Wigs Are An Embarrasment To African Lawyers

  • 11,Nov 2018 08:23 AM
  • By Iwedi Ojinmah

The tradition of wearing horsehair wigs, perukes, (‘a term derived from the French word perruque) and gowns by the judiciary predate the 15th Century.  In addition, then, judges were required to wear purple robes on ordinary days, and red robes in ceremonial instances and criminal matters with the possibility of a death sentence decision. After the death of the king, however, they were changed into mourning gowns of black, a change that was later adopted by all.

Sadly after half a century into the end of colonialism, courts in many parts of Africa still cling to this old English tradition. While the originators of this tradition have long abandoned it, some African jurists, including Nigerians, have written scholarly papers and given talks on why the wig and gown tradition should not be abolished in their courts.

While some African lawyers are against the wearing of wigs and gowns but they are faced with fierce opposition from legal bodies that set strict regulations. Last year, for instance, Ghana’s Chief Justice, Sophia Akuffo, cautioned lawyers in the country to wear the wigs to “preserve the tradition”.  Ironically this same country is the home of lawyer, nationalist and Pan-African culturalist, Kobena Sekyi (formerly William Esuman-Gwira Sekyi) who is famous for actively resisting European rule and cultural imperialism in the early 1900s, to the extent that he vowed never to wear European clothing again, and became the first lawyer in the then-Gold Coast colony to appear in court in a traditional African cloth.

A group of jurists in support of the colonial outfit argue that the long and short wigs worn by judges and lawyers, respectively, are symbolic to the objectivity of the law. Since the long wigs of the judges cover both ears, it is presumed that the judge’s ears are shut to both parties in the matter to prevent bias. The short wigs of the lawyers, however, imply that the lawyer listens to both parties involved. This symbolism affirms the audi alteram partem (translated to wit as ‘hear the other side’) rule of natural justice.

Is this to say that those African countries that no longer practice this obscure tradition do not understand the principles of natural justice?  Does this in any way mean that judges in those areas ’tilt’ their heads in the dispensation of justice? Certainly not. The only effect these costumes have in courts in actual sense is the heat it promises. These costumes are not favorable to the African weather. Africans often find themselves in too much heat that they do not need the help of a European costume to plant heat on their skins. We could have an endless talk on the harm these wigs and gowns could have on the brain due to the excessive heat in most African courtrooms. The adornment of the wigs and gowns does nothing to the substance of the laws. It is merely a procedural fluff.

The only thing this fancy garb does is to sequester the high and mighty from the ‘inferior’ in the courts. This is a glaring praise to colonialism, massaging the back of the very brutalities meted out to a people through segregation and classifications.

Others are of the view that this tradition retraces the history of Africans as a people. But, is it necessary that Africans wear this costume to remember their past? How do we heal our wounds if all we do every day is open them and touch their wet surfaces? Truth be told, this practice is brutish, backward, reactionary and of no significance today, and thus, should be jettisoned.

If the Nigerian judiciary wants to be taken seriously, regardless of its accomplishments in court then it is imperative that they address the issue of image and self-pride, and stop prancing around like clowns without red noses because wigs mimicking Europeans are just as bad.  Furthermore, in case you didn't notice we already have too much fake hair in Nigeria.

Culled from a face2faceafrica report by Sika-Ayiwa Afriyie Safo i


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