Nigeria woke up this morning to startling news reports about citizen harassment and police arrests carried out overnight all over country, for indecent dressing.
In the northern part of the country, a lady ran in fear for her life when she was hounded by a group of men and hissed at by women for not covering her head. One female witness vehemently declared, "Decent women cover their head when they leave their houses. She should go back home and dress well!" In another part of the country, a south-eastern lady was shocked when she was berated by her male colleagues in the office and disrespected by juniors for exposing her arms in a sleeveless blouse.
"She should cover up!! That is part of her beauty for only her husband to enjoy. Or does she want us to treat her like the small girls who work in the bars?" said a father of 11 with two wives, and a ‘small girlfriend.'
In the south-west, a well-built beauty was dumbfounded when she was scolded by friends for wearing a skirt cut above her knees, even though she was wearing a very low-cut and scooped blouse. "They told me that it is OK to expose my bust because men cannot avoid looking at them whether covered up or not, but that a short skirt will make them think of becoming over-familiar!" she told reporters.
In a remarkable twist, men were not exempted from the new decent dressing drive. In separate incidents in the west and east, a construction worker and an okada (motorcycle taxi) driver were arrested by police for nakedness while bathing in public. In the north, a messenger was chased out of the office where he was making a delivery, for wearing trousers that were so tight that his backside and private parts were prominently outlined for all to see! When interviewed, the ‘decent' police did not know the provisions of the regulation or the definitions of what indecent dressing for men and women are.
A religious conservative who participated in one of the attacks replied defensively that, "It does not matter. We all know what is decent and what is not decent. Now, we can take action and discipline our children and people on the street and on television who are not doing the right thing." A civil rights activist noted that indecent dressing has gone far beyond spaghetti straps on girls and sagging trousers on men.
In a heartfelt and passionate appeal, he said, "We have given mentally unstable people licence to be aggressors towards decent, hardworking and responsible people. We are taking the appeal to the supreme court. Prostitution is a separate matter and is already illegal. If they want to legislate indecency, they should police themselves — adultery, theft, bribery, murder, orgies, gluttony and sleeping with the daughters of their friends and the male friends of their children!"
Just joking! Happy April Fool's day!
Were you fooled? There isn't any regulation on indecent dressing, and to my knowledge, none but a few isolated incidents have occurred, such as the attack on a female corps member for wearing trousers.
However, I wouldn't bet on it never happening. As a professor friend and a keen observer of Nigerian modern political history recently said, events in the country have attained the ‘quintessence of nonsense'. Fiction is now boring and reality has become bizarre. Many of us find ourselves afloat and lost in an existence far from the comforting familiarity of previous well-established boundaries of what is sane and what is absurd. The drama we see unfolding before our very eyes every day in the public arena outstrips the most creative imaginations of our script writers and movie makers.
The characters cannot be contained by their given personas or their roles. Academicians are behaving like illiterates, the uneducated displaying nobility of spirit, the rich grasping like beggars fighting for a scrap, and the poor have metamorphosed from passivist supplicants to activist militants.
In her advice to young career women at a mentoring forum, Ayo Obe, the former president of the Civil Liberties Organisation, advised them to read fiction. At the time, I thought she wanted them to read fiction in order to challenge their thinking and expand their minds to more easily distinguish principles and motivations from behaviours and actions.
Perhaps it will also help them cobble together some kind of big picture of what is happening in our nation, from incomprehensible and seemingly unconnected parts. Today is April Fool's Day, yet I feel like it arrived four months early and has yet to pass. Every day brings new absurdities, new pranks, and tricks, and genius strategies to outwit friend and foe alike.
Maybe if we give April Fools its due today, it will release its hold on our nation and we will return to the realms of reason. So, have a great day today. Revel in your successful schemes on others, and laugh off the transparent stratagems tried on you. Have a very Happy April Fool's Day!