Deji Elumoye in Abuja
Public university lecturers under the aegis of the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) yesterday opposed the formulation of a new law to fight sexual harassment of female students in higher institutions.
Rather, the body canvassed for the review of existing laws to adequately address the issue of sexual harassment in higher schools.
National President of ASUU, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, made the position of the lecturers known at a public hearing on ‘Sexual Harassment of Students in Tertiary Educational Institution Prohibition Bill’ sponsored by the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege.
Emphasising that ASUU was not in support of sexual harassment in any form, Ogunyemi stressed that if there was a law that addressed issues relating to sexual harassment, there was no need wasting time on another law.
According to him, “Are there no laws that would address this same problem we are concerned about? I think the answer is yes. We have the Act of 2015.
“We should reconcile this bill with that Act to cover our new areas of concern. Are we also going to formulate a separate law to address corruption in universities; are we going to formulate other laws to address sexual harassment in the police force?
“If we find any law deficient, what does it cost us to review it? This bill has failed to take cognisance of various extant legislations that currently deal with sexual offences. I see confusion between sexual harassment and abuse.”
Ogunyemi said there was the need to review the existing laws and recognise the autonomy of the universities.
He added: “We have a law-the autonomy law of 2007-legislated by the National Assembly, which has already made provisions for us to address all of these. We talk of the institutional procedures-these procedures are irreconcilable with prosecution.
“There are aspects that are criminal; immediately such instance happens, we know where to go. Universities are currently handling problems like this and we should not agree with you; we should not discredit our custodians of knowledge.”
Also speaking, Executive Director, Youth Alive Foundation (YAF), Dr. Uduak Okon, said the Independent Prohibitions Committee should be protected because the committee was the first point of redress for students.
She said: “The committee is where the cases of assault can be reported, investigated and sanctions taken. It is only when students are not happy that they can go out externally to high court.
“We have to ensure that we protect that committee so that it does what it’s meant to do. In clause 16, it recommends seven members while five will form a quorum. This is risky because if you have seven members and only two students in the committee, that means that you can make decisions without students representation. We will recommend that the quorum should include students.”
Reacting to ASUU’s position that existing laws on sexual harassment should be reviewed, Okon said the lecturers are being defensive.
“This is not about lecturers. This is a menace. This bill is about those lecturers perpetrating these offences, identifying them and giving sanctions. The thing ASUU does is to close ranks and protect them. They should instead see that this could be a situation for ASSU to clear its names and sanitise its reputation. ASUU has to stop feeling threatened by this bill,” she said.
Speaking earlier while declaring the public hearing open, Senate President, Dr Ahmad Lawan, emphasised that sexual harassment and intimidation was not just a sexual offence but a criminal one.
Lawan, who was represented by the Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi, stressed the need for stakeholders to think upon new resolutions and sanctions to check the menace if the extant laws were not tight enough.
“As citizens we must have a common responsibility to fight the menace,” he stated.
The public hearing was put together by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters headed by Senator Bamidele Opeyemi.
The bill, which scaled the second reading at Senate plenary on November 6, 2019, seeks to prohibit the offence of sexual harassment of students in tertiary educational institutions and impose stiff punitive measures on perpetrators and potential perpetrators.