It will be reprehensible for a female corps member to embark on obstacle-crossing and other physical training activities on camp, including parade, in skirt or gown. Those will expose her indecently, thus, leaving little or nothing to imagination”
That was part of the explanations given by the Director-General of National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Brig-Gen. Shuaibu Ibrahim, following the expulsion of two female corps members, – Okafor Love Obianuju, and Odji Oritsetsolaye, from orientation camp in Ebonyi State last weekend for refusing to wear trousers or shorts for religious reasons.
Speaking through the Corps’ Director of Press and Public Relations, Mrs Adenike Adeyemi, Ibrahim noted that the NYSC camp, predicated on discipline and decency, is a training ground for corps members and ”any other dress code contrary to the officially-sanctioned one will not promote the course of decency.”
I think the DG just nailed it. The primary reason for insisting on corps members wearing trousers and shots is for their protection and decency. Many of us participated in the scheme and know how rigorous and tasking the Man O’ War drills and exercises were and can testify that there is no way someone can do most of them comfortably and effectively on skirts or gowns. Is it the jumping of fence, rope climbing, crawling under barb wires or karate fighting? You can imagine a female climbing rope on skirt in the presence of soldiers and other colleagues, both male and female.
Yes, the issue of religion is a personal thing and our constitution grants freedom of worship, so one will not be in a hurry to condemn the two corps members for insisting on not dressing in a way they said is against their faith, but shouldn’t we be sensible even in our religious practices? Shouldn’t we weigh the pros and cons of a policy before rejecting it or protesting against it in whatever form?
And then comes the issue of obedience. Every establishment has rules and regulations guiding it which are expected to be obeyed by anyone that has dealings with it for efficiency and orderliness. If everybody decides to flout these rules and regulations, what will our society become? One will want to believe that Obianuju and Odji were aware of the orientation and NYSC rules and regulations yet they decided to participate in it. It then behoves them to obey those rules. Or since they are not comfortable with some of the guidelines, they would have probably tabled their objections before the NYSC director or other appropriate quarters before going to camp. But as some analysts have said, obedience to the rules should be for all and sundry and not for some people. The moment the leadership of any organization compromises in the enforcement of the rules and regulations or in punishing offenders, there will no longer be total compliance by the people.
In Nigeria, we have two major religions, Christianity and Islam, and it is expected that the same consideration should be given to these two groups in formulating any policy that concerns them. If members of one of them are allowed to dress in certain way, contrary to the rules of an organization, it will be just and fair to consider members of the other group when they make certain demands in that direction as well.
Let us look at further explanations of the NYSC director-general on the scheme’s dressing code. He said that the organisation did not issue hijab, worn by Muslim women, as part of its dress code,
“Rather, the scheme permits the use of white hijab, which must not be more than shoulder length and must be tucked into the uniform.
“The policy of allowing hijab, which does not deface the NYSC uniform, is not new, as it has been there.”
Will it then be out of place to suggest that the leadership of the scheme should consider the position of some Christians who feel that putting on trousers and shots is against their faith and address the matter amicably instead of expulsion as was the case in Ebonyi State?
As I stated earlier, Section 38 of the 1999 Constitution grants freedom of religion to the citizens which must be respected. Yes, we can appeal to the corps members to see reasons why they should dress in accordance with the NYSC code, but it is their right to practice their religion the way they deem fit. Recall the case of Firdausa Al Jannah Amasa versus the Nigerian Law School. The law graduate was denied entry into the International Conference Center, Abuja, venue of the call to bar in 2017 because she refused to remove her hijab. She took the matter to court, won and the institution is said to have since retraced its steps.
So, as the Special Assistant on Media and Communications to the President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Adebayo Oladeji, appealed, the NYSC leadership should be more tolerant and revisit the matter with a view to addressing it better. It will amount to double standard to dismiss Christian corps members for dressing inappropriately while their Muslim counterparts in the same shoes are allowed to wear hijad, going by the position of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and other concerned individuals and groups, who also noted that wearing hijab on NYSC uniform cannot be said to be promoting the course of decency as posited by Mrs Adeyemi.
It will, therefore, be wise if the two rusticated corps members can heed Oladeji’s advice and head to court to challenge their expulsion. Who knows, they might get a similar judgment like Firdausa and then the matter will be permanently settled.
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