The sexual harassment in tertiary education prohibition bill is a good piece of legislation

The recent passage, by the Senate, of a bill which seeks to stamp out sexual harassment of students by lecturers in the nation’s tertiary institutions is a commendable development.

Titled: “Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Education Institution: Prohibition Bill, 2016” and sponsored by Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, it prescribes a five-year jail term for lecturers and educators convicted of sexual harassment of their male or female students. In the alternative, anyone found guilty of the offense is liable to a fine of five million naira. But the bill protects innocent lecturers and educators by prescribing suspension or expulsion for any student who is found by a court of law to be liable for false accusation.

It is indeed very depressing that the campuses of our institutions of higher learning ordinarily considered as sane and safe havens for the acquisition of knowledge and inculcation of character have been turned into hideouts for sexual gratification by those who should impart knowledge.

For years, this social malaise had straddled our tertiary institutions, threatening the future of the nation’s youths, particularly the female students who are usually held to ransom by randy lecturers, intent on having illicit sex with them. In several cases, many female students have had their academic carrier extended, and sometimes truncated, because of their refusal to succumb to such demand for sex.

Ordinarily, the internal rules and regulations of the tertiary institutions would have been sufficient to rein in these sexual abusers. Unfortunately, the malaise is so endemic that even those at the highest levels of most institutions are believed to be neck deep in the unwholesome practice of demanding sexual gratifications for marks. In several instances, heads of departments to whom students report the harassment and members of panels to which the report was referred for investigation, were themselves involved in the abuse. That then explains why for years, gangs of sexual abusers who acted as though above the law have been allowed to operate freely on the campuses of most institutions of learning in Nigeria.

In a way, it is not an isolated development though it is a serious challenge we must begin to deal with. Having created a society in which the seemingly strong are seeking ways to display their superiority over the ‘weak’, demanding sexual gratification for marks from students may be a more blatant manifestation of a deeper deviation in our social psychology. But there should be no excuse for such irresponsible behaviour from those who are paid to teach our children.

However, as important as the bill is, for it to make meaning when eventually passed into law by the National Assembly and assented by the president, the relevant authorities must be alive to their responsibilities. A point of safe, protective and comforting recourse must exist for victims of such sexual harrassment to pursue the ends of justice without being victimised or stigmatised. But to the extent that this bill promises to ease the burden of students who had been vulnerable to what amounts to a serious abuse, we support it even as we urge the House of Representatives to issue its concurrence without delay for the eventual assent of the president.

We hope, however, that this bill, when eventually passed into law, would be utilised by our law enforcement agencies to hunt down those sexual miscreants in the nation’s tertiary institutions who parade themselves as lecturers even when they are no more than petty criminals.

As we therefore urge that the law be used to make our citadels of learning totally uncomfortable for these randy fellows, we hope that there would always be diligent prosecution and swift sanctions that would help to ultimately free our institutions of higher learning of corrupt lecturers and sexual predators.