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Sexual harassment as Buhari’s slingshot against ASUU

By Iyabo Lawal
05 March 2020   |   3:08 am
The Academic Staff Union of Universities can be vociferous when it comes to pecuniary issues affecting its members. However, it hardly takes a firm stance against sexual harassment of female students -at best it issues a mere statement

The Academic Staff Union of Universities can be vociferous when it comes to pecuniary issues affecting its members. However, it hardly takes a firm stance against sexual harassment of female students -at best it issues a mere statement. Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL, explores the union’s stance in the light of President Muhammadu Buhari’s statement.

Recently, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), University of Lagos (UNILAG) branch finally regained its voice and spoke against the alleged sexual harassment of a supposed student by a lecturer from its ranks.

Its Chairman, Dr Dele Ashiru said the union was against all unethical practices among its members, including sexual harassment.

“The development is very disturbing and unfortunate. We have appealed to colleagues to understand that as lecturers, we stand in ‘loco parentis’ (in the place of a parent) to these students and must not be perceived in any way of not being protective.

“We condemn this act of shame in its entirety and want the matter to be thoroughly investigated and appropriate sanction carried out on all those found culpable,” said Ashiru.

That, however, did not stop President Muhammadu Buhari from using the issue as a slingshot to take a swipe at an association that has continued to harry and demonise his administration since inception in 2015.

Buhari, represented by the Executive Secretary National Universities Commission (NUC) Prof. Abubakar Rasheed, told the union at the 25th convocation ceremony of the University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State: “Permit me to share my thought with the Academic Staff Union of Universities. I commend them for being a loud voice for the revitalisation of university education in Nigeria over the years… It is very disheartening to hear about the increase in incidents of plagiarism, sorting and sexual harassment in many universities in the country.”

Rubbing it in, the president pointed out, “These aspects of academic corruption should also be of concern to ASUU and indeed the academia as a whole.

“We should be able to look up to the university as a citadel of probity, accountability, transparency, critical inquiry and freedom.”

No doubt, President Buhari is not known for frivolity, neither is he known to be randy.

“However, I want to challenge them (university lecturers) to throw their searchlight on the issues of corporate governance of their various institutions. It would amount to unwholesome critical posturing if their criticism is directed at the perceived failure of government alone while they look away at obvious governance inadequacies of their own institution, right under their nose.

“It would give credence and credibility to their fearless critical stance with regard to the government if they address internal university management flaws with equal and unsparing forthrightness,” Buhari advised ASUU.

Soon, the Nigerian Senate ratcheted up the campaign against sexual harassment in tertiary institutions when it debated a bill, the sexual harassment bill (which scaled second reading on the floor of the senate, it was sponsored by the deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege.

The proposed legislation, ‘A bill for an Act to prevent, prohibit and redress sexual harassment of students in tertiary educational institutions and for other matters connected therewith 2019’, has 27 clauses. The bill proposed up to 14 years jail term, with a minimum of five years, without an option of fine for any educator who commits sexual offences in tertiary institutions.

The bill defined sexual offences as including sexual intercourse with a student or demands for sex from a student or a prospective student or intimidating or creating a hostile or offensive environment for the student by soliciting for sex or making sexual advances. Other forms of sexual harassment identified in the bill are grabbing, hugging, kissing, rubbing, stroking, touching, pinching the breasts or hair or lips or hips or buttocks or any other sensual part of the body of a student; or sending by hand or courier or electronic or any other means naked or sexually explicit pictures or videos or sex-related objects to a student, and whistling or winking at a student or screaming, exclaiming, joking or making sexually complimentary or uncomplimentary remarks about a student’s physique or stalking a student.

Senator Omo-Agege, in his lead debate, said, “The most effective way to deal with the offence of sexual harassment in our tertiary institutions is to penalise the very impropriety of the act, with or without consent.”

According to him, sexual harassment must be defined in tertiary educational institutions as statutory rape with strict liability for offenders to be prosecuted easily.

On the extension of the bill to primary, secondary schools, worship centres and workplace, Omo-Agege said doing so would not be necessary because the criminal and penal codes adequately deal with these categories with sufficient clarity.

The bill, however, prescribed expulsion for students who falsely accuse educators of sexual harassment, saying, “An educator whose character is maligned is at liberty to sue for defamation under the law of defamation which is well-settled in our jurisprudence and needs no duplication in this bill.”

During the 8th Senate, there was a proposed bill that proposed to slam a five-year jail term on lecturers guilty of sexually harassing female students. The bill sought to prohibit any form of sexual relationships 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 go to jail for two years if they failed to act within a week on complaints of sexual harassment made by students.

“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 demand for sex from a student or a prospective student as a condition to the giving of a passing grade,” the previously proposed bill had said.

However, during a public hearing on the bill in June 2016, 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 mechanisms. 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.

He added, “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 accusations.”

However, the then executive secretary of NUC, Prof. Julius Okogie had noted, “University miscellaneous provision act gives them the 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 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.”

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. Also, in Rivers State, at least 1,200 girls were raped in 2012, according to the Centre for the environment, human rights, and development.

In a pulsating documentary, the BBC Africa Eye’s sex-for -grade documentary exposed how Nigerian lecturers sexually harass female students. In the exclusive undercover year-long investigation, the BBC revealed proof of a sexual harassment scandal at West Africa’s top universities including UNILAG and the University of Ghana as journalists posing as students made secret recordings of male lecturers who harassed and abused young women.

Dr. Boniface Igbeneghu, a senior lecturer in UNILAG’s faculty of arts, a former sub-dean, and the head pastor of a local branch of the Foursquare Gospel Church, which has over 8.8 million members in over 90,000 churches across 146 nations, was caught on camera sexually harassing an undercover reporter who posed as an admission seeker in the institution.

The church in a statement by its National Secretary Rev. Ikechukwu Ugbaja, noted, “The general public is hereby informed that as holiness and bible believing church, we do not condone such heinous and unscriptural act among our ministers. We totally dissociate ourselves from the purported conduct of Dr. Igbenoghu and promise to take appropriate measures as soon as the ongoing investigation is concluded.”

In the video, the senior lecturer revealed how he and some of his colleagues patronised the institution staff club ‘cold room’ to have sexual activities with female students.

According to Igbeneghu, inside the ‘cold room’, lecturers meet to “touch students breasts”. Following the expose, the lecturer has been asked to step down from all “ministerial assignments” in his church as it dissociated itself from his shameful conduct. Igbeneghu’s example illustrates how lecturers, who can make or break academic careers, groom victims in academic settings; abusing their power to try to get what they want.

The major protagonist of the documentary, Kiki Mordi, said: “No one should be robbed of their future. When the dream slipped away I didn’t have any options. I did this story for my 19-year-old self who did not have a voice in the face of sexual harassment.”

Other lecturers accused of sexual harassment in the film include Dr. Paul Kwame Butakor, a lecturer in the College of Education, University of Ghana; Prof. Ransford Gyampo, a political scientist and outspoken commentator; and Dr. Samuel Oladipo, an Economics lecturer at UNILAG

However, UNILAG is not new to sex scandals.

In 2018, the institution threatened to involve the Nigerian police to compel Joy Nwanna, who accused one of her lecturers of sexually harassing her, to appear before an investigation committee to substantiate her allegations.

Nwanna had accused a professor of Linguistics, Segun Awonusi, of sexual harassment. She was a former student of the English Department who was enrolled to 200 level through direct entry during the 2012/2013 academic session and graduated in 2016.

The sexual scandal involving one Monica Osagie and Prof. Richard Akindele (then-lecturer at the Management and Accounting department of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Osun State should deepen the context of the sex-for-mark video. OAU did not stand behind him. He was suspended.

Later, he was arraigned in court and found guilty. The lecturer was sentenced to 24 months’ imprisonment for asking Monica for a sexual favour. He was handed another 24 months for soliciting from her sex-for-marks. That is not all: he was sentenced to 12 months in prison for deleting parts of the WhatsApp conversation between him and Osagie to conceal evidence against him.

The judge, Maureen Onyetenu, had said while delivering the judgment, “The menace is getting to secondary and primary schools. I am a pastor and a counsellor. I know mental torture many of our female students have been subjected to by the likes of the respondent. The adverse effect of such action is huge. Many of his likes have been awarding marks to those students that are ready to warm their beds, thereby releasing half-baked graduates into society.”