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Essay: Nigerian norms and values

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  • Published: 17 September 2015*
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Norms and values are essential components of our socio cultural system. The Nigerian society is currently undergoing rapid socio-economic and political changes that are bound to affect the status-quo of the presently existing normative and value system in the nation. The objectives of this essay are to enable students to know what norms and values are the relationship between norms and values, types of norms and values, the roles of conformity and sanctions and the impact of norms and values to national development.


Norms may be referred to as rules or regulations guiding the societal shared standards of behaviour. Human beings are born into an ongoing society which has already institutionalised patterns. Individuals in the society are constantly involved in social interaction through what is known as social action.

When social action is put in place, there are required behavioural patterns which must take into cognisance the expectations of others with whom we are acting. Through the existence of norms, we are able to predict the response of ‘others’. A rewarding or appreciative behaviour towards another is likely to attract a positive reciprocal response. Similarly, a negative or hostile behaviour towards another with whom we are interacting is likely to attract a negative response. In, their discussion of ideal norms, Otite and Ogionwo (1979) believed that norms involve the performance of prescribed behaviour in a certain situation and the imposition of sanction on omission of such behaviour. Take for instance, conduct of examinations in all Nigerian Universities. There are standards guiding it. Similarly, the Nigerian highway codes have set down norms to check the behaviour of road users. Erring drivers have various sanctions imposed on them. The political, economic, educational, religious and legal systems have specified norms regulating the behaviours of actors or participants acting within. All over Nigeria, there are specific norms in respect of how the dead should be buried, (burial rites), how to start a new family (through marriage), how to acquire wealth, and how to obtain a University degree.

The concept of values may be defined as beliefs, standards, ideals about what is a desirable or a good behaviour, and what an undesirable is or a bad behaviour (Krech et al., 1992). Values are the most general component of social action. They state in general terms the desirable end which acts as a guide to human endeavours (Smeister, 1963). Values are found in every culture. They are socially defined aid are meaningful to group existence, Moral or ethical values are necessary for the fostering of group harmony and the promotion of group welfare. Examples of moral va1ues which are core to societal integration and development include honesty, integrity, truth, obedience, loyalty, kindness, purity or chastity, etc. Our goals or objectives in life are usually defined in terms of the value system. Education, religion, politics and economics are highly valued in Nigeria. The acquisition of wealth is also valued in Nigeria today no matter how crude, and inimical to the procedure that are employed in acquiring it. The government seems to be worried about the present status-quo of our societal norms and values. This government seems to be worried about it hence the launching of the War against Indiscipline and Corruption in Nigeria. The major objective was to infuse or inject sanity into the fast decaying Nigerian value system.


Norms and values are attributes of the cultural system. Both are part and parcel of the non-material culture of the society. Though values are more abstract and general in nature than norms, both complement one another. In other words, where there are identified values, there must also be rules or regulations (norms) guiding their realisation. For example, democracy is a political value. In order to set in motion democratic practices in Nigeria, there are rules or regulations (democratic norms) which must be followed meticulously. The formation of political parties and electioneering procedures are some of the norms which must be adhered to in order to attain the political values of democracy. It is interesting to note that our Education system is based on the recognition given to it by the Federal government. No wonder the National Policy on Education stated among other things that the quality of instruction at all levels of education in Nigeria is oriented to wards achieving the following values.

(a) Moral and spiritual values in interpersonal and human relations
(b) Respect for the work and dignity of the individuals.
(c) Faith in man’s ability to make rational decisions.
(d) Shared responsibility for the common good of the society.
(e) Respect for the dignity of labour, and
(f) Promotion of the emotional, physical and psychological health of all children.

In order to achieve these laudable goals or objectives (values), qualified teachers have to be recruited at all levels to give sound instructions that are both relevant to the course content, and necessary for the graduation of students.


Norms are usually divided into two. This is based on the strength of sanction it carries. The obligatory norms usually have harsh sanctions for their ‘io1ations. They are referred to as mores. The mores are the ‘must do’ of the society. All members of the society must conform to them or face disapproval and sanctions. Mores are regarded as essentially good for the group survival.

Taking another man’s life and incestuous relationship are prohibited in our society. Some of the sanctions are backed up by documented laws and violators are normally prosecuted in the Couit of Law. The second category of norms are reflected to s folkways. Folkways do not carry harsh or strong sanctions for their violations. Violations are generally overlooked. Folkways arc practices conventionally accepted and deemed appropriate but ‘violations or deviations are not sanctioned or punished. For example, every University Undergraduate (year one) is expected to participate in matriculation ceremony but failure to do so does not attract sanction.

On the other hand, some values which were in the time past highly respected in the society have become obsolete. For example, a virgin (bride) was highly valued and respected in the traditional society. Similarly, many wives and many children Were economic assets in the traditional system.

Today, none of these are required as significant in modern society. This shows that values and norms are subject to socio-economic and political changes in the society.


No society is static in nature. It is always undergoing some forms of social process. A change in one segment of the social system will invariably bring about a corresponding change in another part. Because of the functional interdependence of social institutions (economic, political, social, religious, educational and legal), a change in the political arrangement will affect the economic and educational systems. For example, if the Nigerian society now gives premium to the rule by the non-educated individuals, the educational norms and values will be adversely affected. Also, the introduction of a Communist type of ideology will adversely affect the present ‘Nigerian type’ free enterprise and freedom of worship.

In recent times, we have witnessed changing norms and values especially in the areas of fashion and design, music, leisure, sexual relationships, women liberation, ways of speaking, dancing, etc. Norms and values have also changed in areas of traditional burials and marriages. It is also true that the norms and values in the typical rural areas of the country are conflicting with those of the urban centres, Some of the factors responsible for the changing norms and values are:

1. Changing economic and political conditions
2. New world economic and political conditions
3. Modern technological development
4. Wars
5. Mass Media effect
6. Liberation movements

Though norms and values are bound to change in a dynamic society, there is the general tendency for individuals to conform to whatever norms and values that are prevalent within the group.


These two concepts are very important to the discussion of norms and values. Though there arc always conflict and consensus in the society, people tend to agree rather than disagree most of the time. To conform means to agree with societal norms and values. If one does fail to conform, ho is termed a social deviant. Sometimes, non-conformists are always labelled as rebels. Most people tend to conform to the societal norms and values because of the following reasons:

(1) Group pressure and prestige
(2) Existence of sanctions
(3) Group identification

The failure to conform brings about social sanctions. A sanction is a societal tool of social control. Social sanctions are important societal tools for the regulation of modes of behaviour. Sanction takes the form of a reaction of a considerable number of members of the group towards another member’s behaviours which is either approved or disapproved. We have both negative and positive sanctions. Negative sanction shows disapproval while positive sanction indicates approval. Behaviours that are positively sanctioned usually go with acceptability, honour, rewards or awards. Similarly, behaviours that arc negatively sanctioned bring about shame, ridicule, ox–communication, fines, trial sentences, ostracism, etc. It is however important to note that the government has the power to apply any coercive’ measure necessary to bring about conformity in the society.


Norms and values are very important to national development. Since development has to do with societal improvement, growth both mentally or intellectually, economically, socially and politically, the norms and values define the objectives or goals, and the directions or path it should follow. The failure of any society to follow the identified positive norms and values will bring about retrogression in its developmental part. Norms and values have the power of social integration in the society. Both have the force to unite various groups within the society.

The society will immensely benefit if its moral norms and values are intensively promoted. There seems to be huge cry today by all concerned Nigerians about the present state of corruption in the nation. Wealth without hard work, honesty, integrity seems to be highly valued today. This has actually discouraged many Nigerians from giving their best in service to the nation. Where norms and values concerning fundamental human rights in both public and private places have been violated, the people and government tend to live in an atmosphere of instability and insecurity. Both factors (instability and insecurity) do not promote national development.


The paper has tried to examine the concepts, norms and values, within the context of the Nigeria society. The paper also examined the role of norms and values fl national development the lack of promoting and evolvement of normative and value Systems that will help in promoting national development is one of the greatest problems facing our society.

In order to achieve a meaningful standard of national development, there is the need for Nigeria to develop and promote a normative and value system which can help in attaining a meaningful level of national development.


Adeinilokum, M. K. (1990): ‘Moral Values among the Yoruba’ in Socio philosophical Perspective of African Traditional Religion, Ekponubu, E. (Ed). New Age Publication, Enugu.
Krech, D. et. al (1962): Individual In Society. Me Graw-Flill Book Company mc, Kogakusha, Tokyo Japan.
Okigbo, P. (1987): Essays in the Public Philosophy of Development. Fourth Dimension, Enugu.
Otite, 0. and Ogionwo, W. (1979): An Introduction to Sociological Studies. I-Ieinernann, Ibadan.
Smeister, N. J. (1963): Theory of Collective Behaviour. The Free Press of Glencoe, New York.
Taylor, E. B. (1891): Primitive Culture. London: Murray.
FGN: White Paper on National Policy on Education. (1981)

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