BETWEEN CHRISTIAN AND SECULAR TALIBANS
Monday, November 19, 2007
By Chippla Vandu
From the banning of trousers to the arrest of skimpy dressers, chauvinistic conservatism tries to take root in Christian and secular Nigeria.
One of the largest Pentecostal churches in Nigeria—the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG)—recently decided to ban ladies from wearing trousers (better known as pants to Americans) to church, according to the Lagos-based news magazine, The News.
The report states that the head of the church, known as 'The General Overseer', decided to ban females from wearing trousers as a result of the fact that it was "offensive" to some "worshippers."
RCCG, like any other religious, social or corporate organization in Nigeria, certainly has a right to impose a dress code on its members. However, a worrying trend can undoubtedly be discerned here; that is, a growing chauvinistic conservatism that appears to pervade not just religious organizations but also 'secular organizations' like the Nigerian Police Force.
These conservative ideologies are mainly targeted at ladies, who, it appears, need to be forcefully educated on the morals of appropriate dressing.
A couple of weeks back, the Nigerian Police began harassing, and in some cases arresting, residents in the commercial city of Lagos over skimpy dresses, according to the BBC. Now, one could be forgiven for thinking that such arrests could and do take place in the Islamic north of the country, where Sharia law happens to be in place.
But these arrests occurred in Lagos, Nigeria's commercial and cosmopolitan center. Funmi Iyanda, a Lagos-based journalist and blogger, gives an account of a most unfortunate encounter with Nigerian policemen over the way a friend of hers, who happens to be a gynecologist at Lagos University Teaching Hospital, the city's premier public hospital, was dressed.
From all indications, the new Lagos Police Chief, Mr. Muhammed Abubakar, is behind the latest craze of harassments being experienced.
Damola Awoyokun, commenting in the Nigerian Punch, speaks of the introduction of "Sharia by proxy" in Lagos State.
He says: "Our world, our society, is being set on fire by those who insist on turning their private fantasies into a general nightmare. What exactly is a skimpy dress? How did the police arrive at the benchmark for determining and arresting 'guilty' ladies?...I think  women have the right to wear whatever they want."
He continues: "Lagos is fiercely cosmopolitan. Its energy derives from the plurality of races, it ethnic groups, religions and moralities, cultural sensibilities, fashion tastes and pleasures and the youthfulness."
Mohammed Alexander, also commenting in the Nigerian Punch, retorts to Damola's statements with the following:
"The problem with most of us is that we don't appreciate positive reformation in our society. Instead, we look for loopholes to criticise and frustrate a struggle. Some ladies on my street now dress normally, guys that used to plait their hairs have cut them short. Lagos, being a cosmopolitan place, is not an excuse for wearing skimpy dresses. In the name of fashion, we tend to copy the negative lifestyle of the western world but fail to adapt their positive aspects such as creativity and our human resources development. Instead, we blame the government for our shortcomings."
As the comments above show, society will always thrive on a diversity of opinions, with the two extremes, in this case, being those who think individuals should take responsibility for their actions, and others who think that governments (or society) should compel individuals to live up to certain norms.
I wholeheartedly condemns the latest wave of arrests in Lagos over skimpy dressing. The reason for this is simple: it is impossible to define what constitutes skimpy dressing without recourse to an absolute reference point. What may be considered skimpy in the Islamic Sharia north of Nigeria (based on Islamic teachings) ought not necessarily be the case in Lagos (where rationalism, and not religion, should be the point of reference).
A suit and tie may be ideal for a boardroom meeting, but swimming pants would most certainly be better in a swimming pool. Traditional attires may seem more attractive for social and religious events, but jeans and T-shirts would definitely be more appealing when one chooses to go clubbing.
In other words, one sees an apparent relativity in the sort of clothes people decide to put on with two main factors determining such—place and weather. A society, which fails to accept that people will choose to expose more parts of their bodies during the hotter periods of the year, is a society in a deep state of denial.
I would like to end this write-up by going back to the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG). As a religious organization, the rules of the RCCG are undoubtedly set in absolute terms. In other words, reference will be made to divine laws when explaining how people ought to dress.
I don't know if the classical Judeo-Christian text from the Book of Deuteronomy was invoked in explaining why females should desist from putting on trousers. However, whatever argument was put forward, some Biblical injunction must have been used to buttress it.
There are those who would rather prefer not to be governed by 3,000-year old Hebrew laws, with regard to mode of dressing. If ladies of the RCCG find the new law against trousers repressive, they certainly have a choice. Few countries in the world offer the same sort of free market in Christianity, which one sees in Nigeria.
Chippla Vandu is a Nigerian scientist and researcher based in Holland. He blogs as Chippla.
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