November 26, 2019

The NYSC uniform controversy

File photo: NYSC members

THE controversy surrounding the two female members of the National Youths Service Corps, NYSC, recently ejected from their Orientation Camp in Ebonyi State brings out the unsavoury complications that our negative attitude to religion impose on our public lives.

The corps members, Okafor Love Obianuju and Odji Oritsesolaye, were dismissed from the camp for flagrantly refusing to don the corps’ trousers preferring instead to wear skirts in line with their religious beliefs.

A spokesman for the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria accused the NYSC of “victimising” the ladies for holding on to their faith, but the Directorate in a formal statement quickly defended its action as being backed by the corps’ establishment law which has been observed by millions of Nigerian graduates who have undergone the scheme since May 1973.

“The (dress) code remains a pair of khaki trousers and shirt, crested vest, white vest, a pair of white shorts, a pair of zebra-striped socks, a pair of jungle boots, a pair of canvas, belt and fez cap”, to be worn depending on camp activity.

For more than four decades, Christians, Muslims and adherents of other religions have worn these kits without complaint or rancour. However, in recent years when bigotry and extremism pushed deep into the hallowed traditions of our society, people began to make ridiculous demands aimed at imposing their religious customs on our public life.

They insist that Section 38(1) of our constitution guarantees everyone the freedom to “manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance”. Some religious faithful even insist that their scriptures are “superior” to our constitution.

The wearing of the hijab by Muslim ladies to NYSC camps and other public institutions crept in, amidst murmurs by adherents of other religions.

The insistence by the Christian ladies on wearing long skirts must be their own response to the issue. We wonder how it would look if adherents of other faiths also start adjusting their service kits to suit the demands of their religions.

We disagree with the NYSC Directorate’s assertion that the hijab does not deface the NYSC dress code. That it was allowed in the first place obviously led to the wearing of skirts which, we also admit, is not suitable for the rigorous physical exercises that are parts of camp life.

We must maintain a single tradition for all Nigerians in the NYSC camps; no double standards. We support the original dress code for the NYSC and other state-run military, paramilitary and security institutions. Religion is a personal affair. The hood does not make the monk.

If we must permit the wearing of hijab then we must allow adherents of other religions to wear kits that suit their faiths, and live with the ridicule of it all!