The call, made in his first Independence Day address as civilian president, will likely remind some of his time as military ruler in the 1980s, when he cracked down on so-called “indiscipline”.
Then, civil servants were made to do star jumps if they were late for work, orderly queueing was enforced, while traders selling goods at above agreed rates were punished.
Buhari, elected in March on an agenda for “change”, has been at pains to stress there will be no return to the past, despite claims to the contrary by his political opponents that old habits die hard.
In a brief televised address to the nation on Thursday, he said: “Change does not just happen. You and I and all of us must appreciate that we all have our part to play if we want to bring change about.
“We must change our lawless habits, our attitude to public office and public trust. We must change our unruly behaviour in schools, hospitals, market places, motor parks, on the roads, in homes and offices.
“To bring about change, we must change ourselves by being law-abiding citizens.”