Nigeria Needs Virtuous Leaders. We’re Inspiring Girls To Become Just That.

GlobalGiving Community Voices Fellow Manee Ngozi Nnamani explores challenges women face in Nigeria and how education and virtue-based leadership can steer them to transformative change.


Corruption remains deeply entrenched in Nigeria, mainly driven by selfishness and greed. This pervasive issue stalls the country’s progress and erodes trust among its citizens, leaving many people cynical. Integrating virtue-based leadership—an approach to leadership informed by ethics and values—into the education system is a solution that could provide lasting change.

In the aftermath of an election marred by violence and fraud on Feb. 23, 2023, the renowned Nigerian-American writer and activist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie published an article lamenting the situation, in which she says: “I know Nigeria, the country of my birth, intimately. I know the political culture, where the exchange of large amounts of money makes so many people conscience-deficient…” These words shed light on the profound level of corruption in Nigeria today.

Education is vital to the growth of any nation as a pathway to nurture, groom, and forge a future. But corruption has infiltrated the education system in Nigeria, depriving youth of the tools they need to build a brighter future.

According to UNICEF, a staggering 10.5 million children in Nigeria are out of school, accounting for one of every five children worldwide not in school. This number does not include the millions of others who attend school under dire conditions in deplorable facilities. Furthermore, approximately 60% of the out-of-school children are girls who face discrimination and are deprived of an education due to reasons such as early marriage, poverty, and cultural biases.

Faced with insecurity, oppression, violence, and especially the failed education system, many young Nigerians seek greener pastures abroad in Western countries, a phenomenon called the “brain drain.” The opportunities to migrate are often within reach of the privileged few, leaving others in profound despair. This raises the question of whether seeking refuge and pursuing prosperity abroad is a genuine solution. Nigeria is home to many innovative, intelligent, and creative people who can find answers to their own problems.

Learning and leading with virtue

Howard Gardner, known for his exceptional works on virtue leadership, argues that when young people embrace virtue-based leadership, they become catalysts for social justice, equality, and a more compassionate world. This approach cultivates selfless and influential leaders who can contribute to society and bring about meaningful transformations.

Such transformative education can serve as a beacon of hope amid seemingly lost prospects and is one of the essential first steps Nigeria needs to consider investing in as a nation for a better future.

One initiative that embodies this vision is the Elara Study Centre, a project of the NIGERIAN ASSOCIATION FOR WOMEN’S ADVANCEMENT. It is driven by the desire to nurture female leaders who will bring about meaningful change. At the heart of their effort is the STARS program—Students Taking Active Responsibility in Society. Developed with the support of professors and MBA students at the prestigious Lagos Business School, this one-year leadership program caters to senior secondary school girls in Lagos. Their choice to empower women is driven by the research that women are great and powerful allies to societal transformation and key to women’s emancipation.

An essential aspect of the STARS program is the solidarity project, which requires each enrolled student to serve underprivileged communities in Lagos, mainly through one-on-one academic coaching. Working in teams and applying their leadership skills, they brainstorm solutions to identified issues. These projects have transformative effects on the communities and the STARS participants themselves. The coaching provides much-needed educational support to the children in that community who lack access to quality education for a myriad of reasons. Whether they are children who attend schools in deplorable states or teenage girls who dropped out to become mothers, they are all striving to continue learning while balancing familial duties and sometimes trade. The STARS students gain first-hand insights into the realities their peers face and develop strong altruistic aspirations.

Seeing the impact

It is inspiring to see the ripple effect in the initiatives of former students, such as Kaosi Anyanwu, who founded STEM Bridge, a scholarship foundation for talented girls interested in STEM. Or Tolulope Olasewere, who organized a walkathon to raise funds for children affected by the Boko Haram crisis. She later co-founded BUILD Nigeria to help young Nigerians apply to top universities, giving special consideration to women.

The members of these underprivileged communities may not be making the headlines, but their commitment to self-emancipation and their children’s education is leadership in action. These are assurances that future generations of women will have better opportunities. They give me a glimmer of hope that my country will overcome the terrible conscience deficiency and culture of corruption that plagues it.

Manee is a Project Director of the Elara Study Centre. Support her work to promote virtue-based education in Nigeria.


About Community Voices:

GlobalGiving’s Community Voices fellowship aims to elevate and amplify the ideas of nonprofit partners in the GlobalGiving community. Six change leaders from Afghanistan, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, and Tanzania share their perspectives on challenges affecting our world and the solutions that exist in their communities. Each leader has embarked upon the eight-month fellowship with support from GlobalGiving and The OpEd Project to elevate their underheard, yet vitally important, viewpoints. Read more from Community Voices Fellows.

Featured Photo: Empowering 200 Girl Leaders in Nigeria annually by NIGERIAN ASSOCIATION FOR WOMEN'S ADVANCEMENT

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