A direct-entry student of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State, Hafsat Ibrahim, hurriedly prepared for a test she had for 10 am. At 9 am, she left her house at Danraka, Zaria, Kaduna, however, when she was almost entering the school gate, a fellow student reminded her that she was wearing an armless gown.
Alarmed, she remembered that the school authorities recently banned wearing an armless gown on campus and as a DE student, she wasn’t just getting accustomed to the school’s rules. She completed a National Diploma in the South-West and gained admission to the university.
In October 2022, ABU released a dress code for members of the university community which included students, staff and visitors. The university banned certain hairstyles, ‘crazy’ jeans, armless clothes, and coloured sunglasses among other outfits.
The student’s predicament mirrors the current realities in many public tertiary institutions in Nigeria including private schools.
Recently, The Polytechnic, Ibadan, Oyo State, banned the use of cross bags on campus by students and other members of the school community. The school authorities noted that the ban was to expose students who carry weapons to cause harm to others.
The latest direction came after the school previously outlawed some kind dressing and stipulated sanctions on erring students.
The notice for the ban, ‘‘The Polytechnic, Ibadan, indecent dressing/posture notice to new and returning students,’’ stated that students hugging one another in the school community are liable to a semester suspension. Students using nose rings and extra rings on their ears are to be liable to a semester suspension, wearing face caps unconventionally also attracts a semester suspension while tinting of hair carries the same weight.’’
The notice added that female students wearing bum shorts and coloured braiding to school were also liable to a semester suspension among other forms of dressing banned by the school authorities.
Similarly, in 2018, the University of Ilorin, Kwara State, prohibited the use of hair attachments by female students and banned male students from wearing knickers and some spotting ‘unacceptable haircuts.’
In Kwara State, the state university in Malete, also reeled out some laws to its students in terms of dressing.
On its part, the University of Maiduguri, Borno State, also stipulated acceptable dressing for its students.
For female students, bum shorts, anklets, nose piercing, crop/jump tops, long eyelashes, transparent wear, tinted hair and multi-coloured braid among others would attract a semester suspension. Besides, dreadlocks, unconventional wearing of a face cap, and tattered jeans, among other by male students would attract a semester suspension.
In a similar vein, the Federal Polytechnic, Oko, Anambra State in 2020 also issued a dress code for students but it attracted reactions from students. The school also banned coloured braids, and tinted hair, among others for female students.
Besides, on Monday, January 23, 2022, the Lagos State University, Ojo, Lagos State, outlawed students from dressing indecently. The school banned students from sporting tinted hair, coloured braids, among others.
Many other tertiary institutions in the country also adopted similar stringent codes across the country.
A student of Kwara State University, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of sanctions, described the dressing codes as unjust and an infringement on the fundamental human right of students.
She said, “I don’t understand how using a nose ring affects the school management, or how two earrings have hindered me from learning or understanding what is being taught in class. It is a gross violation of our rights and we have to accept them because there are no alternatives.”
She urged stakeholders to take up the fight, charging students’ union leaders to have a conversation with the school to review some of the orders.
Another student of the Lagos State University, Ojo, Lagos State, who refused to give her name, stated that the rules were needless cultural enforcements by the school management.
She noted, “The school authorities need to understand that things are changing. There are some things that cannot be forced down the throats of humans. We also have the right to discern what they think is right or wrong. How has wearing of fitted clothes, sleeves rolling or wearing of face caps affect the knowledge I want to acquire. The school authorities can do better than this. These codes are too rigid.”
Speaking on the issue, the Public Relations Officer, The Polytechnic, Ibadan, Mubarak Bankole, stated that the recent ban on cross bags in the school was to avoid students who carry ammunition on campus.
He, however, noted that the ban was affecting some innocent students who only use the bag for books and other school materials.
He said, “The student union is currently working on it to ensure that cross bags are being used. But many might be subjected to searches, especially people who are suspicious of in the school community.”
His counterpart at the Kwara State University, Malete, Kwara State, Abdulbasheet Abdulsalam, said that upon securing admission, students of the school were made to swear an oath binding them to follow rules issued by the school authorities.
The National Coordinator, Education Rights Campaign, Hassan Soweto, described dress codes in the tertiary education sub-sector as a contravention of the tradition of a tertiary institution system.
He said, “Higher institutions are meant to be universalising institutes that bring together skills, knowledge and ideas from different areas regardless of boundaries and territories. That is the idea of a university. What it means is that for schools to have dress codes for such an institute that brings together different people, it is self-anachronistic and contradictory.
“What then determines the policy of the dress codes, the idea of that is to serve a purpose of philosophy and culture, and as a Yoruba, Igbo or European, there is an idea of dressing depending on the cultures. If in a university system, there are now codes of conduct and dressing allowed, who determines these codes and and in obedience to which culture or philosophy? Considering that a tertiary system is supposed to be universal.”
Soweto stated that the idea of a dress code was a violation of the principles of the tertiary education system.
He added, “It is in contravention of the rights and privileges of the youths and students who are adults under the constitution. The constitution guarantees the right to the dignity of the human person for every Nigerian citizen, especially those who are 18 years and above. What that means is that codes by universities, colleges and polytechnics are against the section of the constitution which guarantees the dignity of the human person.”
He further said that based on the foregoing, the dress codes in varsities were illegal.
Commenting, a human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, noted that the regulations were ridiculous and a needless overbearing on the part of the school authorities.
He noted, “These students are adults, which means they have the right to make decisions regarding what they are supposed to wear. There are specialised courses such as Law, Nursing, Medical Sciences and others where there are established dress codes due to the profession. Apart from these, I find these regulations petty and an infringement on the rights of the students. I can’t find any justification for that.”
He stated that the regulations were needless moral cost, noting that in the western world, emphasis was not on those petty things but on the quality of education which was what the tertiary institutions in the country should focus on.
Effiong said, “Students are meant to go to varsities to research. They are meant to be a universal place of learning and knowledge acquisition. There should be allowance for the conceptualisation of dressing. When you begin to tie the hands of your students on how they can express themselves, it becomes a departure of what a tertiary institution is supposed to be. It’s not called a tertiary institution for nothing. It’s not primary, secondary school or kindergarten.
‘‘An adult is supposed to be able to make a choice on what they want to wear provided the dressing is not overly provocative. Of course, we are not saying indecent dressing should be tolerated, but what we call indecent is also relative. A public varsity has no business in how a student’s hair should be. It’s not the business of a lecturer because when you go to the schools, you’ll see lecturers who keep long beards.
“Do lecturers have dress codes? It is absolutely nonsensical to me. If a university is going to have a dress code, that should apply to Vice-Chancellors, Deans, Head of Departments, lecturers and non-academic staff of the schools. If a dress code would be issued, it has to be for everyone.’’
Effiong noted that when students were being targeted on how to dress under the guise of moulding characters, it was tantamount to an affront and a distraction of what a tertiary institution should be.
“Schools are supposed to be paying attention to research and poor quality of education that students are receiving. It looks like many of them are hiding under the cards of moral tutelage to distract attention from their failure to impact qualitative knowledge and research,” he said.
Speaking on the issue, National President, Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, Anderson Ezeibe, said that the union was not aware of such regulations being rolled out in some polytechnics.
He said, “Well, I would not know the background to some of the regulations because each institution has its own peculiarities, and experiences which give birth to such regulations.”
He noted that such codes infringed on the students’ right to dignity as enshrined in the constitution.
Ezeibe stated, “If your right is such that it will endanger the security of another like what we have in The Polytechnic, Ibadan, then the regulations can matter.’’
He urged the Students’ Union Government in tertiary institutions to engage the school authorities for both parties to resolve the issues provoking such moral codes.
He added, “From some of the regulations you have described, some of the sanctions can be seen to be extreme and in certain instances, it is something that the Students’ Union Government should be able to iron out with the management.
“The students have their representatives and as an organised body, it is for them to have an engagement with the school authorities on such issues. If there are areas students are not comfortable with, they should be able to sort it out with their management.”
Efforts to get the reaction of the Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission, Prof Abubakar Rasheed, were not successful.
He neither responded to calls made to his mobile nor replied to a text message sent as of the time this report was filed.