Rallying to tame amorous lecturers
Almost every other day, reports of lecturers sexually harassing their female students, come out of our ivory towers. In Nigeria’s extant penal code, consent or the lack of it is a critical factor in proving a rape case. This perhaps explains why philandering lecturers always escape the noose in court and their victims sentenced to life-long trauma. A bill before the National Assembly is seeking to make the ability to prove the act of rape enough to send a culpable lecturer to jail. ENO-ABASI SUNDAY, writes on how the law, when passed, would bring succour to rape victims and serve as a just reprimand to philandering teachers in higher institutions.
Mid last year, a part-time lecturer at the University of Lagos, Afeez Baruwa, allegedly raped an 18-year-old girl seeking admission into the University of Lagos.
But Baruwa, who carried out the act inside a study room in the institution, told the police that he did not rape the lady, insisting that the sexual intercourse between them was with mutual consent.
It was said that the father of the victim allowed his daughter to accompany Baruwa to the school on July 23, 2015 to follow up on her admission processes. Baruwa and the victim’s father belong to the same landlords’ association in the Abesan, Ipaja area of the state.
About 14 days before leaving office as rector of Lagos State Polytechnic (LASPOTECH) in mid 2015, Dr. Abdulazeez Abioye Lawal, at a session with journalist in the Conference Room of the school’s Isolo Campus, reeled out the achievements he recorded within the four years he was in office.
Lofty as the achievements were, the administrator, who described himself as an accidental rector, also revealed illicit sexual activities that went on in the school, especially in the Department of Computer Science for lengthy periods.
He particularly spoke about a lady who abandoned school simply because she was not keen on making love to some randy lecturers, who had threatened to punish her if she denied them the illicit pleasure.
Upon assumption of duty, Lawal, who learnt of the ugly episode persuaded the lady who was never interested in schooling there again to go over to the Surulere Campus, where she completed her programme. He also ensured that all affected lecturers were duly sanctioned for the display of shame.
Earlier in 2013, authorities of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, Kaduna State, dismissed Professor of Education, David Kolo, from the institution for allegedly sexually harassing one of his female students.
The sack was sequel to approval of the recommendation of the disciplinary committee empanelled to investigate Kolo by the institution’s governing council.
The don was earlier sentenced to two-month imprisonment by a court in Jigawa State, upon being found guilty of attempting to force a married female student to give in to his sex advances.
The brief scenario above is reflective of the scope of sexual exploitation going on on Nigerian campuses, and which has failed to abate despite the existence of relevant laws in the country’s penal code.
For lengthy periods, philandering lecturers have been on the prowl on Nigerian campuses debasing female students and inflicting immense trauma on those not willing to be debased. Married women are not spared this horrific practice, which have failed to abate despite the existence of relevant laws in the country’s penal code.
In fact, the brief scenario above is reflective of the fact that this rampant sexual exploitation recognises no religious, social or ethnic background.
A bill to mitigate all forms of sexual assault on female students in the country’s tertiary institutions, Tuesday passed second reading at the Senate.
The billed titled, “Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Institutions Bill 2016, stipulates strict penalty for randy lecturers or whoever exploits female students in higher Institutions.
Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, representing Delta Central Senatorial District, alongside 57 others are sponsoring the bill.
Omo-Agege described the unfolding ugly scenario as a “breakdown of culture” by those who ought to be mentoring younger generations in academics and even morally too. He stressed that when the Bill is passed into law, no horny educator, no matter how highly placed would be spared.
In his remarks after the bill was first read in the upper chamber, the lead sponsor said he “seeks enactment of an Act to Make Provisions for the Prohibition of Sexual Harassment of Students by Educators in Tertiary Educational Institutions in Nigeria and for Matters Connected Therewith, 2016.
He afterwards added that the major intention of the Bill was to restore morality, discipline and sanity between male educators and female students in higher institutions in the country.
He said after a careful and detailed research “over the years, our position as proposed in this Bill, is that since the female students being negatively influenced by male lecturers into sexual relationship are not capable of giving voluntary consent to that arrangement, there is need for a potent law to stop the immorality.”
According to the Bill, an educator “shall be guilty of committing an offence of sexual harassment against a student if he/she has sexual intercourse with a student who is less than 18 years of age; has sexual intercourse with a student or demands for sex from a student or a prospective student as a condition to study in an institution, or as a condition to the giving of a passing grade or the granting of honour and scholarships.”
It adds that an educator shall also be guilty if he/she, “Grabs, hugs, rubs or strokes or touches or pinches the breasts or hair or lips or hips or buttocks or any other sensual part of the body of a student; displays, gives or sends by hand or courier or electronic or any other means unclad or sexually explicit pictures or videos or sex-related objects to a student or whistle or winks at a student or screams or exclaims or jokes or makes sexually complimentary or uncomplimentary remarks about a student’s physique.”
In the proposed Act, “Any person who commits any of the acts specified in Section 4 of this Act is guilty of an offence and shall, on conviction, be sentenced to imprisonment of up to five years, but not less than two years without any option of fine.”
In an interview with The Guardian, Omo-Agege said the issue of sexual harassment in tertiary institutions, even though not novel, was very important to him hence it became the second bill he was sponsoring since becoming a senator.
He said the decision to plunge into this was consequent upon the failure of extant laws in the country’s penal code to make it easy for the victims to prove their cases.
“So, since existing laws dealing with rape are constantly creating an atmosphere where prosecutors are incapable of proving their cases, as the culprits are always saying whatever they did with the students was with their consent, we are making it easy for the culprits to be nailed. In view of this, we are out to remove the importance of proving consent as a necessity so that victims would only be left with the task of proving the act.”
Omo-Agege, who insisted that everything was wrong with a romantic relationship between a lecturer and his student, added that the bill was something akin to the Honour Code, which exists in the United States.
“If a lecturer has sex with his/her student, I think that every thing is wrong with this because of the relationship of authority, of dependency and of trust that exists between the two. In view of all these, any bold student that dares to turn down the overtures risks low grades or failure in the affected course. We are just trying to domesticate the United States’ Honour Code, which is so strict that it bars an educator from having sex with his students and also specifies that doors be kept open when a male lecturer is meeting with a female student.”
The lawmaker decried a situation where lecturers see female students under their watch as perks of office to be enjoyed, or fringe benefits accruing to them on account of their professional calling.
“By the last count, there were 58 co-sponsors of the bill drawn across political, ethnic and gender lines because of the prevalent nature of the malaise. Currently, there is almost no household in this country that there exists no victim. If one’s daughter is not involved, his sister or niece or aunt could have suffered it, and no part of this country is spared this as far as tertiary education is involved.”
The lawmaker said decent university teachers, who go about their activities in the prescribed manner, and with immense decorum have nothing to fear or worry about because nobody would be after them.
“This is the best time and also the best way to arrest this shameful act. As I have said before, this law is targeted at indecent lecturers, and in just a short while, their crime will find them out.”
One of the first academics to openly embrace stripping randy lecturers of “powers” to sexually exploit female students in the country is the President, American University of Nigeria (AUN), Yola, Adamawa State, Margee Ensign. She went on to call on vice chancellors of Nigerian universities to also throw their support behind the Bill.
Ensign, who said her six-year sojourn in the country, has revealed the culture in some places where girls are deemed “free game.”
She deplored a situation where some male faculty members feel they are imbued with the powers to sexually harass and abuse female students in their classes, stressing that the situation was completely reprehensible and abhorrent.
Only recently, the new vice chancellor of Caleb University, Imota, Lagos, Prof. Ayandiji Aina, deplored the soaring rate of sexual abuse of female student in secondary schools and higher institutions in the country. He warned the randy lecturers to, as a matter of urgency, desist from the nefarious act or be prepared to incur the wrath of God.
Aina, the pioneer president and vice chancellor of Adeleke University, Ede, Osun State, wondered why lecturers and teachers- supposed role models and mentors would stoop low enough to abuse students who look up to them for direction, protection and guidance.
He said it was high time educational instructors at all levels stop seeing their female students as sex objects, but as their mentees and future leaders.
His words: “Stop seeing our students as sex objects. Please be role models to them in order not to incur the wrath of God. See them as your children that you are to guide, counsel, protect and mentor. The prevailing cases of sexual assault in our educational institutions is demeaning and unwarranted.”
On why sexual harassment has refused to go away from campuses, Education Consultant, Joy Chinwokwu, said the failure of law enforcement agents to mete out punitive measures to identified offenders has led to the escalation of the act as more lecturers would dare to harass more female students and damn the consequences, knowing that in any case, there would likely be no consequence.
“On the part of students, the reality that reporting a lecturer for sexual harassment may backfire with the possibility of further victimisation, only mean three things- hold your ground and bear the harassment with its negative consequences such as unmerited poor scores; yield to the pressure against their will or, change your course of study, or if need be, school,” she stated.
She added that the prevalence of sexual assaults cases simply shows how debased the society has transformed. While sexual harassment has always been in existence, it appears from reports, to have assumed a more alarming situation. Unfortunately, this is a reflection of the decadence in the wider society. In other words, it is a statement on the failure of our homes (that now breed monsters), the marriage institutions (that produce adulterous husbands with no respect for their marital vows), the religious institutions (that have totally lost connection with God), and a country where only very few are interested in justice. The general public should rise to condemn acts of sexual harassment and demand justice, irrespective of who is victim. In my view, lecturers who harass children that are young enough to be their kids are malfunctioning. Either they have psychological problems, or they are totally deranged.
She stressed that, “No romantic relationship between a student and a lecturer should be encouraged, for any reason whatsoever. While one cannot rule out the possibility of genuine love, chances that such a relationship would be exploitative, especially on the part of the teacher, are very high.
“Most students are still juvenile and should build and nurture relationships with their mates and gradually discover what it means to date. A teacher dating a student will likely take advantage of her, especially as she may be gullible. Besides, most students see their teachers as role models father or ‘uncle’ figure. Where that is the case, many would find it embarrassing, even shocking to be approached by their teachers for a romantic relationship. This could lead to lack of concentration in class for such student, who may indeed begin to dread classes. It is therefore likely to affect her academic performance at the end of the day. Any teacher that thinks he genuinely loves a student should take into consideration the negative effect such a relationship could have on her primary goal of obtaining quality education.
Chinwokwu, who also publishes an education magazine, expressed hope that, “Definitely, the bill will change a lot of things. The thought of going to jail for five years should caution the philandering lecturers. However, the bill will not be enough, even after it sails through. Like we all know, the problem with running Nigeria has never been the paucity of laws. It has always been the willpower to implement the existing laws. Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction. But my question to the distinguished senator however is, why limit the bill to the tertiary institutions? Are we expecting another bill for primary and secondary institutions … I actually must commend Senator Omo-Agege for speaking up for young women. Coming from a man, that is indeed encouraging.
Another education consultant and legal practitioner, Mrs. Lebari Ukpong, said that unwelcome sexual advances and requests for sexual favours remain prevalent in our campuses, “is a sign of the moral decadence in our society. There are many people in our society today who fail to see sexual harassment and gender equality as a serious ethical issue. The menace has not reduced because most of the victims are afraid to report the cases. The perpetrators of this act succeed and get away with their actions as the structures or lack of structures facilitate the behaviour, so the situation thrives.
Ukpong, who is also the managing director of Inside Edge Limited, a market entry, education and scholarship consultancy outfit lamented that “some schools simulate seriousness in treating the issue of sexual harassment as they have guidelines relating to this, but are not adhered to. Incidents are not subjected to an objective laid down process, but rather handled subjectively depending on the status and influence of the lecturer/student involved.”
She continued, “If schools were serious about the issue, they would take time and spend resources to create awareness about the scourge, and let students know their rights and recourse,” adding that, “Prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment and the school authorities needs to take necessary steps to prevent the act from even occurring. They need to clearly communicate to all staff and students that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. A simple “zero tolerance on sexual harassment” signs at highly visible areas such as lecture halls and hostels will help to create awareness.
“Institutions can also provide sexual harassment training for lecturers and all employees and establish an effective complaint or grievance process, then take immediate and appropriate action when a student complains.
In my eight years of working in administration of a United Kingdom university, there was never any report from a student about sexual harassment from a lecturer because if a lecturer is found guilty, that could be the end of their career.”
On how confused female students should handle situations when they are faced with randy lecturers who won’t let them be, she said, “I spoke to some current students in universities about sexual harassment and a striking recurrent comment was that very young students especially those under 18 were easy targets as they did not have sufficient confidence to handle the situation. Some were even so intimidated that they were afraid to discuss it with even fellow students.
“Ideally, part of sexual education from parents would include informing children about their rights, boundaries and recognition of sexual harassment and what to do. Children should have the confidence to be able to speak to their parents or guardians in the first instance so that there is a concerted effort to address the situation. Students can also speak to their religious leaders on campus and the students’ unions.
On the capacity of the Bill by Omo-Agege to stem the tide when passed into law, she said, “Passing a law against sexual harassment is good, but the pertinent issue is the implementation. I am almost certain that most universities have rules against sexual harassment, but all this exist only on paper. The cost or importance of stopping such behavior competes with other values and ultimately stopping sexual harassment does not emerge as a dominant priority. In essence the bill will make an impact only if it is implemented.
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