Finding a lasting solution to sexual harassment in schools
In Nigerian higher institutions, (university, polytechnic or college of education), lechery is reportedly with lecturers. The stark reality is that sexual harassment or abuse permeates all levels of education – down to nursery school. In the wake of the leaked raunchy audio tape implicating a professor in a sex-for-mark scandal, the Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL, writes about the prevalence of sexual harassment and the need to stop it
To provide some context on the melodrama that greeted the alleged sexual harassment of Monica Osagie by Prof. Richard Akindele, a lecturer at the Management and Accounting Department of Obafemi Awolowo University, Osun State, it is instructive to consider the transcript of the leaked audio.
Female voice: Hello sir, Prof. Akindele. Yesterday, you said something but because I was close to my boyfriend I could not say anything. You said you’ve submitted it.
Male voice: I gave you an opportunity and you missed it. Forget about it. You will do it next year.
Female voice: I was calling to confirm whether you were serious about it.
Male voice: Me that agreed to do something. I know what I meant. If you don’t trust me, forget about it. If I wouldn’t do it, why should I give you audience in the first place? If I am not interested in doing it, I won’t give you audience in the first instance. The other person has come and I told her straight away because there is nothing I can do to bail that person out and her mark is even better than your own. The person scored 39 while your own is 33. Only two people failed the course so what else do you want me to do? You can see it anytime you come. We are at Moro doing exam; we are doing MBA executive exam. They are just starting. I will finish by 4:30 and maybe 5:00, I should be in the office. If you are ready, come by 5:00. Why did you tell me you were on your period the other time?
Female voice: I was really seeing my period Prof. Akindele.
Male voice: Stop mentioning my name. And now nko?
Female voice: I am not on my period now.
Male voice: Your boyfriend has done it yesterday?
Female voice: Is it every time that someone will be doing with the boyfriend? Is it every time you do it with your wife?
Male voice: Yes.
Female voice: It’s a lie; not possible. So what’s the plan now?
Male voice: Let’s have the first one today and then we will do another one tomorrow. Is our agreement not five times?
Female voice: Is it B that you want to give me or C? Why would it be five times you will ‘nack’ me?
Male voice: That’s what I will do.
Female voice: Prof, you know what? Let me fail it. I can’t do it five times. For what, na? No worry. Thank you, sir.
Male voice: You are welcome.
In one survey of female graduates in Nigeria’s higher institutions, at least 69.8 per cent said they had been sexually harassed by their lecturers and male classmates. It added that about two-thirds experienced the non-physical sexual harassment (in the form of sexual comments and requests to do something sexual in exchange for academic favours); 48.2 per cent experienced physical sexual abuse. But statistics only scratches the surface of the ugly practice.
Following the emergence of the raunchy audio in the public square, not a few people have reacted wide-eyed. Even though the lecturer had been identified, it was alleged that he has gone hiding.
Are the guilty afraid?
The spokesperson for the university, Abiodun Olanrewaju, had in his initial reaction explained, “I don’t know if he has gone into hiding because he is not a criminal. We are still investigating the allegations levelled against him. He has not been convicted and he is not before any court of competent jurisdiction. If any student comes out to tell the university that certain things happened to them, the university will investigate it. As a university, we don’t rely on speculations neither do we dwell on rumours.
But after the investigative committee’s report on the matter, the university admitted that a prima-facie case has been established against Prof Akindele and suspended him indefinitely.
The university said it had established that the female voice in the phone conversation was that of Miss Monica Osetobe Osagie, a postgraduate Business Administration student doing a regular programme.
A statement by the vice chancellor, Prof. Eyitope Ogunbodede, said: “Having regard to the gravity of the offence for which Prof. Akindele is found to be prima facie liable, the vice chancellor, in line with the code of conduct of the university and acting under the laws and regulations of the university enabling him in that regard, has directed his suspension.
“We will like to reiterate that OAU will continue to do everything legally and morally acceptable in pursuance of its avowed commitment to zero tolerance for sexual harassment, intimidation and, or coercion.”He said according to the report submitted to the office of the vice chancellor, it had been established that Prof. Akindele of the Department of Management and Accounting was the lecturer in the controversial “marks for sex” audio recording.
“Under the provisions of the relevant statute of the university, an academic worker can only be dismissed or have his or her appointment terminated when the matter on which consideration is being given has been investigated by a joint council and Senate Committee, and the worker has appeared before the committee with his or her counsel, if so desired.
“This procedure is the minimum requirement of the law and regulations of the university. It should, therefore, be noted that the suspension of Prof. Akindele is on the basis of the findings of the committee that he is prima facie liable, and this decision will abide, pending the final determination of the case by the council.”
Curiously though, in 2016, in another university in the same state, a raunchier episode of sexual harassment unfolded. A 34-minute video was posted online suggesting a sexual encounter reportedly between one Dr. Wale Ojoniyi (at the Department of Languages and Linguistics, Osun State University, Ikire Campus) and Mercy Ikwue, a 400-level English student of the school.
The student was allegedly caught cheating during an exam and was expelled for an academic session.When she returned to the institution having observed the expulsion, Ojoniyi, allegedly began to make a pass at her.In the video, though the couple was not shown having sex, the man in the video, identified as Ojoniyi, was naked and appeared to be caressing Ikwue occasionally.
In the video, the student used the bed sheet to cover up her body while the lecturer walked to the bed with his manhood swinging like a pendulum.In response to the video and allegation of sexual harassment, Ojoniyi simply said, “I also heard of the video. It is being investigated. People can do anything. But I cannot be brought down.”
Reacting to the recent scandal involving the OAU lecturer, Prof. Remi Sonaiya said, “Terrible! Unfortunately, many universities don’t have strong deterrence or punishment for abusers. Students should be encouraged to speak out when such things happen. There must be at least someone in the institution who can be trusted and confided in. Justice must be done. The good thing about such cases becoming public is that it will force the institutions to address them more seriously – if only to protect their name. Sadly, our universities have not dealt seriously with the issue of sexual harassment.”
In 2016, a couple of months before the Ojoniyi leaked sex tape, a bill that would slam five-year jail term on lecturers guilty of sexually harassing female students was being considered. The bill sought to prohibit any form of sexual relationship between lecturers and students.If passed into law, the bill would ensure that vice chancellors of universities, rectors of polytechnics and other chief executives of institutions of higher learning will go to jail for two years if they fail to act within a week on complaints of sexual harassment made by students.
The proposed bill read in part, “An educator shall be guilty of committing an offence of sexual harassment against a student if he or she has sexual intercourse with a student. He or she shall be guilty if he 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. He or she shall be guilty if he has sexual intercourse with a student or demands for sex from a student or a prospective student as a condition to the giving of a passing grade.
However, the bill does not spare students. Any student who falsely accuses lecturers of sexual harassment will likely be expelled from school.During a public hearing on the bill in June 2016, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) saw the bill in a different light.“As a global norm, universities and other tertiary institutions are established by law as autonomous bodies and have their own laws regulating their affairs. This includes misconduct generally among both staff and students, with clearly articulated appropriate redress mechanism. Any law or bill, which seeks to supplant these laws, violates the university autonomy. In this particular instance, the bill violates the federal government of Nigeria and ASUU agreement of 2009 and as such should be rejected,” ASUU Chairman, Biodun Ogunyemi, had said.
“The bill is discriminatory, selective, spiteful, and impulsive and lacks logic and any intellectual base by attacking the character and persons of those in tertiary institutions rather than addressing the issue holistically. Furthermore, the bill is dangerous and inimical to the institutions as it contains several loose and ambiguous words and terms which could also be used to harass, intimidate, victimise and persecute, especially lecturers, through false accusation,” he had added.But the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Julius Okogie, at that time felt otherwise.
“University miscellaneous provision act gives them power to formulate policies and by-laws to guide them and most institutions have structures to handle these incidents. However, there is nothing wrong if there is a legislation to add to what is on the ground. We are only saying that universities are doing something about sexual harassment, which may not be enough,” he had argued.
In Nigeria, sexual harassment is not limited to tertiary institutions.To underscore how rife the incident is, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2015 stated that six out of 10 children in the country experienced sexual abuse before the age of 18.
In a four-year – between 2008 and 2012 – analysis of sexual assault cases at Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), it was revealed that out of a total 287 reported cases of sexual assault, 83 per cent of the victims were below the age of 19.
And in its 2012-2013 study on sexual abuse, Enugu State University Teaching Hospital (ESUTH), found out that 70 per cent of sexual assault victims were under the age of 18. Similarly, in Rivers State, at least 1,200 girls were raped in 2012, according to the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development.In more advanced nations, incidents like that of Ikwue and the OAU student would have generated at least a mass protest or led to the resignation of those fingered in the issue. Until Nigerians – especially female students – take themselves more seriously, the leaders – including lecturers – will continue to take them for a ride, analysts have said.
They noted that if unchecked, female students would carry physical, emotional and mental scars that will affect their academic performance and likely their future relationships with the opposite sex.
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