By Sonnie Ekwowusi
Obviously disturbed by the increasing reign of the culture of nudity in public life in Lagos State, the Lagos State government, which has been in the frontline of innovative legislation in Nigeria, has recently issued a circular directing all public servants in Lagos State to desist from wearing all forms of indecent dresses that reveal or expose the sensitive parts of the female body. According to the circular, if female public servants are bent on wearing trousers to the office, such trousers must not be tight and must not reveal any sensitive part of their body and must be worn with a jacket.
The government has also designed a new dress code for male public servants. Henceforth, male administrative officers must wear suit and tie to the office, while other officers must wear suit and tie or French suit to the office. The junior and clerical staff, it is said, must wear shirts and trousers and French suit while complete native wear is allowed for all cadres of public servants. I understand that the essence of these dress codes is to tackle the worsening cases of indecent dressing in Lagos State which is bringing bad name to the Centre of Excellence called Lagos State.
As usual, this new Lagos State dress codes have been eliciting public commentaries. For example, while endorsing the dress codes in its editorial entitled, Decency is just that: Decent (Sunday, March 9 2014), The Guardian Newspaper stated, inter alia, that beauty should not be expressed with nudity. I concur with The Guardian Newspaper. Nakedness is not a virtue. Indecent exposure of the sensitive parts of one’s body to the four winds is simply stupidity. Disturbed by this, churches, The Law School, Universities, banks etc are now fashioning out various dress codes capable of enhancing the dignity of the human person. A few years ago, Senators Eme Ufot Ekaete, Ikechukwu Obiora and others, sponsored a Bill at the Senate to Prohibit and Punish Public Nudity, Sexual Intimidation and Related Offences in Nigeria” otherwise called Indecent Dressing Bill or Indecent Exposure Bill.
The truth of the matter is that in the last fifteen years or so, the lowest common denominator of acceptable character in public life in Nigeria has grown much lower. Gradually we are building a country of people who may be materially- rich but lack character. Ordinarily, men and women in our public offices who are supposed to be dressing properly to work now dress like prostitutes to work. Just take a studied look around you. What are the spectacle assaulting your eyes? Sagging trouser without underwear, shameful indecent bodily exposure, skimpy dresses that show contours of the body and so forth. Even parents who ought to be role models for their children now dress in shameful revealing clothes. What is happening to us? Why are we becoming so indecent these days? In those good days if a child was indecently dressed, he would be reprimanded by his parents. In fact children from good homes were easily singled out from their peers by their good manners, good dressing and social comportment. No longer the case today. Many parents, who ought to be the trustees, purveyors and transmitters of societal values, are regrettably giving their children bad examples. Asked by a teacher why she dressed indecently to school, a young school pupil wasted no time in telling the teacher that it was her mum who asked her to put on the indecent dress. Gradually indecency has become synonymous with good fashion, good taste and progress. Decency has been labeled “retro-progressive”. Womankind is increasingly becoming a tragic victim of modern-day objectification. The objectification of the female sex has even led to women objectifying themselves. Many women now feel that they need to wear tight or skimpy clothing or exhibit one thing or the other in order to be noticed. In the Privilege of Being a Woman, Dr. Alice von Hildebrand writes that the core of a woman’s mystique lies in her ability to carry herself with decorum and dignity. A person’s inner character is revealed by the way he or she behaves or dresses.
But some argue that the Lagos state dress codes violate the right to privacy of the citizenry. I beg to differ. Sections 37 and 38 of our 1999 Constitution guaranteeing right to privacy and right to freedom of conscience and religion are curtailed by section 45(1) of the same Constitution to the effect that nothing in those sections “shall invalidate any laws that are reasonable justifiable in a democratic society in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health”. In law, it is said that one’s right stops where the right of others begin. Two or more competing rights must be balanced. Right is not like a one-way traffic. Every right has a correlative duty. A worker who dresses indecently to work every day might be spoiling his/her employer’s good working environment or even ruining the entire employer’s business.
All said, beyond the dress codes, we must tackle indecency from its root. Indecent dressing is a symptom of a deep-seated problem, the failure of the family. Therefore instead of tackling the symptom it is preferable to tackle the problem itself, the restoration of the failed family institution.