By Soyombo Opeyemi
“But let me use this medium to warn all randy members of ASUU that a day of reckoning will come. There will ‘arise’ a government (official) with a set mind to purge our campuses of all debased dons who have turned them into sex-for-marks institutions and victimize students for refusing to satisfy their lascivious thoughts. Apart from being dismissed with ignominy, they will be tried and sent to various jail terms.”
The above extract is from my three-part discourse titled, “ASUU: Time for Self-examination”, published in the Daily Independent between June and July, 2009.
Apart from the Constitution Amendment Bill, the yearly Appropriation Bill and Petroleum Industry Bill, I do not immediately recall any other bill that is fundamental to the future of this country as the Sexual Harassment Bill, sponsored by Sen. Ovie Omo-Agege and 46 others.
The Bill prohibits any form of sexual relationship between lecturers and their students and prescribes jail term of up to five years but not less than two years with no option of fine for lecturers who engage in sexual relationship with students.
According to Senator Omo-Agege, the Bill, among others, “makes it a criminal offence for any educator in a university, polytechnic or any other tertiary educational institution to violate or exploit the student-lecturer fiduciary relationship for sexual pleasures; vice chancellors of universities, rectors of polytechnics and other chief executives of institutions of higher learning will go to jail for two years if they fail to act within a week on complaints of sexual harassment made by students; the Bill expressly allows sexually harassed students, their parents or guardians to seek civil remedies in damages against sexual predator lecturers before or after their successful criminal prosecution by the State.”
A respected colleague of mine in 2014 went to the University of Lagos to visit a friend. As he walked along the corridor, a young female student emerged from a lecturer’s office and he overheard her complaining (in Yoruba) to her female colleagues waiting by the door of the don: “This lecturer is fond of pressing /fondling one’s breasts!” It is that bad. Nigerians should therefore not be stunned by the ‘confrontation’ between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and National Female Students Association of Nigeria during the Senate Public Hearing on Monday, June 20, 2016 and the dire picture in the submission of the female union.
The National President of the female student association, Comrade Idongesit Micah, said: “Let me be very clear on our position on this bill. This is a bill that must be passed into law. It is either we enact this law to send sexual predator lecturers to prison for correction according to law under the fine democratic tenets of the rule of law or we provoke helpless parents, husbands, or guardians to, some day, pick a loaded gun and deal with this problem in a barbaric manner. Therefore, we passionately urge the Senate to ensure that it does not by inaction impose the Hobbesian state of nature of a banana republic on victims of sexual harassment in our tertiary institutions and their relatives by provoking them to fight for themselves by all means possible, including outside the law!”
No warning could be more foreboding; a stitch in time saves nine!
In every chance discussion since the current Bill became public knowledge, almost everyone has one sorry story to tell, either about themselves, their friends, family members or acquaintances across the nation’s campuses. We are here not talking about some bad eggs, the usual escapist argument. All the eggs are bad except a few! And it is our responsibility to encourage those few dons that are nurturing a great future for Nigeria. This Bill, in a way, should boost the morale of such conscientious teachers.
Although things degenerate everyday, the situation in our higher institutions of learning today is not substantially different from what it was in 2009:
Lecturers in Nigeria have turned our campuses into individual fiefdoms where they reign and rule; they have become gods that must be appeased by our youths. Lecturers enjoy near absolute freedom which you don’t find in other workplaces.
I have a friend at the University of Ibadan. She’s chaste, hardworking and cerebrally endowed. She’s been on her Master’s programme for over three years now. The supervisor is always on the road or in the air and always too busy.
“What does the professor supervisor want? Money, gift or what?” I asked.
“But she knows you’re married?”
“Marriage! If you’re a spinster, they say that’s good, if you’re married, they say that’s better, and if you’re pregnant, then you are in the best condition!”
“So the situation has sunk such deep?”
“Some of them even tell female students to meet them in hotels, which the students must pay for… but it happens on all campuses.”
“But why don’t you report or get another supervisor?”
“You can’t be sure my brother, these people have a clique… And if you report, who are the people to sit in judgement? Their colleagues! So, I’m not bothered again because my hands are engaged anyway…”
I have heard ASUU members argue, again and again, that no good student can be successfully victimized. It’s the most infantile argument I’ve ever heard (in the same mould as the current argument by ASUU that the Sexual Harassment Bill violates university autonomy – as if the police require any sanction of a varsity to investigate a crime or arrest a criminal within that university system!); in fact, scandalous because this is coming from university dons. Students are not equally endowed. There are A students as well as B, C and Ds. While it may, theoretically, be difficult to successfully victimize an A or B candidate, it is pretty easier to victimize a C or D student. Are the average students therefore not at the mercy of prurient lecturers? And what percentage of our varsity’s students are in A or B category? Certainly, a tiny percentage. But the reality on our campuses is that no student is immune from victimisation. We’ve had cases where sadistic lecturers removed some pages of answer booklets and later blamed the candidates for the offence. Even an A student may be weak in a particular course and hence could only get a D. Can such a student not be victimized easily in the said course? The dissolute teachers have however become wiser; they fail you through their proxies so you may not lay any blame at their doorsteps. The conditions on campuses are clearly weighed against the (female) students.
The argument by ASUU that the Bill is discriminatory because sexual harassment is not peculiar to tertiary institutions is equally not sustainable. In those other instances or places where you have this crime committed, they are generally among adults and fiduciary relationship is virtually non-existent. But on our campuses, our children are ranged against maurading fathers who hold the power to determine who or who does not graduate and when. The government puts these students in your care and pays you to teach them to become great asset to the country but you abuse them and turn them into liabilities to the society.
Of course, I am very much aware of provocative dressing by some students. But if students lose their common sense, must their lecturers also lose their sense of value? Indecent dressing or not, once these randy dons set their eyes on certain students, they take ‘No’ for an answer and if you dare them, they or their licentious colleagues fire you with Ds, Es and Fs. That is the cult system higher education has been reduced to in the country. Having hit a stone wall, the students succumb and go in with their fathers’ mates in order to graduate at the right time.
I recall the authorities of the University of Lagos approved a dress code for their students over a decade ago… I was once told of a disciplinarian lecturer at UI who would not condone indecent dressing. Students (male and female) dressed well for his classes. Such a code could be revived in all tertiary institutions of learning because we are concerned with “learning” and “character”. Students must dress responsibly. They should conduct themselves as the pride of the nation, the reason for our hope in the future.
I have no doubt the Bill will be passed by the National Assembly and President Muhammadu Buhari, the change agent, will sign it into law.
–Soyombo, a public affairs commentator, sent this piece via firstname.lastname@example.org