Bankruptcy of Ideas and Failure of Leadership:
A Media Briefing by the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) and Women Unity Forum (WUF) on Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Gentlemen of the media.
The Civil Liberties Organization and Women Unity Forum consider it pertinent to respond to the report that the senate Committee Chairperson on Women and Youth, Senator Eme Ekaette plans to propose and present to the Senate, for consideration and approval, a bill outlawing ‘indecent dressing by men and women’.
Senator Ekaette anchors her decision to propose this bill on the argument that indecent dressing has ‘promoted vices in the society’. We quote her in part:
‘If you want to wear something, I believe that there are certain parts of the body that must be covered. You cannot go naked in the name of fashion.’
She claims that her bill ‘will address issues of indecency and immorality’ and that she aims for the ‘preservation of cultural norms and values’. She added: ‘we are seeing a lot of moral decadence in the society today’.
While the CLO and WUF do not support moral decadence and share the concerns of people like Senator Ekaette to seeing a morally clean society, we note that her approach, no matter how well intentioned, begs the question.
Senator Ekaette has demonstrated her ignorance of the root cause of moral decadence. Her arguments do not flow from any informed problem analysis. She did not proceed from the germane question: ‘Why do men and women dress indecently?’ Can issues of morality be addressed through legislation? Is indecent dressing the most urgent and critical social vice or problem confronting the majority of oppressed and pauperized Nigerians?’ Is it the business of a legislator to be concerned with issues of morality rather than of governance and the promotion of the public good? In fact, what is the definition of ‘indecent dressing’?
Senator Ekaette’s moral crusade reflects the bankruptcy of ideas and failure of leadership in Nigeria.
Our criticism of Senator Ekaette’s effort is anchored on three planks. First, it is not the primary-if ever-business of legislators to be concerned with issues of morality. Second, passing such a law prohibiting ‘indecent dressing’ will provide a pretext for law enforcement agents to violate citizens’ human rights.
1. NOT THE BUSINESS OF LEGISLATORS
The business of legislation entails the provision of credible, selfless and effective representation, exercise of oversight over the activities of the executive arm of government and making laws for the good running of the affairs of the state in the general interest of the greater majority. It should therefore not be so much the duty of elected public officials like Senator Ekaette, to canvass issues of morality, as it should be to addressing issues of good governance and the upliftment of the living standard of the electorate.
If Senator Ekaette wants to be heard, there are more urgent and relevant socio economic and political issues that border on the welfare and security of the people which we recommend to her to busy herself with. There are at the moment so many bills pending endlessly before the national assembly which if supported by Senator Ekaette, will help to improve the lives of the people, promote human rights and discourage moral decadence which reflect, not just in indecent dressing, but also in corruption and looting of public funds by public officials.
We have the CEDAW Bill, the Bill on Violence against Women, and the Bill on Freedom of Information etc. These bills, if supported with the same zeal and vigour that Senator Ekaette has promised to pursue the frivolous indecent dressing bill, have the potential of addressing not just indecent dressing, but will also give teeth to the anti corruption efforts of the federal government and provide greater guarantees for the respect of women’s human rights, roll back poverty and unemployment and discourage desperation by the youth.
There is general poverty in the land caused in the main by bad governance and corruption by the same public officials some of whom are in the legislature. Politicians continually subvert the will of the people through violence and fraudulent manipulation of elections. All these call for bills for the reform of the electoral process and review of the constitution generally. There is a general and intolerable collapse of infrastructure, including as vital a sector as energy, in spite of the billions of tax payers’ money so far pumped into it. Unemployment is ever on the increase predisposing youths to such vices as armed robbery, prostitution and indecent dressing. In any case, some ladies ‘dress indecently’ in order to attract the attention and patronage of mainly our corrupt and obscenely rich politicians, including Senator Ekaette’s male counterparts in the legislature who use our girls as objects of sexual pleasure and gratification. We expect Senator Ekaette to propose bills to protect our vulnerable young women, propose bills on corruption, bad leadership and poverty which are the root causes of moral decadence rather than scratch on the surface.
While armed brigands have taken over our cities and rural communities, Senator Ekaette is more concerned with indecent dressing rather than how to provide jobs and meaningfully engage our youths. She is not concerned with how to improve the operational capabilities of the police force and transform it into a human rights-compliant and service oriented organization
Senator Ekaette is also not worried by the years of unmitigated injustice in her Niger Delta region which has forced our youths to take up arms and terrorize innocent residents.
There already exist laws, institutions and agencies saddled with the task of addressing moral and value orientation. Issues of morality are better left to parents, teachers, religious and traditional institutions, the National Orientation Agency, the Federal and various state Ministries of Women and Youth etc.
2. LICENSE FOR RIGHTS VIOLATION
We recall that in the very recent past, some state governments, including Lagos and some sharia states in the North commenced a campaign of clampdown on women going about their business on allegations that they were indecently dressed. This misguided undertaking led to a harvest of unlawful arrest and detention, and sexual molestation of many women by officials of the Nigerian police and other law enforcement agencies. It took vigorous campaigns and outrage by women and other human rights groups before this madness abated. Some of the state governments had to deny ever placing ban on indecent dressing or directing the police or any law enforcement agency to arrest women for indecent dressing. In the same manner, Senator Ekaette’s bill, if passed by the Senate, will become a ‘legal’ license and a bulwark for wanton abuses, particularly of women.
We expect that Senator Ekaette will leave moral issues for those whose business it is and face her own business of oversight and representation of her constituents- assuming that she is among the few legitimately elected ones. She must concern herself with bills and efforts that address the genuine needs of the people and impact on human development and not spearhead and pursue efforts that will provide a fertile ground for oppression and human rights violations.
If, however, Senator Ekaette is so concerned and desirous of pursuing this 'moral crusade', she had better liaise with relevant bodies such as the National Orientation Agency, UNIFEM, Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, etc with a view to convening a stakeholders meeting where appropriate strategies can be debated and jointly adopted on how to deal with moral decadence.
The legislature is a very vital organ of state in any democracy. Its role in the defence, consolidation and promotion of democratic ethos and practices is central. Therefore, passing this obnoxious bill will amount to arming the law enforcement agencies to trample on people’s rights and create political tension that may subvert our growing democracy.
Comrade Ibuchukwu Ezike Comrade Mma Odi
Ag. Executive Director Coordinator, Women Unity Forum
Civil Liberties Organisation