Student takes on Faculty of Law over Dress Code at the University of Lagos in Nigeria

Special Correspondent

Nile Journal brings to you this remarkable and revealing conversation in which a Lagos University student accused of flouting college regulations on dress code and threatened with expulsion takes the Faculty head on. The encounter left the head of department (HOD) reeling. We must admit his had to be the strangest college department in the world; the department of Dress Code.

HOD: You’re Ayo Sogunro, with matriculation number 010601253, currently in your 400 level, (pauses expecting a response and getting none) will you answer me please?

Ayo: Oh, I thought you were making a statement and not asking a question. In any case you’re right sir, that’s my name, matriculation number and level.

HOD: (Frowning) Reports have reached my office that you consistently refuse to comply with the regulation dress code, and this is despite several warnings to you from the officers of this department.

Ayo: That’s correct sir.

HOD: And that your attitude has, among other things, led to your being dismissed from several classes, thereby disturbing the said classes and distracting the lecturers. That your conduct has encouraged jounior students to wear casual clothing and that, not least of all, you dared to wear non-regulation dress at official functions involving this faculty including a wake service for a former dean of the faculty where your informal dressing disturbed the uniformity of law students present and caused the faculty great embarrassment.

Ayo: Why, I didn’t realize I was that notorious.

HOD: Well as you know, this department was created to monitor student compliance with dress code regulations in the faculty, and anybody found wanting will have jeopardized their chances of being admitted to the Law School, or in extreme cases, will have their admission terminated. But according to administrative requirements, before we impose disciplinary action, an affected student will be given a hearing. In the paper before me, you have been charged with insubordination to faculty regulations and gross misconduct. It is within my powers to recommend you to face the Panel for Dress Code Enforcement. But I will give you the opportunity of stating to me why my department should not bring you before the panel. You may have your statement taken orally right away in a recorded session, or you may deliver it in writing within 24 hours. Which do you prefer?

Ayo: I prefer to have it oral and have it done now.

HOD: Good, let’s get it over and done with. Now, why do you refuse compliance with the dress code requirements, do you have an aversion for formal dressing?

Ayo: No, I do not have an aversion for formal dressing; I just don’t like the idea of wearing formal dress almost every day of my student life. But that is not the reason why I do not dress in the white and black dress code requirement. I refuse the regulation dress because the very nature of it is contrary to the study of law and in fact, other disciplines. It is alright for lawyers who choose to practice the law in law courts to dress formally, but to restrict people who study law to wearing a particular kind of dress on the basis that the restriction will enable them become good lawyers is not only absurd but cruel.

HOD: What, don’t you want to be a good lawyer, is that cruel?

Ayo: First, not everybody who studies law intends to practice law. Some study law for the pleasure of it. I venture to say that less than half of those who study law will eventually practice it. To impose a dress code on all students because 20% of those students are going to be using it is absurd. The study of any discipline requires the freedom of the mind, and the unshackling of thought; now freedom of thought and censorship of expression are concepts which do not go hand in hand.

Students whose expression has been curtailed will find it hard to free their minds. The ultimate form of thought is action and where there is no possibility for action there will be less need for thought. You will notice that it is those students who comply the most with the regulation dress that also comply the most with everything the lecturer says, whether sensible or not. Ultimately these become the kind of citizens who comply mindlessly with irresponsible politics without challenging them. This conformity is what is destroying our country.

HOD: Stop there, young man. Are you so concerned with your unproved theories that you forget practical issues? One of the duties of the university is to turn out morally sound students. Will you have future leaders of this great country go around in leather miniskirts and spaghetti tops?

Ayo: If they are comfortable dressing in leathers and spaghetti, yes. You cannot force people to behave the way you want when their own nature rebels against it. It is said that a person forced against his will is of the same opinion still. Applying this to university students; if we continue this way, at the end of the day what you will produce will be a lot of rogues in gentlemen’s clothing, a factor which explains why despite centuries of decent formal dressing, lawyers are held in contempt and disregard in the western world.

But if you allow every student to dress according to their desires, not only will you be allowing freedom of expression, you also will be inevitably separating the wheat from the chaff. Students who are naturally inclined to a sense of decency which the law upholds will be noticed, and those who are not will be noticed as well.

Sir, without disrespect, you will notice that you said miniskirts and spaghetti tops. Sir your statement shows the direction of this whole dress code idea. It is anti-female. It is not an embarrassment if as intellectuals we still see women first as sex objects. Because it is only a person who sees a woman as nothing but a sex tool whose attention is immediately drawn to the way she is dressed. A cultured person does not judge a woman’s character by the dress she wears, nor is it the first thing he appreciates about her. Few lecturers will be uncomfortable if male students turn up in body fitting jeans. But let a female student do it and you will begin to see frowns and talk of Dress Code.

HOD: Are you insulting the lecturers of this faculty, are you disregarding tradition?

Ayo: I am sorry if I’ve said anything wrong. But the point is that the most compliant lecturers do not necessarily make the best teachers. I dare say the less sure of themselves lecturers are, the more attention they give to the way they look.

And anyway, I don’t believe in being traditional, I only believe in being rational.

HOD: Don’t be funny. And anyway, you have not convinced me, I am sorry to say. That means you will have to face the disciplinary panel. And from what I know, you stand little chance of escaping. By the way, isn’t it easier to just wear the blasted white and black than be in this mess? What does it cost you?

Ayo: Thanks for your concern sir, but I only wear white and black when reason dictates I do so, in other words when the regulation of the faculty coincides with my own rationale. I will not surrender my ideas merely because a panel thinks they are wrong.

HOD: In that case, this meeting is over, you can go, and await the letter summoning you before the panel.