The House of Representatives is considering a bill to prohibit and criminalize cross-dressing in Nigeria. It’s astonishing that our legislators are majoring in frivolity and dissipating legislative time on the mundane.
It’s neither necessary nor expedient. I’m flummoxed by the silliness and incongruity of this Bill. It is indeed distasteful that at a time when the country’s existence is under excruciating crisis, our so-called leaders are seeking to legislate a dress code for Nigerians. If the Bill isn’t seeking to legislate on the dress code of Nigerians, what then is its purport?
First, it is impossible in this modern era, especially in a country that is supposed to be a secular and liberal democracy, for a law to define dressing by gender without ambiguity. Dressing at this age has become very versatile and flexible. To attempt to determine by legislation what type of cloth a man and a woman should or should not wear is the height of legislative misadventure and redundancy. It is not doable. The ambiguity will be too obvious.
Second, even if male and female dresses are capable of precise and definite definition and classification, can this Bill be validly brought within the legislative competence of the National Assembly? Should Nigeria have a federal law that regulates dressing for all Nigerians?
Only members of the Armed Forces and other security agencies can be made subject to a uniform national dress code. The NYSC can also do this. Likewise, related agencies. Employers can also determine the dress code of their employees. Religious houses can also set their dress code.
The National Assembly cannot legally regulate dressing or prohibit cross-dressing. I can’t see how this Bill qualifies under the enumerated legislative powers of the National Assembly under the Exclusive or Concurrent Lists under the Second Schedule to the 1999 Constitution.
Third, “cross-dressing” is a form of artistic expression. It is a mode of dressing adopted by entertainers. Irrespective of our differing views about the likes of Bobrisky, James Brown, Denrele and others, we cannot deny the fact that they are entertainers of some sort. Therefore attempting to deprive them of their chosen career, which isn’t harmful to anyone, is unacceptable.
A country like Nigeria with cultural, religious and ideological diversity should be more tolerant and accommodating of people who choose to express themselves differently.
Fourth, Section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) guarantees the fundamental right to freedom of expression. Expression is not circumscribed to spoken or written words. People can express themselves in words, by dressing and so on. This Bill, if passed, will be subjected to serious constitutional challenge in court. I will not hesitate to test its validity in court in the public interest.
Fifth, this Bill is unwarranted and unnecessary. Cross-dressing is still a very rare phenomenon in Nigeria.
How many cross-dressers do we have in Nigeria? Can the sponsor of this Bill mention 20 known cross-dressers in the country?. There is no cross-dressing epidemic in the country. This Bill is seeking a cure a disease that is non-existent. Cross-dressing isn’t harmful. Is it?
Sixth, this Bill is another sinister attempt to distract Nigerians from the palpable failures of this regime. We are currently witnessing the unabated slaughter of Nigerians without any serious effort by the government to address it. The economy is comatose. Inflation is rising. Our universities are currently shut.
It is rather upsetting that rather than focus on these and other pressing national issues, our legislators are finding time to entertain themselves with a trivial Bill that will neither help their worsening image nor solve our problems.
I call on the sponsor(s) of this Bill to withdraw it and attend to important issues. This Bill is an attempt to introduce the primitive Taliban ideology into Nigeria. It is dead on arrival.
Inibehe Effiong is a Legal Practitioner based in Lagos.
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