July 22, 2024

A glimpse at ‘Indecent Dressing’ under the Nigeria legislation

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A Glimpse at 'Indecent Dressing' under the Nigeria Legislation

Segun Stephen Oladejo

What is Indecent dressing? It should be noted that the definition is subjective. It may be wearing clothes which reveal certain parts of the body that should be covered up. Thus, the definition is at the court’s discretion. However, Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act 2015 in Section 46 says ‘Indecent Exposure’ is ‘Intentional exposure of the genital organs/substantial part thereof with the intention of causing distress to the other party.

This definition has two elements:

1. Intentional exposure of genital organs either fully or partly.

2. With the intention to cause distress to the other party.

The means rea (intention) of an offence is of paramount importance & failure to prove can only lead to sudden death.

It should be noted that no legislation has made a clear provision for indecent dressing but rather for indecent acts or indecent exposure.

Section 231 of the Criminal Code makes indecent acts illegal. The section provides:

Any Person who;

a. wilfully and without lawful excuse does any indecent act in any public place or;

b. wilfully does any indecent act in any place with intent to insult or offend any person is guilty of a misdemeanour, 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) & (2) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State is exactly the same as the provision of Section 231 of the Criminal Code 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.

Worthy of note is that Criminal Code is applicable in the Southern part of the country while Penal Code is applicable in the Northern part.

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-Muslims decide to be guided by the Sharia Law.

Section 26 of the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act provides for indecent exposure, exposure of genitals with intent to cause distress, or induce to commit an act of violence and induce another to massage or touch for perpetrator’s sexual enjoyment attracts the punishment of 1-year sentence or a fine of N500,000 or both.

Now, considering the various provisions stated above, it will be realized that there is no law that specifically criminalises ‘indecent dressing’ aside from the sharia law in some Northern states.

It is therefore illegal for the police or other security agency to arrest, detain or harass 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.

To Operation Burst in the viral video beating the lady because of his dressing, Section 360 of the Criminal Code provides ‘Any person who unlawfully and indecently assaults a woman or girl is guilty of a misdemeanour and is liable to imprisonment for two years’.

An attempt was made in the past to make Indecent dressing an offence. In 2008, the chairperson of the Nigerian Senate’s Committee on Women, Senator Ufot Ekaette (Akwa Ibom South, PDP), introduced a bill in the Senate to prohibit so-called ‘indecent dressing’

The bill proposed to grant intolerably dangerous powers of arrest & invasion of the most intimate privacy of the woman’s body imaginable to both police officers & ordinary citizens to undertake vigilante action against women they merely perceive to be ‘indecently dressed’

Senator Ekaette’s bill covers any female above 14 years wearing a dress that exposes ‘her breast, laps, belly and waist … and any part of her body from two inches below her shoulders downwards to the knee’.

At the public hearing on the bill in July 2008, there was a consensus that its provisions portended great danger for the safety and security of Nigerian women. The Bill if passed into law would have created a grave danger to women and young ladies.

A Glimpse at 'Indecent Dressing' under the Nigeria Legislation

Finally, it is crystal clear that there is no recognised law that criminalizes indecent dressing in Nigeria, thus where an offence is not succinctly defined and the punishment thereof prescribed, a person cannot be arrested for such.

Duty of care

Does the guy have any duty of care towards the girl?

The “duty of care” refers to the obligations placed on people to act towards others in a certain way, in accordance with certain standards.

A relationship of “proximity” must exist between the defendant and the claimant.

Segun Stephen Oladejo, Company Secretary/Legal Advisory/Regulatory Compliance/AML/CFT E.

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