- It’s in order, says NUC
Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
In a move that lent credence to the altruism of the allegation of sexual harrassment by male lecturers in the Nigerian tertiary institutions, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) monday rejected the Sexual Harrassment Offences Bill, claiming the bill was meant to victimise lecturers.
The union which expressed this position at a one-day public hearing on the bill organised by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, described the bill as vindictive and meant to undermine university autonomy.
ASUU’s president, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, therefore asked the Senate to throw the bill out, saying the nation’s universities and other tertiary institutions were established by law as autonomous bodies and hence have their regulating codes.
“Any law or bill which seeks to supplant these laws violates the university autonomy. In this particular instance, the bill violates the Federal Government of Nigeria and ASUU agreement of 2009 and as such should be rejected,’’ he said.
He also said the bill was discriminatory because it was targeted at only educators, insisting that evolving such a bill was baseless.
He further stressed that sexual harassment was a societal problem and not peculiar to tertiary institutions alone. Therefore, he said it was wrong of the Senate to single out tertiary institutions in the bill, describing it as a violation of Section 42(1) of the 1999 Constitution. He also said it was embarrassing that the legislative arm could seek to pass a law that violates the constitution.
But the National Universities Commission (NUC), the Nigerian Law Reform Commission and the Legal Aids Council, threw their weight behind the bill.
Speaking on behalf of NUC, its Executive Secretary, Prof. Julius Okojie, said even though federal and state universities had administrative structures for handling grievances, there was nothing wrong in having a legislation to enhance it.
He said: ‘”University Miscellaneous Provision Act gives them power to formulate policies and by-laws to guide them and most institutions have structures to handle these incidences.
“However, there is nothing wrong if there is a legislation to add to what is on ground. We are only saying that universities are doing something about sexual harassment , which may not be enough.”
He however, urged the Senate to increase the scope of the bill to cover primary and secondary schools.
“The bill appears to have duplication of offences already created in our extant laws. There should be holistic in approach to accommodate existing regulations in schools,” he added.
He also said beyond enacting laws, code of conduct should be prescribed to workers in schools as he reiterated the need to be morally sound.