Universities are established for learning and the search for truth. The vitality of Nigerian universities came under threat long ago and the threat is now existential. Our institutions of learning are no longer spaces for contesting ideas, seeking and learning the truth, but a coliseum for gladiators to struggle for control and power.


Beverley Marian McLachlin, the Canadian jurist and author, described freedom of expression as the “the indispensable condition of nearly every other freedom.” The Ahmadu Bello University (ABU)’s sartorial expectations of its students, as spelt out in the picture above signposts Nigeria’s preference for the trivial over the serious and the tendency to let leprosy fester, while curing ringworm. For the most part, students are essentially adults on entering the university. What is the fuzz over their dressing? Being an adult means being capable of making one’s own decisions and learning from one’s mistakes. Why the interference on what students wear?

Legislating a dress code within the university environment is a slap on the face of an individual’s right to freedom and expression. The age of youth is a phase of discovery, experimentation, expression and identity creation. It is shameful that an academic institution, where psychology and sociology are taught, has little, if any, appreciation of discovery, experimentation, expression and creativity as vital steps to cognitive development and innovation. It is unfortunate that we stifle the ability of our young people to be original, we set them up for rote learning, tamper with their critical thinking skills and turn around to blame them for being lazy and unimaginative. If you trust young adults enough to grant them voting rights, how come you can’t trust them to make their own personal decisions, make their own mistakes and learn from them?

Of course, we know that the way you dress is a sign of what you think and believe about yourself and your place in the world. Personal expression through dressing remains in the province of upbringing and norms established by the family unit. Once one gets into adulthood, the freedom to choose what to wear and the image to project is supremely personal and important for a person’s mental well-being. It is a shame that the issue of what kind of dressing is appropriate in public often degenerates into a row about public decency, without the examination of the underlying hypocrisy of the religious and cultural police. We all wear clothes to project our dignity. We should leave people to decide what their definition of dignity in dressing is. For every season in human development, people dress differently and evolve. The youth dress in their own way and evolve. They give expression to the feelings of those turbulent years through their dressing. We should stop demonising young people and focus on our real problems.

What on earth is going on in our universities? The university is a space for learning, for debate, for discussion, for collaboration and for discovery. Academic institutions like ABU must understand the freedom of expression as an “indispensable condition” for growth and excellence.


It beats sound reasoning that a public academic institution funded by money from secular sources actively seeks to model itself as a religious institution. It speaks to the level of mediocrity within ABU that those who crafted the Sartorial Commandments did not know that pants whose length are between the knee and the ankle are called capris. The Sartorial Commandments should have provoked laughter, were it not absurdly silly.

What on earth is going on in our universities? The university is a space for learning, for debate, for discussion, for collaboration and for discovery. Academic institutions like ABU must understand the freedom of expression as an “indispensable condition” for growth and excellence. The idea of a university is totally dependent on the freedom of expression. All over the world, the university has always given everyone the environment to thrive and come up with great ideas, innovation and discovery, not minding their appearances nor beliefs. The university has always been the place where individual creativity sometimes contests the boundaries of acceptance. That is why it is confounding that an institution of ABU’s standing is seeking to legislate how an individual should appear. A thorough examination of the Sartorial Commandments shows a kind of intolerance that can spill over to limit academic freedom. The commandments endorse and affirm a kind of dressing and seeks to suppress or prohibit some kind of dressing deemed immoral by its morality police.

Within the university community, lecturers and administrators are expected to be disciplined, determined, patient and engaging. It should reward intellectual hard work and original thinking. Unfortunately, the rot in the larger society has taken firm root within the academic community.


Universities are established for learning and the search for truth. The vitality of Nigerian universities came under threat long ago and the threat is now existential. Our institutions of learning are no longer spaces for contesting ideas, seeking and learning the truth, but a coliseum for gladiators to struggle for control and power. For what it is worth, the tensions playing out in our intellectual spaces is deliberate and organised. The attack on the freedom of expression is designed to give cover to intellectual laziness.

Within the university community, lecturers and administrators are expected to be disciplined, determined, patient and engaging. It should reward intellectual hard work and original thinking. Unfortunately, the rot in the larger society has taken firm root within the academic community. Frequently, the intellectual space rates emotions over intellect and places denunciation over argument. Is this normal? It is not. Nigerians should call out these anomalies. Shall we tell the administrators of ABU to elevate intellectual rigour over Sartorial Commandments? Shall we? Please!

Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú a farmer, youth advocate and political analyst writes this weekly column, “Bamidele Upfront” for PREMIUM TIMES. Follow me on Twitter @olufunmilayo