Kunle OjeleyeWednesday, June 16, 2004
London, UK



y dear friend, Ebenezer Obadare recently wrote a piece, ''The freedom to (un)dress'' regarding the executive order by a few universities concerning dressing in their respective institutions. Whilst I agree with Ebenezer that academic ability has nothing to do with being (un)dressed, I will like to differ in regards to his conclusion that this is a "silly dress code" and the authorities of the concerned universities should "put aside the ringworm of 'correct' dressing and focus on finding a cure for the leprosy of collapse of physical infrastructure".

Before I proceed, I will like to extrapolate Ebenezer's argument by posing some questions. Why is it the norm in the Nigerian corporate world that you have to wear tie and suit despite the extremely hot weather of Nigeria, given the fact that the white man that devised the mode of dressing did so in view of the harsh cold weather of his place of origin? Does a man's wearing of a smart Yoruba 'Buba and Soro' to work removes from him his ability and competence to be a successful banker? Does a lawyer's appearance before a judge without the wig removes from his power of advocacy? Does Richard Branson's dressing to work in shirt and corduroy trousers take away from him the fact that he sits across a multi billion pounds commercial empire?

If I may tell a little story, on one of my recent trips to Nigeria, I went on an appointed visit to a friend at the headquarters of one of the oil corporations in Lagos. Because I was dressed in shirt and trousers, no tie no suit and definitely not looking rich by Nigerian standard, the receptionists did not pay any attention to my enquiries until I called my friend on his GSM number and called him by first name. That was when they all became jittery and started running around because of "oga's friend" This same scenario has repeated itself countless times in the offices of a wide number of my friends who happen either to be placed in high positions within the organisations they work for, or directly own their own companies.

In essence, the Nigerian cultural environment ascribes certain images and respect to your person based on your dressing. The liberalism of the western world and culture in which my friend currently resides is breeding a decadent society that their own leaders are aware and complaining of. It is noteworthy that even in such a society as obtains in the United Kingdom, the nouveau rich ensures that their children attain educational pursuit and goals within a structured and disciplined environment. I have schooled with a few, and I can assure you that they are the most respectful, polite and courteous set of beings despite their prejudices. Cynically, I wonder if the transferring of discipline to their children is not a way of ensuring that the political leadership class in Europe continues to sustain itself

My argument therefore is that each club, association and organisation has its own codes of ethics, conduct, dressing and administrative procedures. To aspire to membership, and to be granted one signifies your acceptance and compliance with the guiding rules and regulations of the group, and your subjection to sanctions if those rules are advertently or inadvertently violated. This is why lawyers would dare not appear before a judge without the archaic wig. It is also the reason why someone like me who likes to dress as simple as possible will not be able to work in a Nigerian corporate setting that demands I wear suit and tie whilst sweating profusely under the hot weather.

In my secondary school days, to join the boarding house, you sign up to a code of acceptable behaviour, violation of which resulted in punishments and the ultimate price of expulsion from the college. Eaton College (where Prince Williams and Harry of the British Royal family schooled) is renowned for strict code of conducts which no student dare violates without tasting the appropriate sanctions.

The individual federal institutions are not responsible for the decay of the educational infrastructures (apart from where morally bankrupt leaders have headed such institutions and embezzled academic funds and grants). Neither are they the breeders of dishonesty in our society. They are certainly not the creators of 419ers, embezzlers, armed robbers, and all the ills you can witness in the fabric of our nation.

A nation without morals can not develop nor change for the better, regardless of the state of its educational infrastructures. A nation where students sleep their way into getting high JAMB marks to get into university, and deliberately dress seductively to classes to entice lecturers to bed, so that they can effortlessly pass their exams, can only continue to produce professional prostitutes as is currently witnessed in the banking industry.

Therefore, academic institutions are like any other club or association to which you aspire for membership. They are not night clubs where you can expose all your God given endowments indecently, neither are they markets or red light districts where you can display your wares.

Any student that wants to be worthy of being identified with such institutions should be ready to pay the price that is required of him or her in all ramifications. To whom much is given in the sense of an academic identity, much is desired in the sense of strict adherence to all rules and regulations.

Kunle Ojeleye is currently a research student at Kings College London