Curbing Moral Decadence Among University Students

1.0       Introduction

In an age of liberal attraction, morality is less dominating our public discourse. While this paper dares the strange route, it will do that at a great cost. Our world is not bereft of ethical theories; indeed, many are buried in the pages of textbooks in our shelves and archives, this paper will not bore you with more. The success of Adolf Hitler’s propaganda was his belief that the more coherent a theory is, the greater the chances of its impracticability.[1]The paper will be incoherent. What’s so great about the paper? After centuries of endless theorizing about ‘everythingness’ and ‘nothingness’ without changing ‘anythingness,’ Karl Marx in his eleventh thesis on Feuerbach pushed passionately for radical change.[2] This paper will be too sympathetic to Marx. It looks at connection between knowledge and evil; highlights moral requiem in Nigeria universities and outlines sketches to plot the downfall of the decadence from the side of the society in general and students in particular.


2.0       Knowledge and Evil

So many centuries ago, the great philosopher Aristotle declared that all men by nature desire to know.[3] It may be knowledge of why there is ‘something’ instead of ‘nothing’, why mangoes ripe; why women not men get pregnant; why university students engage in campus marriage; why in the Dasukigate scandal Dasuki was granted bail at N250m while a beneficiary was granted at N300m; why some politicians are not dishonest. It may even be knowledge of why beautiful girls make best grades in particular courses or why a particular lecturer is always excited in the presence of girls.

Socrates would walk in the marketplace of Athens asking people questions in order to make them discover themselves. True he was put to death for unmasking others, but he left the world the heritage of “know thyself.” To have courage to look into oneself is the beginning of a dialogue that takes places between the mask and the face, the shadow self and the real self writes Fulton J. Sheen.[4] With knowledge, man has arrived at electronic age with all its trappings and enticements.

The basis of moral action is freedom of the will without which no moral act is possible.[5] Some much of our quest to know is good but knowledge is evil too. Too much curiosity kills a cat. It is not by chance that God cautioned man against the tree of knowledge, of good and evil, at the centre of Eden Restaurant. Curiosity led man to lose innocence to guilt, simplicity to complexity, and at end discovered his nakedness.

The French philosopher, Jean Jacque Rousseau, taught that learning corrupts morality; civilization is evil. The glowing utilitarian tendencies to express ourselves whenever, however, and wherever we feel it are old errors with new labels.[6] As knowledge grows, man becomes morally hesitant. For instance, without the Enlightenment, the great scientific, technological, economic, civil, and constitutional advances that have irrevocably changed the face of Europe and of all the West are inexplicable.[7] However, its chain reaction in morality had no break: “after the scientific revolution came the technological revolution, the industrial revolution, and then the revolutions in politics, in the life of the society, and in the rights of the individuals.”[8]  Enlightenment created its own gods which didn’t bring a new faith but allowed people to express their faith in new ways.[9] This creation carries evil prices the world is paying today: marginalization of objectivism, the triumph of subjectivity, and the imprisonment of the divine, of the sacred, of God in a ghetto. With more knowledge, there is banishment of morality from lives of state and civic society, confusion of people’s consciences and exclusion of God from public awareness.[10]

As knowledge grows, a Temple of Reason, a product of 18th century rationalists, was built to the collective mockery of Christian God and morals. Voltaire desecrated the whole of France with his anti-Christian summa, decried supernaturalism and denounced religion and the power of the clergy. The mad Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883-1885[11]) killed and buried Christian God and supplanted her morality with the Übermensch principles[12]. Karl Marx assisted by Friedrich Engels ridiculed religion in Communist Manifesto[13] of 1848 calling for radical rebellion against religion. Whether they avowed revolution or not, Marxism outlived Marx. When it finally escaped British Museum in the 20th century, it polarized the whole of Europe pitching the Soviet East against America-led Western block.[14] While communism was erasing religion from people’s mindset, Sigmund Freud Oedipus Complex was amazingly disengaging the society sexual-morally wise. In the Vienna lab, the excavator Freud dug from the superego to the id of self expression in danger of repression. He romanced his pseudo psycho-sexual theory in a manner that insulted Christian sexual ethics and debased our existence to sex.

The agony is that free action in any of these disciplines interacted negatively with free action in another sphere. “If God is expelled from the scientific sphere, religion is expelled from the life of man. If morality is expelled from law, our laws are deprived of values. If science and technology enjoy an unlimited guarantee, progress can become blind and destructive.”[15]

As knowledge grows daily, our moral convictions get confused. As quest for knowledge increases we feel as if we are on a journey without map, in a car that is out of control. For instance, the media places so much emphasis on the public’s right to know. This right to knowledge is no longer knowing why, when and how mangoes ripe; it now extends to knowing the size of our genitals and what we do with them. It has meant that businesses would spend a vast amount of time on corporate compliance; that the police have to confront accusations of being institutionally racist, that the army has to think about the rights of women; HIV/AIDS carriers and homosexuals in its ranks; instead of devoting its energies to working out what it needs to fight. They also mean that parliaments of world democracies can no longer trust themselves to behave ethically and are setting up ethics committees. Even the intelligence services have to go to court- and may well lose- when they seek to defend the secrecy on which their work depends.[16] And very soon, the would-be pope may have to present CVs and fill application forms, going against the ancient principle that no one who thinks he should be a clergy is suitable to be one.

Look at the media arrogance. Where once journalists waited, today, they barge in, too arrogantly, to interrogate and arraign. Such incline them to abuse as the one who brings a message soon ascertains that his role gives him power. By giving a false message, or an exaggerated one, by withholding a message or by delivering it at a great speed, by shouting it out when it should be spoken softly or by whispering it when it should be proclaimed from the housetops, he can affect events, advance or retard someone’s cause, earn money or lose it, make or break a career. The journalist knows this and unless he is a saint, he will sometimes exploit this knowledge. Unfortunately, no journalist is a saint.[17]

The rise of ISIS and its recruitment of Harvard brains have given new insight that terrorism is not a brainchild of ignorance but learning. As the learned Europeans and Americans are signing up to the terror group we know talk of terrorism as twisted or distorted ideology. The truth is that learning has not abated evil. Learning is a neutral value until you act on it. Conservative societies controls and scrutinize what their members are made to know.


3.0       Moral Decadence among Nigerian University Students

In his book, Money, Sex, and Power, Richard Foster wrote: “The crying need today is for the people of faith to live faithfully. This is true in all spheres of human existence, but is particularly true with reference to money, sex, and power. No issues touch us more profoundly or more universally. No themes are more inseparably intertwined. No topics cause more controversy. No human realities have greater power to bless or to curse. No three things have been more sought after or are more in need of a Christian response.”[18] The universities students are not immune either.

Conventionally, the term ‘university’ conventionally connotes an educational institution of higher learning. But with a touch of irony, Nigeria universities have been into a cemetery of vices, a huge graveyard of immorality, a cesspool of cultism, homosexuality, lesbianism, drug abuse, examination malpractice, campus marriage etc. Our undergraduates are becoming riot-ready foot-soldiers of social restiveness, commercial sex hawkers, highway robbers, kidnappers etc. For the rest Nigeria universities enjoy the unenviable distinction of being the misery Sodom of our society.

Read any Nigerian daily and you are bound to realize that we have departed from what learning in the university ought to be. It is all about one cult group saying that opponents must vacate or school be shoot down, or about one morally-bankrupt politician dying in the arms of an undergraduate in a hotel room after marathon sex, or about one gang conniving with their girl friends to kidnap sugar daddies or sugar mummies. Hardly does a day pass without university students making ugly headlines in our dailies: sex for good grade, arson on important offices, gunshot in campuses, nude competition, etc.


4.0       Curbing Morale Decadence among University Students

The fate of an elders mostly university dons discussing moral decadence among university students in Nigeria is similar to the frustration of the clown in the allegory of the clown and the burning village, made popular in recent times by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity.[19]  Although Kierkegaard is famous for formulating the allegory it was later taken up by Harvey Cox in his book, The Secular City.[20]  The story has it that a travelling circus in Denmark caught fire. The manager of the circus thereupon sent the clown who was already dressed and made up for the performance, into the neighbouring village to fetch help, fearing that the fire would from the circus spread to engulf the entire village itself. As the clown rushed into village beckoning on them to come as quickly as possible to blazing circus to help quench the fire, the villagers taking the clown’s appeal as an excellent masterpiece advertising meant to attract people to the show, applauded the clown and laughed to the point of shedding tears.  The more the clown appealed to be taken seriously the more they laughed at his show; and the more they laughed the more the clown felt like crying as people taught he was just at his best. Before long, the fire had grown engulfing the entire village. Because it was too late for help, the fire burnt the village and circus.[21]

This allegory is a drama where everyone- parents, teachers, and leaders, individuals on one side and students on another side- is a character. It is a mirror where each character should look at and understand the gravity of his/her guilt. We are like the clown who cannot get students convinced to listen to his message of moral upright. Because of his old-fashion, clown’s costume, he is simply not taken seriously:

Whatever he says is ticketed and classified so to speak by his role. Whatever he does in his attempt to demonstrate the seriousness of the position, people always know in advance that he is just a clown. They are already familiar with that he is talking about and know that he is just giving a performance that has little or nothing to do with reality. So they can listen to him happily without being seriously concerned with what he is saying.[22]

That is why any effort to plot the downfall of moral decadence among university must take its bearing from the two poles of buyers and producers.


4.1.0    Holding on to High Moral Ground

An entrepreneur is one who produces what people need at his own gain. There is no producer who doesn’t put his end consumers into choice of what to bring. Notice that the above allegory clearly reflects the oppressive reality in which moral discourse in the university is imprisoned today and the frustrating inability of all especially university teachers who are closer to students break through the modern thought and make university students recognize the subject matter of morality as a serious aspect of human life. It is not just the faith of the villagers that is at stake in this allegory, it is not only the question of form, of the kind of dress but the difficult task of interpretation, the insecurity of clown’s own faith, the oppressive power of unbelief in the midst of his own will to believe. It is not a matter of changing fancy dress to impart his teaching successfully but understanding that his own situation is by no means so different from that of others as he may have thought at the start.[23]  Before tasking students on what to do and not do, we must bear in mind that it takes two to tango. Plotting the down of moral decadence requires that the society takes these urgent steps:


  • Withdrawal of Patronage

As shown above, our fight against moral decadence among university students must be sincerity-based, must begin from ourselves with determination to close the market that makes production lucrative for the merchants. If university students are producers of moral decadence, we have got to ask ourselves whether they consume all they produce and if not why the excesses sold and who are their customers and patronizers? The best way to force a producer to change or modify his products is to withdraw consumption or patronage of the goods. Moral decadence cannot come down as long as many lecturers are being daily exposed as consumers of sex-for-good-grades among university students; when many politicians, businessmen still die in the arms of young girls in hotel rooms; when politicians retain the services of cult groups to win an election; when parents accepts bogus gifts from students sent to learn.

Are many of our university staff not reputed for failing students, withholding or misplacing the students’ results, rights and privileges and leave them with limited choice? And when they are in trouble, they exploit their vulnerability to satisfy themselves sexually and in so doing teach them that immorality is the only way to survival. How about lecturers who deliberately avoid teaching to force students to submit to their whims and caprices?

If we mean to reduce moral bankruptcy, we must resolve to close factory that produces morally decadent students, all those who consume their immoral products must willingly withdraw their patronage and have a change of heart. We withdraw patronage when best grades go to those who deserving of them; when we allow hands and not legs to write for students; when we put cultists out of labour market by insisting on right things.


  • Building Culture of Human Solidarity

When a society conforms to norms and value there is peace. Solidarity is important in issues of morality. It is an illusion to believe that we should always be without war; war is the fact of life. According to William Penn, people fight either to keep, to add or to recover.[24] Most conflicts in history come down ultimately to competition for resources.[25] Besides competition, nothing breeds war more than injustice which is the bane of modern society. For fear that left alone, one can protect his right or privilege, one goes to join cultism. While some do so to for other reasons, it is good to keep in mind that cultism can be curb when we become more sensitive to the plight of students in our universities.

Solidarity is based on the double side of sympathy: “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.”[26] University needs to be vigilant to a system which will double other’s trouble and divide another’s joy. The wickedness, the high-handedness, the arrogance, the indifference, the partiality, etc, sow seeds of discontent among students making cultism very attractive. Although historians have cast doubt that Marie Anthoinette ever uttered the famous phrase, Qu’ils mangent de la brioche, ‘Let them eat cake’, it was her callous indifference to the plight of the poor and underprivileged in the late-eighteenth-century France that culminated in her being brought to the guillotine along with her husband, Louis XVI.[27]

Bad blood arises immediately when others are indifferent to our misfortunes. There is nothing that kills human solidarity than mentality which makes each say, “I am I and you are you, and that’s the end of it.”  Every man rejoices twice when he has a partner in his joy. He who shares tears with us wipes them away. Tears are more quickly dried up when they run on a friend’s cheek in furrows of compassion.[28] Lecturers must not through arrogance push student to the wall. However, the sword of Peter was push to hack off the ear of the high priest’s servant, Machos but Jesus bade it be put back to its scabbard.[29]


  • Making Hard Work and Decency to Pay

No society grows which does not reward morality and hard work. What packages in our schools and society at large to we have academically performing students? We seem to dissipate our energies, and deliver our punches where they do not matter. Hardly do we honour our academic heroes but we stand still for artists and models whose way of life has no good lessons to teach. The culture of beauty contests as well as prizes that go with them has to be reviewed. Though well intentioned, it makes immorality profitable for students who dress to kill and can go to any length to win the pageant. We have moral duty to checkmate emerging immoral tradition. We have moral duty to crush the stereotypes that are burdening and weighing down our students in decision making. Parents need to rise up as the moral conscience of the family in order to inculcate the virtues of hard work, discipline and good conduct. This will go a long way in ridding universities of sex hawkers.


  • Making Moral Education Compulsory

Moral ground has a base. The secret of Jewish society is her moral education of the young. Any society who does not take moral education of her members seriously will reap moral whirlwind. St. Paul wrote that faith comes through hearing. Time has come to look at religious studies as a serious course in our universities. Education without character is for Mahatma Ghandi one of the seven capital sins of modern world. Moral instruction must have a prominent place in university curriculum. While extolling linguistic and logical relevance, we seem to have undermined the place of religion in our university curriculum.


4.2.0    Cultivating Virtue of Ignorance

4.2.1.   Restraining Knowledge of Moral Evils

It is not without reason that moral law recognizes the principles governing vincible, invincible and affected ignorance while civil law generally does not regard ignorance of the law or of penalty as an excusing cause but as reason for a milder penalty.[30] As knowledge is not always virtue ignorance is not always vice; indeed, ignorance has value. There is a value in ‘not knowing.’ In the Bible, Mary received the message of angel Gabriel with: “How will this come about, since I know not man?” (Lk1: 31-34). Why was there a value in not knowing man? Because she had consecrated her virginity to God and in so doing received special privileges. The ignorance that is extolled here is not ignorance of the truth, but ignorance of evil.[31] Notice also that Jesus forgave his executioners because they were ignorant of their terrible crime. It was not their wisdom that saved them but their ignorance.

We live in a world where the worldly wise say: “you do not know life; you have never lived.” They assumed that you can know nothing except by experience- experience not only of good but of evil. People living in dirt hardly realize how dirty dirt is. Those living in sin hardly understand the horror of sin. The terrible thing about moral indecency is that the more you experience it, the less you know about it. You become so identified with it that you neither know the depth you have sunk, nor the height which you have fallen. You never know you asleep until you wake up, and you never know the horror of immorality until you get out of it.[32]

Little wonder, student victims return from immoral adventure so disillusioned: “I wish I had never tasted liquor,” or “I regret the day slept with my lecturer,” or “I wish I had not gone for that night club,” or “I wish I had never slept with a married man,” or “I curse that day I joined cult group.” How much wiser you would have been had you been ignorant![33]

University students must reject the credo that for one to “know life” one must “experience evil.” Do we know the value of health by contracting HIV virus? Is a doctor wiser because he is prostrate with disease? Do you become a better guitarist by striking the wrong keys? Students must imbibe culture of unlearning, ignorance, propaganda, Gestapo politics, and gossips knowing that we can be truly wise by being instructed by the spirit of God. You must get away from the world now. Knowledge sticks better on blank page than one covered with your scribbling.[34]


4.2.2    Assigning Functions to Relationship

Part of moral decadence among students comes from their inability to know the tendency to bundle everything up and there seems no border in mentorship, peer group association, relationship etc. For an undergraduate, there are two types of people one should generally avoid when it comes to moral, spiritual and ethical, though singular incidence might prompt them.

Firstly, no one should consult the young colleague. For Fulton Sheen, not only are they lacking in experience, they may become part of the problem of the person in moral trouble. They are too inexperienced to distinguish between abstract and concrete knowledge. Knowledge is like a timber: it better when aged. In the scientific or political order, however, youth often surpasses maturity. AT 27, Napoleon executed his great military campaign in Italy and drove back the routed Austrians to their capitals. The King of Babylon chose young men, well-favoured, without blemish and with great ability to stand before him. However, morality is different. Every adolescent is an ‘adverb’ turning into a ‘personal pronoun’ of either he or she. Until that maturity is reached, it is not well to seek that moral guidance from the youth, unless they are saints in the making. We should not forget that the young counseled King Rehoboam to be cruel, a policy which proved to be wrong.[35]

Secondly, every undergraduate should avoid student or lecturer who is immoral. Before seeking the guidance of a legislator about a minimum wage, it is always well to find out how much he pays his servants. No one consult a crooked politician about international rights. The robber does not want to have a policeman’s light shining upon him as he robs a safe. Neither do the evil want to have the moral law shining upon them in their misdeeds. Teaching is different from counseling. An immoral man is just as capable of teaching further mathematics as a moral man and many times better. Academic mentorship or peer friendship is different from moral counseling. Student must assign function to their mentorship or relationship to know that sports teammate may not be a favourable moral partner.  A cultist should not be consulted about settling disputes, a thief about honesty, an adulterer or lesbian or fornicator about purity.[36]


5.0       Conclusion

Yes, ‘to curb’ is the right verb to use when talking of moral decadence in among university students. We can only limit and restrain it. Anything like eradication will be utopian. We therefore have a moral duty to plot the downfall of moral decadence in our varsities to save our society from running to moral standstill. Whether we will succeed depends on our willingness and cooperation. But an inscription on ‘keke’ tricycle in Abakaliki capital city is our one glimmer of hope: no condition is permanent. If the paper has succeeded in saying nothing, being incoherent, it is just to remind you that further research will be part of solving the problem.


Presented on 23 February at 2015/2016 Students’ Re-orientation Programme of Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki.




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Brown M. P, Kelly R. J. (ed) You’re History (New York: Continuum, 2005)

Hitler A.,         Mein Kampf (Mumbai-Jaico Books, 2006)

Peschke,  K. H, Christian Ethics I (Bangalore: Theological Publications, 2004)

Ratzinger J., Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures (Francisco: Ignatius press, 2006)

__________ Introduction to Christianity, (Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004)

Sheen F. S, Guide to Contentment (Bangalore-Mumbai: St. Pauls, 2006)

_________ Life Is worth Living (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1999)

_________The Eternal Galilean (Bandra-Mumbai: St Pauls, 2004)

_________ You, (Bangalore: The Society of St Paul, 1998)

Stumpf S. E. Philosophy, History & Problems 5thEd. (New York, McGraw-Hill. Inc)

Foster, R., Money, Sex and Power (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1990)


[1] Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (Mumbai-Jaico Books, 2006) p. 195

[2] Samuel Enoch Stumpf, Philosophy, History & Problems 5thEd. (New York, McGraw-Hill. Inc) p.404. He argued that philosophers have interpreted the world but it remained to change it.

[3] Aristotle Metaphysics, Book VIII

[4] Fulton J Sheen, Guide to Contentment (Bangalore-Mumbai: St. Pauls, 2006) p. 94.

[5] Peschke Karl H. Christian Ethics I (Bangalore: Theological Publications, 2004) p. 232

[6] Fulton J Sheen, The Eternal Galilean (Bandra-Mumbai: St Pauls, 2004) 40

[7] Joseph Ratzinger, Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures (Francisco: Ignatius press, 2006) p. 13.

[8] Ibid 13

[9] Michelle P. Brown & Richard J. Kelly (Ed.), You’re History, (New York: Continuum, 2005), p. 182.

[10] Ratzinger, Christianity and Crisis of Cultures, p. 14

[11] In Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche laid bare his philosophical thought. He argued about the displacement of God, His death in the heart of believers, His graveside at the sanctuary. He proposed the supplanting of Christian morality which he decried as the morality of the weak who cluster at the foot a dead man begging for help to tame the strong.

[12] Übermensch is the German word for “Superman” employed by Nietzsche to contrast the morality of the weak and morality of the strong. The Übermensch morality follows natural instincts and will power and is not bound by laws. Nietzsche however admitted later that the ‘Übermensch’ must be a Roman soldier with Christ’s soul.

[13] In Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx laid stages of social revolution that will see the collapse of bourgeoisie dominated capitalism and usher in socialism. Obviously dissatisfied with the role of religion in making people to accept subjugation and oppression, Karl Mark argued that religion is the opium of the mass whose psychological influence on the proletariats will delay socialism.

[14] Karl Marx conceived socialism but Lenin gave us communism which saw religion as an obstacle.

[15] Ibid 17

[16] Charles Moore, Witness to the Truth, in ‘First Things: The Moral, Social and religious Challenges of the Day (New York: Burns & Oates, 2005) p. 9

[17] Ibid. p. 15

[18] Richard Foster, Money, Sex and Power (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1990), p. 1.

[19] In the book, ‘Introduction to Christianity’ Pope Benedict XVI invoked Soren Kierkegaard’s allegory to discuss the fate of modern pastor speaking to the faithful.

[20] Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity (Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004) p. 39

[21] Ibid p.18-19.

[22] Ibid 19

[23] Ibid 5

[24] Penn William cited in Fulton J. Sheen, Life Is worth Living (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1999) p. 21.

[25] Brown M. P, Kelly R. J. Opt. Cit p. 10

[26] Rom 12: 15

[27] Kelly Richard J, Inequality: A Modest Proposal? In Brown M. P, Kelly R. J. Opt. Cit. p. 63

[28] Fulton J. Sheen, Guide to Contentment. p.144

[29] Ibid. 94.

[30]Peschke  Opt. Cit. p. 240-1

[31] Sheen F. J, You (Bangalore: The Society of St Paul, 1998) p. 85

[32] Ibid 86

[33] Ibid 87

[34] Ibid. 86

[35] Ibid 105

[36] Ibid. 106