The barber in FRSC

LAST Monday, the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) was in the news for the wrong reasons. Its sector commander for Rivers State, Mr. Ayodele Kumapayi,   had ignited national outrage after cutting the hair of some female personnel of the corps who in his view had transgressed the service rules by leaving their hair to grow beyond the capacity of their berets or by deliberately making long hairdos. The commander committed the outrage while carrying out a “hair, uniform and fingernails inspection” of staff. Assisted by able lieutenants, he had grabbed a pair of scissors and removed quite a bunch of what he considered to be excessive and offensive hair. The incident took place during a routine early morning parade in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital. Photographs of the commander and his team carrying out the punishment, which were published on the official FRSC Facebook page, were later taken down following the outrage online. But they are still trending.

Reacting to the incident, the Corps Marshal of the FRSC, Mr. Boboye Oyeyemi, swiftly ordered the recall of the sector commander as well as the other officers involved in the saga. According to a statement released by the corps spokesman, Mr. Bisi Kazeezm, the  commander’s action was outside the mandate of the corps and his recall became necessary in order to pave the way for proper investigation of the matter. Kazeem debunked a report by an online medium that Kumapayi had been suspended, saying: “It is a recall, not a suspension.’’ The public would however have preferred an  elaboration of the difference between the two terms.

To be sure, the female personnel obviously violated some rules of the corps. An official guide for female staff at FRSC parades reportedly says that they must maintain a hairstyle that can be tucked into their beret. But could the punishment for non-compliance have been an official attack on their dignity?  Certainly not.  In any event, the step taken by the sector commander certainly drew the ire of a cross section of the public who wondered why the affected female personnel could not have been allowed to cut their hair themselves even as they could have been required to serve other punishments. Lauretta Onochie, an aide to President Muhammadu Buhari, justly tagged the incident an act of “humiliation of women taken too far” in a post on Twitter.

To say the least, the image of the sector commander and his lieutenants administering the barbing exercise was certainly in poor taste. It demeaned those female members of the corps and damaged the public image of the corps as a gender-friendly organisation. If such a draconian measure could be taken against the women in the corps publicly, whatever is happening covertly is certainly worse and unedifying.

The sector may have finally forced its female personnel to comply with the rules but at what expense? A national outrage and international opprobrium could not have been the desire of the sector commander, but that was what he succeeded in getting for his excitable inclinations. We are sure that even his office has been demeaned by this singular act of indiscretion and whatever may have transpired between him and the Corps Marshal who had immediately summoned him after the incident, it is not likely that he will return to Rivers State to find his reputation still intact and wholesome. By the way, we wonder how and why a pair of scissors became so readily available. Is it part of the tools of the corps? Did the sector commander acquire it in anticipation of its eventual use?  Or could there be more to this story than meets the eye?

However, we find it necessary to warn the female personnel of the FRSC and other uniformed services to abide by the rules and regulations of their respective outfits at all times. If they no longer feel comfortable with the service rules, they should take the honourable path by tendering their resignation letters. That democratic option is infinitely better than wilfully flouting the rules. Wearing inappropriate hairstyles lowers the morale of their law-abiding colleagues.

We call on the FRSC authorities to apply the full weight of the service rules on the erring commander and his lieutenants.  That is how to show the nation and the international community that it will not tolerate indiscipline in whatever form within its ranks. Beyond the FRSC, however, it is necessary to point out that this sad event is only emblematic of the conditions within the nation’s uniformed services. Videos of military  officers torturing female recruits are available online, while stories of sexual harassment within the uniformed services are routine. We call on the concerned authorities to ensure that cases of gender-based discrimination and oppression are eliminated in the respective organisations.