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CULTURE-NIGERIA: ‘Indecent’ Dressing Banned on the Campus

Toye Olori

LAGOS, Sep 8 2003 (IPS) - Sexual harassment of female students in Nigeria has often been blamed on randy lecturers, but the university authorities are fighting back.

They are blaming the ‘provocative’ mode of dressing by female students for the harassment.

Female students have often complained that to pass their examinations they have to sleep with their lecturers.

A visit to some campuses shows just how scantily and provocatively dressed some of the students could be. A majority of the students in their efforts to follow the latest fashion trend, dress in tight-fitting trousers or short skirts and tops which show off part of their navels and upper body.

”Some of our students dress indecently in the name of fashion – they dress like they are in a disco. And what do you expect a young male lecturer to do? Some of the girls, who are not ready to read, befriend their lecturers so they can pass their subjects without any effort. It is only a God fearing man who will not look twice the way some of our female students dress on campus,” says Tayo Fajobi, a university student.

The need to restore morality to Nigeria’s universities has led to the imposition of a mode of dressing or the banning of indecent dressing among female students by some of the higher institutions of learning.

With effect from this academic year, the University of Abuja, which is located in the capital, Abuja, has ruled that no student should wear tight-fitting trousers, miniskirts, transparent cloths and shorts except for games. ”Any dress worn must cover intimate parts of the body, must not expose the breast, stomach, navel and bare chest,” it says.

Late last year, the Ebonyi State University in eastern Nigeria, banned female students from wearing trousers, miniskirts and transparent dresses in lecture halls and departmental functions.

Odicha Ude, head of the department of mass communications, says the university is charged with the responsibility of setting agenda for the society.

”The concept of freedom has been abused in the university. As a result, the university has risen to address the issue of generational stigma by introducing a policy on mode of dressing for its students,” he says. According to him, students are expected to appear in corporate dressing to lectures and other university functions.

In June, the campaign was carried to the University of Lagos, where vice-chancellor Ibidapo Obe, announced the banning of ‘indecent dresses’.

Perhaps the most drastic action came from the predominantly Muslim State of Zamfara in northern Nigeria where the government in Jan. 2002 reportedly made about 34,342 turbans and hijabs to be put on by both Christian and Muslim students. It was an effort to stem improper dressing as well as enforce the Islamic Shariah code on the society.

Lawmakers also have complained about the declining dressing code in the House, leading to a threat by the Clerk of the House to impose sanction on female staff who wears provocative and indecent dresses to work.

The Clerk advised the female staff to dress in formal western or traditional attire. ”The current mode of dressing runs contrary to all the treasured norms of dignity,” he warned.

The Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, South-South Nigeria, has also enforced proper dressing code for staff and female visitors to the assembly.

”It is not proper to prescribe a dress code for female students but it is necessary for women and girls to dress suitably for certain occasions. I do not expect a girl to put on bikini like she is going to the beach,” says Mejiun Fashina, Coordinator of War Against Sexual Harassment and Exploitation, a non-governmental organisation.

”The emphasis should be proper dressing,” she says.

Tunde Akanni, a lecturer at the Lagos State University, believes it is wrong for a woman or girl to expose the vital parts of her body in the name of fashion.

”A lady has the right to wear what she likes and especially what makes her comfortable, decency demands that she should not expose her body in the name of fashion,” he says.

Some believe that the exposure to Western culture, through the media, has been responsible for the way Nigerians dress. Akanni calls upon the media to encourage local and African designers rather than portray models in skimpy foreign attires, which are presently being shown on local television stations.

Ifeoma Jonah, a resident of Lagos, blames some parents for doing little to curb indecent dressing by their children. She notes that parents are too busy running after wealth to have the time to take proper care of their children or check their wardrobes.

”If parents monitor their children’s wardrobes, visit them occasionally in the school to know what they do on campuses and correct them, the fight against indecent dressing would have been won,” she says.

It will be an uphill struggle to combat the ‘indecent’ dressing in Nigeria where 40 percent of the country’s population is under the age of 18. These children are influenced by the latest fashion shows on television.

Every year some 100,000 students are admitted to the 47 Nigerian universities, most of them teenagers.

It is not the first time that dress code is being imposed on a country. The late Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin and the late Malawian autocrat Kamuzu Banda imposed strict dress code for women. Swaziland, too, has imposed similar code.

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