A sexual harassment accusation against one of its male teachers is threatening the stability of Queen’s College, Lagos, one of Nigeria’s premier girls’ secondary school. Uchechukwu Nnaike highlights the controversies surrounding the case
It can be puzzling when female students rise in unison to defend a male teacher who has been accused by a fellow student of a crime against womanhood. That was the case at Queen’s College, Yaba, Lagos, on March 21, 2016, when Senior Secondary Three (SS3) students delayed their mock examination in biology to stage a protest in support of their biology teacher, Mr. Olaseni Oshifala, who was accused by a certain Mrs. Chinenye Okoye of sexually harassing her daughter who is yet to be identified.
Okoye claimed that the teacher forcefully tried to kiss and touch the private part of her daughter, a Junior Secondary Two (JS2) student. She said Oshifala cornered her daughter on her way back from relieving herself just before lights out and assaulted her.
She claimed that her daughter screamed and students started coming out so the teacher left her and pretended he was punishing her. The case was said to have gone viral when it was reported by an online news platform.
According to Olorisupergal.com, which claimed to have got a letter from the affected parent, several parents and students have come out to accuse the management of the college of hiding cases of sexual harassment teachers had been involved in. In the letter, the woman alleged the principal and vice-principals had for over a month, deliberately suppressed several complaints of sexual harassment which her daughter and some other students had consistently reported to their class teacher, their year head, the head of department of the accused teacher and the principal’s office.
She said her daughter had complained to her that there was an integrated science teacher, Mr. Oshifala, who had been harassing her and some other students, but she did not take it serious until her daughter called her that fateful day in tears.
She claimed that Oshifala, who lives in the boarding house area, had cornered her on her way back from where she had Gone to ease herself just before lights out; she accused the teacher of smelling of alcohol when he approached her daughter, who thought he wanted to punish her for leaving her dorm room when it was almost lights out.
She also alleged that when her daughter started screaming and the other students came out, they already knew his ways so they started booing him until the house mistress came out and chased them inside telling them to be quiet and that nothing was actually going on.
However, in a show of solidarity to Oshifala, their biology teacher, SS3 students of the school staged a protest, claiming that he is innocent of all the accusations. Beyond the protest, which many believed was influenced by the school management, some of the students who spoke with THISDAY during a visit to the school, refuted the claims made by Okoye.
JS2 students, who should know the girl that was supposedly abused, denied any knowledge of her; they said Oshifala does not teach Integrated Science or any other subject in junior school, adding that he is a principled and hardworking man, whose only connection with junior students is through the Interact Club, which he coordinates.
They stressed that the club had junior and senior students as members and its programmes were usually in the first term, and that its meetings are held in an open place.
They wondered why any student would go outside the dorm alone to relieve herself when there were toilets inside, adding that the security details around the hostel area would not allow any student to leave the hostel an hour before lights out at 10:30pm.
They added that their hostels were heavily guarded by female security operatives who will not allow a non-inmate access at that time of the night.
Some of the SS3 students, who took part in the protest, said they did it because they believed Oshifala was innocent and that the allegations were fabricated. They said the school management did not force them to protest for the teacher, but they decided on their own and they bought the card board papers with their money and wrote the inscriptions themselves.
They reiterated that the accused teacher was not among those teaching junior students so the claim of him teaching Integrated Science was false. “He does not drink alcohol, even during social events at the school and that he lives far away from the school so he could not have been around the hostel before lights out because he is always out of the school premises latest by 7pm,” they claimed.
As senior female students, they said there had never been any case of sexual harassment in the past six years of their stay in the school, adding that if something like that had happened, the whole school would have heard about it the next morning.
The students challenged the girl’s mother to come to the school and address them and provide evidence, insisting that all her claims are false.
Extolling Oshifala, they said the man has consistently emerged the best teacher; and because of his method of teaching and dedication to duty, students always excel in biology in external examinations. They described the accusation as the work of haters, who wanted to tarnish the image of the 89-year-old school.
The old girls seemed to disagree with the current students, as they claimed in their findings that allegations of sexual harassment, sexual impropriety and indecent treatment of children by Oshifala were not unfounded, these they said go as far back as 2005 when he was first employed.
They stated that these allegations against Oshifala and other male staff were constantly reported to former principals and vice-principals, as well as the current principal and vice-principals, but no step was taken to stop the dastardly acts.
The old girls alleged that there were male staff living in close proximity (within the hostel areas) while the girls move about in different stages of undress. They also accused the school of total neglect of the welfare of the girls as shown by filthy hostels with overflowing and smelly gutters creating potential festering pools of disease.
They said all relevant petition letters had been dispatched to appropriate quarters and agencies, state and federal, mandated to address and investigate such issues with the urgency required.
“We are on watch for speedy reactions” the old students said.
The school authority had in a statement, exonerated the accused teacher. The Principal, Mrs. Lami Amodu, was quoted as saying that no single parent had come to her or any of the vice-principals to report Oshifala as a molester.
“I assure you that if the allegation was true, other parents would have been buzzing our lines non-stop. Children spread gossip fast; they would tell their parents or relations if anyone was molesting them here.”
As the case is currently being investigated by the committee set up by the federal government; the police; the state government and other agencies, and as the accused is being invited for questioning, it is pertinent to note that the accuser is yet to make an appearance to supply more information about her daughter.
According to a social work expert, who preferred anonymity, for investigation into such a case to be successful, the accuser needs to be questioned along with the accused or else the issue would be further complicated.
The expert said even the committee set up by the federal government will require to hear directly from the mother and daughter, but because she is a minor, the daughter will be protected.
He said even in court, the complainant has to be present for examination, if not, the case would not be successfully decided.
QUOTE: As the case is currently being investigated by the committee set up by the federal government; the police; the state government and other agencies, and as the accused is being invited for questioning, it is pertinent to note that the accuser is yet to make an appearance to supply more information about her daughter