In search of dress code for Nigerian undergraduates
On a sunny afternoon, walking from their hostel to lecture hall, a bevvy of ladies in skimpy skirts and tight-fitting tops walked across the quadrangle, expectedly, some heads followed them
Seated at the quadrangle was a young lady whose dressing was making it difficult for others to pay attention to a conversation. The conversation is age-old; that indecent dressing is the cause of sexual harassment on campuses.
There are no empirical facts to support that, as reports also show that some randy lecturers in higher institutions often prefer to go for well-dressed, vulnerable female students.
Yet, the crisis – though often seen as a female problem – of indecent dressing is not something Nigerian universities are taking lying down. Male students have also been guilty by their sloppy, indecorous dress and grooming.
It is against this backdrop that some institutions put in place a dress code for their students.
In many universities across Nigeria, there are certain dress types that are prohibited by the school authorities and not to be worn within the school premises.
Since the early 2000s when most of the institutions launched a crusade against indecent dressing, it has remained an integral part of the code for every school that desires to produce graduates who have qualified ‘both in character and learning.’
And with the advent of private, especially faith-based universities, the bar of the crusade against indecent dressing has been raised.
Private universities are making a success of enforcing dress codes on their students. Upon admission, prospective students are usually made to sign an undertaking to follow the rules respecting dress and grooming; what to wear and when to wear it.
Lagos State University (LASU) had warned against wearing transparent mini and skimpy skirts or dresses, and other clothes revealing sensitive parts of the body, wearing tattered dirty jeans with holes, wearing baggy, saggy, “ass level” and over length trousers, wearing tight-fitting apparels that reveal body shape and contours of the body.
It further added: “No wearing of T-Shirts and tops with obscene, obnoxious or seductive inscription, no wearing of loose tie, folding, holding and pocketing of ties. Also, no wearing shirt without buttons, or not properly buttoned, rolling of sleeves or flying collar, wearing of face caps or complete covering of the face, piercing of body and tattooing, wearing of earrings by male students, wearing of a nose ring, very big dropping earrings and necklaces by female students, wearing of distractive knocking shoes like stiletto heels to lecture rooms and the library is frowned on and students may be denied admittance to such places.
” Also, plaiting weaving, bonding of hair by male students, knickers, tight shorts and slacks are allowed only for sports, wearing of slippers is not allowed, wearing of lousy, unkempt, extremely bogus hair or artificial hair.”
In Bayelsa State-owned Niger Delta University (NDU), Amassoma, students’ uniform has been introduced on campus. The vice-chancellor, Prof. Samuel Edoumiekumo, told the students to pay for uniforms that would be supplied by the institution.
While the students’ bodies initially resisted the directive, the school insisted that the move was to fight indecent dressing and its effect on society.
Many young people who leave their homes for the university believe they are free from control and at liberty to dress freely. On some campuses, the security men, turn them back. These, no doubt, led to the introduction of uniforms.
In Abia State University (ABSU), students are barred from wearing skin-tight clothes, sagging trousers, dresses with plunging cleavage and the so-called ‘spaghetti’ sleeveless top. Similarly, leggings and other fitted trousers are not allowed on campus, as well as skirts that do not reach down the knees.
At Crescent University, Abeokuta, Ogun State, the Proprietor’s Prize, which is the number one prize during the convocation, go to ‘The most well-behaved student’ – and ability to maintain decent dressing throughout the years of study in the university is a part of this.
Citing reasons ranging from safety to educational benefits, culture and values, several African universities have adopted dress codes for students or are strengthening existing codes. Among African institutions in the news for their dress code is Zambeze University in Mozambique. According to an online news report, the university had, as part of its updated dress code policy, banned dreadlocks, sandals, shorts and tight dresses from being worn by students.
While not being specific, a code calling for students to “dress decently” and “respect the institution and its values” is in place at Morocco’s Al Akhawayn University. Egypt’s University of Science and Technology calls for students to dress in “a dignified manner” in clothing that is “appropriate to the academic setting and Egyptian culture.”
There are however dissenting voices on the propriety or otherwise of the decision. While some argued that as adults, undergraduates should be allowed to wear whatever they feel like putting on, others noted that higher institutions of learning in Nigeria are facing challenges associated with indecent dressing among undergraduates on campuses.
Public analyst, Monday Williams, said students have a moral responsibility to dress appropriately. “I think students should dress properly, decently and responsibly. It is not proper to see a female student exposing all or part of her body, which ought to be private, inside the classroom or a male student going to the class as a university undergraduate wearing earrings and trousers, which barely cover his buttocks.
“The university should be a place to mould character, where responsible behaviour is inculcated. In the end, these students will graduate to become ambassadors of these institutions of higher learning. So, when we say somebody is a graduate, it is not just because of the certificate. He is expected to have some moral and responsible conduct attached to his degree,” Williams said.
He added: “There is nothing wrong with the prescription of dress code for university students to stem the increasing rag culture and indecent dressing by some undergraduates.”
A lecturer, Abechi Ikpeme, who teaches in one of the northern tertiary institutions, said the introduction of a dress code for university students is a welcome development. To him, schools at all levels should inculcate sound morals in young children and adults alike.
“For me, this should form part of the process of teaching and learning. This is particularly true for our tertiary institutions where the mode of dressing among our young women has fast degenerated into a contest of near nudity. You will see girls wearing clothes, which barely cover their nakedness. Some of them copy wrongly from foreign cultures. Some of the clothes they wear are clothes music stars wear on stage during performances but our young women wear such clothes to attend lectures.
“The young men are not left out, you see a young man wearing trousers, which barely cover his underwear all in the name of fashion. This should not be allowed to continue if we are genuinely interested in building future leaders. I will advise authorities of institutions of higher learning to enforce dress codes as part of the learning process. Learning begins with the observance of little laws and conventions, our society will have no future if we don’t pay attention to these little details.”
But not everyone thinks it is a good idea for institutions to determine a dress code for students. For Tony Lawson, an educationist, a university environment should not be regimented because that can be detrimental to the liberal thoughts and concepts such institutions stand for.
He said: “It is not right for authorities of universities to prescribe dress codes for students. That is absurd. It is also demeaning to the status of the students who are being prepared for future leadership roles. According to the admission regulations set by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), an applicant is expected to be at least 16 years old by October 1 of the year of admission. What this means is that a student coming into the university is expected to be mature enough to take responsibility for his or her actions. So, if they are still ordered around or certain norms are imposed on them against their will, it means they are still not ripe enough to be responsible for their actions.”
Among students themselves, opinions understandably vary. From Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago Iwoye, Dayo Ogunjobi, a 200-level student of Sociology, said: “undergraduates are old enough to take care of their appearances on campus but they must act appropriately.
Gbemisola Ogunyemi, a 300-level student of the University of Ilorin (UNILORIN) said introducing uniforms in tertiary institutions are “primitive” and not a panacea to indecent dressing.
Ayomide Awoyokun, also of OOU, said while it is true that every school battles indecent dressing among students, such should not result in making them wear school uniforms.
On his part, Efetobore Akpa, faulted the idea of compelling undergraduates to wear school uniforms. On the contrary, he said authorities of the different institutions should give directives through Deans of Faculties or Heads of departments, stating acceptable dress codes and penalties for erring students.
For Akinwale Olusegun, of Tai Solarin University of Education, Ijebu Ode, a flexible dress code that respects students’ freedom and right to choose their clothes could be good to prepare them for professional life.
Olusegun said while the adoption of dress codes in primary and secondary schools is understandable, there is no justification for the same in tertiary institutions.
“A pupil in the basic or secondary school level is seen as just a ‘child’ whose every action has to be monitored and regulated at every turn because he is passing through the formative years of his or her life. But a ‘student’ in the university, however, is deemed to have attained a level of maturity, who is able to make decisions on his own.”