In Motor Haram at Ojukwu University, Chido Nwakanma asks several questions about university decisions to summarily ban indecent dressing
Nigerian universities have reverted to dogma and diktat to tackle the age-old challenge of youth restiveness. Youth restiveness is one of the foremost challenges of every generation and society. When it becomes endemic, communities look to their citadels of learning for profound responses.
Please look up current rules by the University of Maiduguri in the North East and the Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University in the South-East. We will interrogate the response of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University (COOU) since it falls within the coverage area of EnuguMetro.Com.
Ojukwu University rolled out on 20 January 2023 a memo on the “Prohibition of indecent dressing in the university”. University Registrar Chris Obi signed the memorandum, which stated: “The Vice-Chancellor has observed, with dismay, the spate of indecent dressing with the attendant adverse effects in the university and consequently directed as follows:
- Indecent dressing is prohibited in the university with immediate effect.
- No female student should come into our university with a miniskirt, show belly, show breast, show buttocks, or show lap dresses. Sagging trousers and show-chest shirts among male students are equally prohibited.
- No student is allowed to come into our university with (a) car.
- The above prohibitions are with immediate effect. Any student who contravenes the directives on the above-listed socially abhorred behaviours will be suspended from the university for one semester. “The security personnel and the staff of the Students Affairs are hereby authorised to enforce the above directives by the Vice Chancellor. “A stitch in time saves nine.”
Note how the memo hacked back to our recent history with military rulers in its language use, declaring that the directives are “with immediate effect”. It raises many questions, including whether it was the collective decision of the University Council or that of the VC and his Registrar. The question assumes that COOU practices collegial decision-making.
Note further how the memo moved from concern with decency in fashion to banning the use of cars.”No student is allowed to come into our university with car,” Mr Vice Chancellor decreed.
Some background is necessary before we examine the directive. Ojukwu University is multi-campus with sites at Uli, Igbariam and Awka. COOU does not feature in the Top 20 state universities in Nigeria. It ranks number 72 in Nigeria and 8499 globally, according to the Webometrics ranking 2022.
Chief Uche Nworah, the immediate past MD of Anambra Broadcasting Service and a recent PhD laureate of the institution, shared the memo on Facebook. Responses included those who felt it was appropriate to deal with the excesses of the young, those who wondered how students would move about on the campuses and cynics who declared that the prohibition on cars seeks to promote poverty!
Indecent dressing is dressing that exposes parts of the body that ordinarily require covering, such as breasts, chests, buttocks, or inner wears. People consider such dressing particularly by females as provocative.
The memo is worth further interrogation. What is Ojukwu University’s theory of change with this proclamation? The theory of change, developed by the United Nations, is “a method that explains how a given intervention or a set of interventions lead to a specific development change drawing on causal analysis based on available evidence.”
Research lists peer pressure, foreign influence, poor parenting, crumbling societal values and the effect of the Internet/social media among factors propelling indecent dressing. Nigerian law frowns at indecent exposure in Section 26 of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act. It states that “A person who intentionally exposes his or her genital organs, or a substantial part thereof, with the intention of causing distress to the other party or that another person seeing it may be tempted or induced to commit an offence under this Act, commits an offence termed ‘indecent exposure’.”
We must empathise with university managements across the country as they grapple with the challenge. A scholar observes that “indecent dressing and unruly behaviour are threatening conducive environment for learning. It is not peculiar to COOU which also has challenge of insecurity in its two campuses. The directives may appear harsh but remember what Eneke the bird said about hunters?”
The issue then is how should universities tackle the obvious challenge that current dressing modes pose? How should they communicate decisions to tackle the challenge?
Since COOU is a centre of knowledge, should we assume that the policy drew from evidence about the causes and effects of indecent dressing? What is the challenge, and what are the expected deliverables of this intervention?
What informed the ban on cars, or is their presence also “indecent”? Why did Ojukwu University not extend it to bicycles, motorcycles and kekes? What is the essence of the Motor Haram at Ojukwu University? Security or decency?
Universities pursue three primary goals of teaching, research and community development. Increasingly, research trumps and constitutes a core element of the rankings. How will these regulations enhance the standing of Ojukwu University in the rankings by the National Universities Commission and Webometrics, among others? Will it promote research or enhance teaching and the contributions of the university, faculty and students to the development of their immediate communities of Uli, Igbariam and Awka?
Bans and prohibitions are the preferred response to the challenge of youthful exuberance in dressing on campuses in Nigeria. Religious-based private universities started it. In their case, they had a philosophical orientation or ideological basis for the action. Pray, what is the ideological basis for the Ojukwu University prohibition? How long with it last, say, for the ban on cars on campus? Will they replace cars with bicycles or horses?
What level of appreciation of challenges does the Ojukwu University response showcase?
What is the ideological foundation for the dress code at Ojukwu University? There is usually an ideological or cultural mooring for dressing. For instance, a university with religious bent states, “Our dress code intends to honour Christ in the appearance of the students in modesty, appropriateness, and neatness.” On what does Ojukwu University peg its dress policy?
There is also the critical matter of motivation for change. Targets of change need a motivation such as a higher ideal or expected future reward to embark on change. A need to belong, to identify with the norms of the day in fashion and other areas informs students’s dressing. What does Ojukwu University offer in exchange? There does not seem to be any.
Ojukwu University should consider a second take on this policy. It should be consultative and involve all stakeholders. They may unlock the code to the challenge of not merely indecent dressing but the malaise afflicting today’s youth. Everyone will benefit from such an evidence-based policy.