St Theresa's Cathedral Church in Enugu state says it will start confiscating geles “to enable security men to know when a bomb will be smuggled into the church”.
Sensible precaution or massive overreaction?
Churchgoers who wear the large, traditional headgears called geles that seek to reach for the heavens will have their "big headgears" confiscated from next month, the congregation at St Theresa's Cathedral Church in the south-eastern Nigerian state of Enugu has warned. Other churches are debating whether to follow suit.
"In view of the present security challenges the church has urged women to stop coming to Sunday service with big headgears and bags to enable security men to know when a bomb will be smuggled into the church," Reverend Father Uche Obodoechina said, adding that the headwraps made it difficult to identify people.
Capable of towering two feet in gravity-defying folds and arcs of lace or stiff jacquard, geles are the crowning glory of traditional outfits typically worn to church and sometimes seen as status symbols based on size alone. Important occasions – of which weddings and churchgoing remain firm favourites – can prompt intricate geles, usually finished off with stone-encrusted sunglasses and flashy handbags. "Women feel naked without their geles on special occasions," said Lagos-based makeup artist Kadiatou Sangare, who often helps women tie elaborate creations.
The crackdown on geles is one of a series of increasing security measures after Nigeria endured a spate of bomb attacks on churches and mosques from militant Islamist group Boko Haram. This year it has targeted at least six churches in northern and central Nigeria, prompting fears it is trying to ignite a sectarian war among Nigeria's evenly split Muslims and Christians. It has never struck a southern Nigerian state.
The move has divided opinion among churchgoers:
"It's a good thing," said taxi driver Idowu James. "There is no doubt some people carry big handbags to intimidate people lower down the ladder. Frankly, I don't think church is the right place for exercises in fashion parade."
Others see wearing geles to be as inalienable a right as going to church. "I've never heard such a thing and I don't think women in my own church will abide by that. Most of the week we women are working, so Sunday is the only chance to wear geles and dress up," said Lagos resident Grace George. "We want to look our best when we go to church, and you cannot do that if you expose your head."
Other churches have ramped up security as attacks have led to drops in attendance. Many restrict cars from parking in their vicinity during services. In at least two states – Plateau and Kogi – round-the-clock armed guards have been posted outside some churches.