If the amiable Prof Mkpa A. Mkpa, Vice Chancellor of Abia State University, Uturu, has his way, he would move his office from the top floor of the Administrative Block of the university to the popular Ugba Junction on the busy Okigwe –Afikpo Road intersection to enforce, with a whip in his hand, what, to him, is a very dear code: Ensure that no student wearing a faded jeans comes near the gates of the university, how much more enter the lecture rooms.
Does that sound incredible? This, actually, is what is happening in the hilly university, popularly referred to as ABSU, where its authorities, perhaps for lack of what to do, have given themselves a thankless task of enforcing an obnoxious dress code on the students.
Prof Mkpa, who for many years was the university’s orator, shocked the new and old students the other day when he reeled out a set of dress code, reminiscent of the famed Babylonian king, Hammurabi.
King Hammurabi, widely reputed to be the ruler who established the greatness of Babylon, the world’s first metropolis, (the relics of whose reign ([1795-1750 BC]) have since been preserved), is remarkable for his code of laws, the earliest-known example of a ruler proclaiming publicly to his people an entire body of laws, arranged in orderly groups, so that all men might read and know what was required of them.
The code, among other things, regulates in clear and definite strokes the organization of society such that it stresses that “The judge who blunders in a law case is to be expelled from his judgeship forever, and heavily fined. The witness who testifies falsely is to be slain”. Indeed, all the heavier crimes were made punishable by death. Even if a man built a house badly, and it fell and killed the owner, the builder was to be slain. If the owner’s son was killed, then the builder’s son was slain!
In the tradition of Hammurabi, Prof Mkpa, while addressing new students during the university’s 28th matriculation ceremony recently, declared that the university would no longer condone “indecent dressing” from the students and warned that those caught violating this evidently obnoxious regulation “would be dealt with in line with the decision already taken by the school’s senate”.
According to reports, some of the modes of dressing that would attract the sanctions of the university authorities include faded jeans trousers, baggy trousers as well tight fitting trousers and blouses.
Not done with the draconian regulation, the vice chancellor further warned the students that the “Senate has also outlawed all mini-gowns and skirts, trousers and blouses with unusual slits at very odd angles”. Pray, how did the authorities get to concern itself so much about “unusual slits at odd angles” of the dresses of (female) students at a time most of the students do not even have adequate hostels, classrooms or even seats to sit on while receiving lectures? I dare add that if all a university senate could be worried about in the midst of these mounting challenges hobbling effective learning and teaching is “mini-gowns and skirts” of students, then it is not worth the name! And, like someone else opined in an internet discussion forum, the university’s senate must be extremely idle to sit over such a trivial issue.
But, to drive home its point and make it known to every Okeke, Okorie and Okafor that it was not kidding in any way in its attempt to chase shadows while leaving, as they say, the more weightier matters, the university went a notch higher by declaring that “We prohibit male students swaggering in atrocious, faded, baggy jean trousers that hang precariously at the brink of the buttocks, suspended by hands in the pocket and revealing the inner- often not clean boxer pants- all reminiscent of famished condemned Iraqi prisoners of war awaiting possible execution”.
As laughable as this seems, it never ceases to amaze one how a serious university could be bothered by such base things as the “atrocious swaggering”, whatever that means, of its “male students” in a community known for liberalism. And, for crying out aloud, how does a university arrogate to itself the powers to ascertain the “cleanliness” of the “boxer pants” worn by its adult students? If this is not a blanket insult, then it means the word “insult” has a different meaning entirely, which is lost to me
Besides, as if it was referring to high school students, the university went for the kill by declaring that “befitting blazers, neckties for males and scarfs for women, all in University primary colours have been approved for the use of the students. While the neckties were already in use, the other ones would be available soon.” So, what every student must do at the beginning of every session is to queue up behind approved shops, obviously owned by university officials, to procure “befitting blazers, neckties and scarfs”? And, did I hear somebody say “university primary colours” for adult students?
As noted earlier, it is lamentable that instead of focusing on the quality of the teaching, research and learning it offers its students, which over the years have gone down going by the recent ranking of Nigerian universities by the National Universities Commission (NUC), ensure improved access to books as well as improved infrastructure and basic furniture and accommodation for the students, the authorities are worried about baggy jeans!. And, how the university came about the thought that prescribing a dress code would eventuate high academic performance is hazy and beggars belief.
It sure makes no sense for a university to insist that students wear neckties and blazers to lectures in a tropical environment where the buildings lack functional air conditioning system, and in some cases no windows. Will these uniforms be subsidised, or do you expect students to pay for tuition, food, accommodation and then add other expenses? Obviously, this makes sense for elementary school children, and never for adults in a university.
The difficulty in enforcing this code notwithstanding, obviously lost on the authorities, it is instructive that the university did not consult the students body before unleashing the dragon, sorry the dress code. It is therefore left to be imagined what their reactions would be when the authorities embark on the enforcement of the ill-advised and ill-conceived dress code without triggering tension and crisis on campus.
However, if the authorities are bent on a code, it should be for its lecturers and officials who extort students and everyone alike who have had anything to do with the university, ranging from collection of certificates, transcripts to submission of course forms. But should they insist on having their way, the relevant students body should mobilise the entire students to challenge the effort appropriately given that the code is evidently a violation of their fundamental human rights. This way, it would be made known that a university is not a place where every manner of rule is unleashed without due consideration.
This is calling, therefore, on Prof Mkpa to discard the dress code and face squarely the challenges of administering the university as he has been doing because he would be remembered more by the quality of teaching and learning he bequeaths the university than the restrictions he imposes on the students.