On optional uniform for female youth corps members

Members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) 2016 Batch ‘B’ Stream 2 on parade during their swearing-in and opening of the Orientation Course at Kubwa in Abuja on Thursday, January 26, 2017. PHOTO: NAN

There is great symbolism in the rejection by the Senate, of a proposed amendment to the National Youth Service Corps enabling law, such as to give female corps members the option to wear skirts instead of trousers.

Although one of the reasons for dropping the proposal was the requirement of constitutional amendment, it hinted at yet another incident of the recurring global phenomenon of the clash of cultures.

If the Senate had approved the amendment, it could have set a bad precedent for this nation that endeavours to maintain a delicate balance concerning secularity.

The amendment was sought by a Senator from Taraba State, Emmanuel Bwacha who stated that the wearing of trousers as well as some of the exercises contradicted the religion-based way of life of some female Youth Corps members.

He also submitted that the compulsory uniform was a cause of friction between the National Youth Service Directorate, participants and members of the public, in that “it violated the constitutional guarantee concerning freedom of religion, thought and conscience.”

Many senators, however, spoke against the proposal, stating its potential ripple effects on other military and paramilitary agencies.

The National Youth Service Corps is a Para-military outfit that was established during the military era, in the aftermath of the Civil War 1967-70, with the noble purpose of fostering national unity.

From the beginning it was recognised that the participants needed to be groomed in the discipline and regimentation that is a hallmark of the military.

This obviously included accoutrement and the drills that are handled by the military during the orientation of participants.

There is no disputing the fact that religion plays a fundamental role in the way “religious” individuals conduct their daily life. There are recurring conflicts whenever people of varied religious cultures live in communities and nations.

In many countries, however, a fragile co-habitation is maintained only by the law of the land.

In Europe, there are recurring cases of this clash of “ways of life” caused by the insistence of some immigrants to retain their mode of dressing and which are unacceptable to the societal requirements in the host countries.

Although the sponsor of the amendment stated that religion had nothing to do with it, it cannot be denied that the ways of living are determined by the religions of many people in the world.

Students of Sacred Books of the major religions have concurred with the summation contained in the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom crafted by the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, that there is “but one code of morality (conduct) for humans, whether acting singly or collectively.”

Beyond this, however, individuals and peoples make choices on how to conduct their life so as not to cause harm to others. This includes the mode of dressing which is generally determined by the environment and climate. Decent dressing is important.

History presents abundant evidence of the infusion of the ways of life of a group of people into practising the tenets of their religions.

From time immemorial, there have always been clashes when this admixture of religious culture is transported to other climes.

The propagators of the foreign religious culture have always attempted to extirpate every effort of the indigenes to retain their traditions and ways of living.

It was in this way that accoutrement and adoption of foreign names came to be regarded as sine qua non for adherence to one religion or the other.

In Nigeria, this has also included the wearing of trousers by ladies, adjudged unacceptable by many sects of the two major religions. However, it is universally accepted that the hood does not make the monk.

The National Youth Service scheme, like all such agencies, has a uniform for participants. Just as people practice their religious culture within enclaves, the period of the National Youth Service is also defined and limited.

Many female participants of all religions would not dare wear the trousers to their homes. Many of them stop wearing the trousers when the service year ends, because it was not their normal mode of dressing.

The status quo concerning the uniform for Youth Corps members should be retained. If the Senate had approved the amendment, it could have set a bad precedent for this nation that endeavours to maintain a delicate balance concerning secularity.

The timely stemming of the proposal just before it scaled the second reading is commendable.

Beyond that moment of history in the Red Chamber, however, a message goes out to the nation and the world. Have humans now reached the point when they may no longer avoid the necessity to beam a searchlight on what is generally considered “religion”?

In every continent, with the perpetration of barbaric acts, ostensibly in the name of religion, dealing courageously with this issue has become an imperative necessity for the sustenance of global peace and security.

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