Stakeholders must help to raise the level of discourse between students and lecturers, writes Monday Philips Ekpe

The alleged conversation between Professor Richard Akindele and Miss Monica Osagie, both of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, that went viral recently has once again put a spotlight on the tertiary educational institutions in Nigeria. In it, the lecturer demanded five rounds of sex in exchange for better marks. As expected, even before the university took the steps that led to the suspension of Akindele, the accused and authorities were roundly condemned by people for molestation and inability to protect students, especially females. It did not matter to the “judges” that the aggrieved student had failed for a long time to be physically identified with the confident voice in the social media that had put reputations at jeopardy.

Let’s be clear about this. The angst that has greeted this scandal is not misplaced. Even before Miss Osagie finally appeared before the university’s investigative panel to testify, the OAU saga already had sufficient grounds for its verisimilitude. Stories about lecturers who seek to satisfy their sexual passion not minding the mental and emotional trauma their victims suffer are common. These unscrupulous men sometimes refer to the girls as “bush meat”, delicacies to be savoured and enjoyed freely. In many situations, this unfortunate practice is the norm – something that has compromised the integrity of scholarship, examination results and certificates. The question is, can this nation afford to surrender the probity of its tertiary education to the forces of riotous, predatory sex drive? One does not have to be a moralist to accept the fact that young people who pay to acquire knowledge should not be violated by the persons charged with the responsibility of tutoring them.

Libido is an intriguing instinct. It commands a compelling presence. It is innate, a core component of Id (as expounded by Sigmund Freud), without which procreation would be hindered. It is also a tested vehicle for bonding between persons in love. Sadly, too, it is capable of enslaving its owner. Some people in this category do yield their reasoning faculties to the dictates of their groin or pelvis. More than ever, lecturers need to have a better understanding of this human condition. It is in their own interest to do so rather than attempt to figure out how not to be exposed or caught after deliberate acts of intimidation and victimisation.

One explanation for this embarrassing lifestyle is the indecent dressing by some ladies on campus. This point is hypocritical and weak. Should the sign, “Food is Ready” always convince a passerby to enter a restaurant and take a bite? Years back, while I was doing a story on sexual assault in the workplace, Chief (Mrs.) Opral Benson retorted, “The problem is with you men. Even if you see, why can’t you look the other way?” The answer to that pertinent poser is not always straightforward, we must confess.

There is another side to the sex demand and supply phenomenon on campus. The same unfavourable factors that make excellence difficult in higher institutions also contribute to the enthronement of academic laziness among lecturers and students. Endorsements and good marks are, therefore, sometimes sought and awarded fraudulently. Money, material things, labour and sex have become currencies for such transactions. A female student told me the other day that, “It is stupid ladies like that girl (Osagie) who spoil market for babes”. That means it is not every time that teachers are the ones who initiate the move to produce undeserved grades from the bed. Sadly, a willing “provision store” exists. But no matter what, the bulk of the duty to ensure sanity here rests squarely on individual lecturers. It should bother them that gradually some of them are being defined by shameful extra-curricular activities.

We must not continue on the present path. The Nigerian public and relevant bodies should now raise the student-lecturer discourse above its current composition. It is indeed sad that the noble profession of teaching is being slaughtered on the altar of erotic ignominy and needless mutual distrust between lecturers and students. Not much can be achieved in an atmosphere fouled by bullying, or the fear of it, and sexual exploitation. Educational psychologists do agree that a certain degree of both formal and semi-formal affiliations between tertiary learners and their lecturers is required to attain desirable results.

Curiously, in many advanced countries, sexual harassment in higher institutions of learning is more prevalent amongst students. In those places, there are concerns that students and teachers do not even interact enough. In an article published in Oxford Review of Education in 2014 titled, “Teacher-Student Relationship at University: An Important yet under-researched Field”, Gerda Hagenauer and Simone Volet examined various researches on the quality and outcomes of the relationships that existed between students and their instructors. According to them, “Based on the assumption that Teacher-Student Relationship (TSR) develops through ongoing interactions between students and teachers, the fundamental basis of TSR is the occurrence of these interactions. With regard to the beneficial effects of a positive TSR on students’ university adjustment, prior studies on the frequency of teacher–student interactions have painted a relatively alarming picture….that out-of-class interactions between students and their lecturers are infrequent and mainly task-focused.

“Few interactions go beyond course-related issues… that only 50% of an American student sample visited their teacher during office hours and that these consultations were brief… Informal interactions before and after class were more frequent, but a third of the students reported that they had never contacted their teachers informally… Personal tutors at a British university reported many students did not approach them, even though their responsibility included both academic and social support.”

Similar investigations should be carried out here while taking into consideration our socio-cultural peculiarities. The findings could add value to the nation’s embattled higher learning architecture and form part of the “Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Educational Institutions Prohibition Bill, 2016” resting in the National Assembly at the moment.