5 September 2007

Nigeria: Taking Advantage of the Dress Code


Abuja — The arbitrary arrest of innocent women by men of the Lagos State Police Command for purportedly dressing indecently has been a source of worry particularly to female residents of Lagos who feel the police...who should protect the dignity of law-abiding citizens are rather infringing upon their human rights.

About ninety ladies were randomly picked, detained and charged to court last month by the police for allegedly moving in skimpy dresses on the streets of Lagos.

The whimsical arrests in the name of indecent dressing have continued to earn public condemnation since the Lagos Police Command indiscriminately apprehended the ladies. The general censure is not because Nigerians do not like decency. Their negative reactions were rather informed by the antecedents of police arrests in Nigeria. The Nigerian public holds the suspicion that the police, due largely to corruption, have the tendency of abusing even what is decent.

Most of the ladies arrested by the police in Lagos lamented to members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and officials of the Rural Women Empowerment and Development Network (RWEDN) who were in court to secure their release that they were modestly dressed at the time of the arrest if covering up their bosom and other enticing parts of the female body is what decent dressing stands for. One of the ladies arrested at about 8.30pm in Ikeja GRA even said she had a veil on her shoulders.

Yet, the police who saw her arrest as an essential duty without which their patrol for that night would be an incomplete job still went ahead to forcefully take her in to detention after slapping and beating her. Nigerians find it difficult not to suspect the police who would pick an alleged female suspect at 9.00pm and then continue to move around with her in their patrol van until about 1.00am when they would go to the station to register their reports and consequently put her in to a cell. At this point, 1.00am will be indicated in their reports as the time at which the suspect was arrested.

Another innocent victim of such arrests told the Executive Director of RWEDN, Mrs Mma Odi, that the police released some of the arrested girls on bail after extorting money from them. Those who could not pay to secure their freedom among the suspects were left to languish in police cells. Worst of all is the allegation by some of the arrested ladies that they were raped while in police custody.

We call on the police to stop taking further advantages of the dress code as a cheap means of extracting money from poor Nigerians, which is a violation of their fundamental human rights. Indigent women suffer most from this sort of capricious arrest by the police. They leave home to sell their tomatoes, vegetables and oranges without any identity cards. Thus, women on legitimate businesses at corner shops who appear in decent dresses should not be arrested for the same offence that a commercial sex worker must have been picked for.

Officers of the Lagos Police Command do not seem to be the only law enforcement agents that took undue advantage of the dress code phenomenon as the judiciary appeared also to be part of the suspicious motive behind the arrests. The presiding judge at the Ikeja magistrate court, Magistrate A. A. Adedayo, was alleged to have granted bail to the accused persons only on payment of N20, 000.00 cash in to the court's treasury. What sounds ironical in the police crackdown on women in Lagos is the consistent denial by both the Lagos State Police Command and the State Government as having been privy to the arrest of ladies in offensive items of clothing. Although the spokesman of the command, Bode Ojajuni, told the Ikeja branch of the NBA that the arraigned ladies were not arrested for indecent dressing but for looking like commercial sex workers who were often used by criminals at red lights districts for nefarious activities, virtually all the women arraigned by the police denied being prostitutes.

In as much as Nigerians, a people with culture and enormous attachment to revealed religions cherish the fight against crime through the arrest of commercial sex workers, the police must always carry out their raids in organized and civilized manners so that innocent women and young ladies do not fall victims to undue arrests. We similarly call on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to look into the case of the magistrate who asked accused persons to pay sums of money that were beyond their reach before granting them bail. This is corruption. There is no law in Nigeria that says cash should be paid to secure bail. EFCC should further ensure that those who paid from among the arrested ladies are refunded.

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