are products of the spoilt educational system in Nigeria.  It is therefore, not surprising that the PDP acts like the grand party of the cults in the country. The PDP seems to be dominated by hooligans who are willing to manipulate, lie, cheat, extort, and even kill to get their way. 


It is time for the anti-corruption war to be extended to the educational sector.  The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other corruption fighting agencies should focus their investigative tentacles on educational institutions and compel those who have questions to answer to explain what happened under their administrative supervision of various educational institutions.  It is not possible to wipe out corruption while educational institutions are allowed to cultivate corrupting and amoral behaviors. 


The youths are the future leaders of the country. This means that the national security of the nation depends greatly upon the educational system to produce able leaders.  If the educational sector fails to produce able leaders, then the country is doomed. . While Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Brazilian etc. educational systems are producing top notch management information specialists, scientists, engineers, doctors etc. Nigerian educational system is producing individuals who are perpetually preoccupied with looking for ways to exploit the society for their personal advantage, instead of contributing positively to the advancement of the society at large.   Indeed, an educational system that extols financial quick fixes is not an education at all.