The Law and Indecent Dressing in Nigeria

‘What to wear? What to wear? Nkechi help me pick.’

‘Wear that your short red gown. That one you wore for my birthday party. The tube one.’

‘Ohhh! It’s true. You this girl! You get eye o!’

‘Yes nau! My friends must look hot abeg. And you know Tunde will be at the club too.’

‘Be serious!’

‘I am! You know he likes you. Tolu don’t dull o! By the time you just shake that your big bum bum the way he’ll gum gum you eh! Instant boyfriend. Bet me! Ehe! Don’t forget to wear your push up bra!’

‘Tunde! That Tolu girl bam! Her body set well. Borrow me that your chain make I use am shine small for club na.’

‘Na wetin I wan wear! e go go well with that my ripped jeans and armless top.’

If you’ve ever desired to look sexy or hot for the club or for an outing say Ayeeeee! (If you didn’t you’re a dry gin! Lol).

It should not come as a shock that most people, especially youths, like to dress in a manner that feels best or most comfortable to them. Their dressing depends largely on the venue or location of the place in question.

Recently, there has been a lot of cases involving the harassment of people, mostly ladies, about their choice of outfit by the Police. The Police claim to do this under the guise that indecent dressing is a crime in Nigeria. Ladies no vex too much, men aren’t free either. Young men who wear ripped jeans, dye or braid their hair or even wear certain jewellery are presumed to be criminals and are harassed by the Police.

It has led to a lot of arguments and questions as to where our law stands regarding this issue. In order to know the position of the law on this issue, it is important to first understand what Indecent Dressing is all about.

What is Indecent dressing? What does it mean to dress in an indecent way? Some people may say, it is wearing clothes which reveal certain parts of the body that should be covered up. Others may define it as putting on clothes that are too short or too revealing. It is important to note, that the decency or lack of of an attire is subjective.

A critical examination of the main criminal laws in Nigeria, i.e the Criminal Code and Penal Code, reveals that there is no section of the law that penalises anyone who puts on clothes seen or perceived to be Indecent.

Rather than a provision for Indecent Dressing, the Criminal Code made provision for Indecent Acts. This can be found under Section 231 of the Criminal Code where the law states that:

Any Person who;

  1. willfully and without lawful excuse does any indecent act in any public place or; 
  2. willfully does any indecent act in any place with intent to insult or offend any person is guilty of a misdemeanor, and is liable to imprisonment for two years.” 

Of course the above stated provision does not in any way either expressly or impliedly make indecent dressing a crime.

The provision of Section 134 (1) and (2) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State is exactly the same with the provision of Section 231 of the Criminal Code as stated above.

The Penal Code in trying to curb indecency provided in Section 200 that

whosoever to the annoyance of others does any obscene or indecent act in a public place shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine or both.”

It is clear that the above provision of the Penal Code does not in any way prohibit putting on indecent dresses whatsoever.

Going up north, the provision of the Kaduna State Penal Code law has a provision similar to that of the above stated Section 134 of Criminal Law of Lagos State. Particularly, Section 168 captioned ‘Obscene or Indecent Acts’ provides;

whoever to the annoyance of others does any obscene or indecent act by whatever means to the public shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of not less than two Years or with a fine of not less than Two Hundred Thousand Naira or both”

Also the above in no way makes a crime a personal decision to put on any clothes of choice even if tagged indecent.

It should however be noted that by the provision of the Sharia Law which is only applicable in 12 Northern States which are: Zamfara, Kano, Sokoto, Katsina, Bauchi, Borno, Jigawa, Kebbi, Yobe, Kaduna, Niger and Gombe, Indecent dressing is frowned at and the punishment for its contravention ranges from a couple of months imprisonment to an option of fine.

It should also be noted that the said Sharia law is only applicable to Muslims and does NOT apply to Non-Muslims unless such Non-Muslim decides to be guided by the Sharia Law.

To corroborate the above stated, the various Sharia Courts have jurisdiction only if the persons concerned are Muslims or decides to be governed by Sharia Law and if not the law does not have jurisdiction.

Now, considering the various provisions stated above, it will be realized that there is no law that specifically criminalises putting on indecent dresses aside from the sharia law in some Northern states which is only applicable to Muslims or other persons who decides to be governed by Sharia Law.

It is therefore wrong for the police or other security agency to arrest or detain anyone for putting on any cloth of choice as such arrest or detention will be illegal and a breach of the person’s fundamental rights. The exception of the Sharia Law should always be remembered as stated above in the applicable states.

It will be right to then say the uproar on indecent dressing is more of a religious or moral critique than a legal offence.

E.I Onanuga Esq (Olojumeta)

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