The National Assembly should act fast on the bill on sexual harassment in tertiary institutions
The recorded voice alleged to be that of a lecturer at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, negotiating sex for grades with a student of the institution has once again brought to fore the ugly issue which in 2016 led the Senate to pass a bill. Although the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) opposed the bill at the time, we consider it important for the House of Representatives to complete their side so that we can have a proper law that will help rid our citadels of learning of sexual predators.
Titled “Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Education Institution: Prohibition Bill, 2016” and sponsored by Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, the bill prescribes a five-year jail term for lecturers convicted of sexual harassment of their male or female students. In the alternative, anyone found guilty of the offence is liable to a fine of N5 million. The bill also protects innocent lecturers by prescribing suspension or expulsion for any student who is found by a court of law to be liable for false accusation.
In the latest audio that went viral online a week ago, a lecturer in the Faculty of Administration demanded sex from an unknown female student, in a telephone conversation and the OAU authorities have set up a probe panel to unravel the matter. But given the tone of the statements from the campus, there are fears that the authorities may be more interested in the image of their school than ensuring justice for the hapless student who could end up being victimised for daring to go public with her story. That will be unfortunate.
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 ignominious 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 reports were 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.
This is a serious challenge we must begin to deal with. While demanding sexual gratification for marks from students may be a more blatant manifestation of a deeper deviation in our social psychology, there should be no excuse for such irresponsible behaviour from those who are paid to teach our children.
As we urge the authorities of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) to get to the root of this scandal and ensure that justice is done, we ask the House of Representatives to move quickly to ensure that they also pass the “Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Education Institution: Prohibition Bill, 2016” so that it can be used to make our citadels of learning totally uncomfortable for the morally bankrupt lecturers who populate the campuses of our institutions of learning.