The dress code, which is to take effect from Monday, February 10, stipulates that all customers at the commission’s premises to transact business must be corporately and decently dressed from Monday to Thursday of every week.
The spokesperson of the commission, Laraba Sharibu, said the directive was to caution lawyers on how to dress while coming to the commission for business.
“What we discovered is that when lawyers come to transact business in the commission, some of them dress shabbily, in the sense that they wear torn jeans, mini, bumshorts, they don’t dress properly.
“When you dress properly, it is either you are in full traditional wear or you are wearing maybe a trouser and a shirt tucked, that is what we expect of them,” she said.
Mrs Sharibu said the law which has been in existence before now, is not targeted at women alone, she said men also dress indecently to the commission.
“No lawyer will go to the court premises, irrespective of if they are appearing before a judge or not, in three-quarter pants or ripped jeans.
“As a corporate lawyer, you never can tell where you meet your clients, some of them meet their clients here in our premises,” he said.
Earlier this year, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Garba Abubakar as the new Registrar General of the commission.
Mr Abubakar is a lawyer and a former special adviser to Bello Mahmud, the then Registrar General of CAC between August 2010 to October 2017.
The sudden enforcement of the law after years of being in existence is said to be a directive from the new management.
In 2017, the commission introduced online registration for businesses. This is said to be more convenient, simplified and fast as it takes 48hours.
Mrs Sharibu said the registration process has helped a lot in curbing corruption as money is not received in cash, and there has been less complaint about fraud between staff and clients.
“With the registration, we have tackled the pre, we are looking at the post, which will be online and now there is a new administration in place and we are waiting to see what his agenda will be.”
Commenting on the new directive, a legal practitioner, Kenms Akwarandu, said the law may be to differentiate the accredited agents at the commission from the touts that lurk around the premises.
Mr Akwarandu, who was seen dressed corporately in a suit after he came out of the premises, said, “It may be a way to differentiate those who are called to practice and those who are touting, that’s why there is an accreditation card for lawyers, chartered secretaries, and qualified accountants.”
“Whoever gave that instruction, gave it to be able to separate the wheat from the tares. If you must practice, be professional enough to dress decently.”
He said the freedom of expression has nothing to do with dressing, and the dress code is professional etiquette.
Also, a female lawyer who pleaded to speak on anonymity supported the introduction of the code.
“I believe that CAC as an organisation has the ultimate right to make policies to regulate the conduct of its business, including the dress code of customers coming to transact business within its premises.
“So if you are a customer coming to do business at the CAC, you are bound by the rules and regulations of CAC,” she said.
Shrinking of civil space
However, a legal practitioner and rights activist, Mbasekei Obono, had a different view of the directive. He said it is a move by government to shrink the civic space.
“Freedom of expression doesn’t stop at what you say, it looks at how you are dressed, how to express yourself in various ways, people express themselves in different ways.
“This is the problem with this administration, they are constantly doing everything humanly possible to clamp down on expression and expression is key to a democratic government.
“You cannot stop people from expressing themselves. This government needs to stop shrinking the civic space,” he said.
He said in as much as the commission is a corporate entity and no one is expected to dress shabbily to its premises, the commission is not visited by legal practitioners alone.
He said an artist that is trying to project his work through his dressing may decide to go to the commission and will be seen as not corporately dressed.
“The law already lifted the part where the commission is visited by lawyers alone, every other person can register a business as far as you are registered with the CAC. So it is not an issue of how lawyers should dress, it’s just about everyone.
“The fact that you are a lawyer doesn’t mean you can not express yourself. Just like every other person, lawyers can express themselves in any way they are comfortable with.”
He said the directive contravenes section 4 which is right of the dignity of the human person.
“I have a right to my dignity, so you can’t judge me based on how I am dressed as in section 35 of the constitution, which is right to personal liberty.”