The Origin And Meaning Of Rag Day In Nigerian Universities


The origin of the word “Rag” according to the Oxford English Dictionary is “an act of ragging; especially, an extensive display of noisy disorderly conduct, carried on in defiance of authority or discipline”.

Much more recently, monetary donations have been integrated into this activity. Rag Day displays have seen passers-by “ragged” until they made a donation.

In the United Kingdom, Rag Day is an activity carried out by student-run charity organisations and are widespread in the Britain. Most universities in the UK and Ireland, as well as some in the Netherlands and South Africa observe the Rag Day. The first tertiary institution to introduce the Rag Day in South Africa was the University of Pretoria in 1925. It is referred to as “The Procession” and is still carried out today.

rag day1

In some universities, Rag Activities are known as Charities Campaigns, Charity Appeals, Charity Committees, or Carnivals, but they all share many attributes.

But what does “Rag Day” mean to the Nigerian student community? Let me describe a typical Rag Day scenario in Nigeria….

If you are a lover of movies, especially the ones produced from this side of the globe (haba! Nollywood…must I say everything?), then this description should fit into one of those movies intended to make people laugh, only that this one isn’t funny at all. It starts on a very fine morning, as you walk out of your house (going in search of your daily bread, of course), and behold, you sight this group of crazy youths walking towards you, armed with metal tin cans (a.k.a. kom-kom), filled with coins which they shake as they approach you smiling and laughing.

Your first thoughts would be to run back into your room and shut the doors tight so you don’t get mobbed by these “mad” men. But just then, you realize what is actually happening. These are not mad men. They are not crazy at all. These are students from the nearby university; of course, it’s another Rag Day!

They are dressed in rags, and as you watch, you see them stop people going about their legitimate businesses and ask, beg or demand for money. They enter homes, shops, and offices with reckless abandon, begging for money. They litter the street like a bunch of zombies who have taken over the town and are trying to infect everyone (a reminder of those blockbuster zombie movies like the Evil Dead or the Return of the Living Dead) and you wonder what their driving force is.

rag day

Rag Day or Rag activities is a voluntary charity work in the form of fund-raising campaigns for the less privileged people in our society by Nigerian higher institutions.

‘Ragging’, as students like to call it in Nigeria, is usually part of the Student Union week when students, especially the newly admitted ones, adorn rags or dress in a less sensible manner and storm the streets in a bid to raise funds for charity. Over time, the concept of “charity” has been erased from the exercise as “rag day” has now become a day in which Nigerian students are “permitted” officially to extort money from the general public. Monies realized are not submitted to appropriate authorities as there are no laid out structure of ensuring that the students are accountable for the donations they have received. But how did we come to this point?

Salome Eze, a 200-level student of Accountancy in the Institute of Management Technology, Enugu recalls, “I remember when I was young and my elder siblings in the university used to tell me about rag day, emphasizing that its aim is to help the poor and needy. And then I couldn’t wait to experience it. But now, it’s just a shame that the original purpose of this event has faded away.”

Students who go out for ragging don’t do so with charity in mind anymore. Rather, they do so in a bid to enrich themselves. Even persons who are not students “join the queue” because its purpose has been defeated. It is now deemed to be a highly “lucrative” venture. That is why you see a final year student who is supposed to be in school concentrating on his academic work, out there on the streets in the name of ragging.

What is the true meaning of Rag Day? Has its original meaning been lost? Do you think its time to “take off the rags” from our tertiary institutions? Please drop your comments below.