The current allegations should be speedily investigated

In compliance with civil service rules, the Head of Service of the Federation, Folasade Yemi Esan last week queried the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ibrahim Lamuwa for alleged serial sexual harassment of a female worker, Simisola Fajemirokun-Ajayi. The allegations are contained in a letter written by her lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN. Yemi-Esan thereafter set up a committee to investigate the allegations. Ajayi, a married woman and political aide to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yusuf Tuggar, had detailed sundry allegations of improper conduct, sexual harassment, abuse of office, official intimidation and discrimination – all helping to create for her an unsafe and uncomfortable working environment.

Ajayi cited an incident last November, among others, when the permanent secretary invited her for a trip to Hong Kong and promising her significant personal benefits. “Bearing in mind the gravity of the matter,” wrote Tuggar, “I feel it necessary to draw your attention to it and ask that you handle it accordingly.” But Lamuwa has dismissed the allegations, arguing that the lady was out to embarrass him and tarnish his hard-earned reputation. In a response, also through his lawyer, Audu Anuga, SAN, Lamuwa said that the minister’s aide misinterpreted ordinary conversations, made openly in the presence of others, for untoward intentions.

As it stands, this is another clear case of the classical “she said, he said.” The truth could be in-between. While we urge speedy investigations to the matter so that justice can be done, sexual harassment in the workplace is a common phenomenon in Nigeria. It occurs across board, both in the public and private sectors. This case is perhaps attracting so much attention because of the personalities involved. Sexual harassment encompasses a wide range of inappropriate behaviour – from touching, sexual proposition, staring in lecherous manner to assault and rape. It is a form of unsolicited sexual attention which violates the dignity of victims. It can happen to both sexes, but mostly against the female. Yet, sexual harassment may cause loss of self confidence and self esteem, among other effects.

It is however more pervasive in the country’s tertiary institutions where academic performances are sometimes tied to sexual favours. Indeed, for years, this social malaise had straddled the academic environment, threatening the future of the nation’s youths, particularly the female students who are usually held to ransom by randy lecturers, intent on having sex with them. In several cases many female students have had their academic careers extended and sometimes worse, because of their refusal to succumb to sexual demands. Last March, a professor of law at the University of Calabar was arraigned at the Federal High Court in Abuja because of complaints against him by some of his students. A month later in April, another lecturer at the University of Nsukka was captured in a video half-naked in another clear case of sexual harassment.

A 2018 survey by the World Bank said 70 per cent of female graduates from Nigeria’s tertiary institutions had been sexually harassed in school by fellow students or lecturers; while a local survey of some students revealed that sexual violence was the most prevalent form of gender violence in the academic communities.  Indeed, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) has repeatedly bemoaned the scandalous trend and is at present investigating many cases of sexual harassment.

Nigeria has several laws against the practice, but they are obeyed mostly in the breach. Even the country’s constitution gives the individual the right to dignity, and the right from discrimination. Sexual harassment violates these and more. There is a growing body of evidence which indicates that when reporting sexual harassment becomes the new norm, it will help to deter perpetrators. 

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