My experience in the office of UNILAG professor
After watching BBC’s Sex for Grades exposé and following media audiences’ comments on sexual harassment in Nigerian higher institutions, I have finally developed the courage to write about what happened to me in the Faculty of Arts office of a University of Lagos Professor in 2001. I was in 200 level studying Mass Communication and was registered to take a compulsory course titled Feature Writing by Mr. Innocent Okoye (now Prof. Okoye). It was the first time he would be taking my level and our senior colleagues had scared us about how tough he was and how difficult it would be to pass or even score an A or B grade in his course. I was therefore very worried and determined to do everything within my power to ensure that I passed the course – and pass well. When Prof. Okoye commenced lectures, he was as described; very tough and disciplined. He informed us that we would have to write a publishable feature article on any topic of our choice for his continuous assessment. He stressed the ‘publishable’ aspect and emphasised that if it was beneath the quality of feature articles in the local press, we would be poorly graded.
I got old newspapers and read all the feature articles I could find, after which I eventually decided to write on examination malpractice. I interviewed students, read literature on the issue but something was missing – expert interviews. The articles I had read featured experts. After taking SOC 101 (Introduction to Sociology) as an elective in 100 level, I knew a sociologist was the best professional to interview. But the Faculty of Social Science didn’t have its own structure then. Their lecturers had offices in the Faculty of Arts Building.
So I entered the building, got the room numbers of lecturers in the Sociology Department and started knocking on them. I was sent out of the first office I entered before having the opportunity to state my mission. The second and third attempts ended the same way after stating the interview was for an assignment. At this stage, I had lost my confidence and excitement. I thought of giving up and falsifying an interview. But I decided to give it a final trial and so with shaky hands, a fast beating heart and a perspiring face, I knocked with great caution on yet another door. I peeped in and saw a man alone, seated by his table and working on some papers in a nice and cozy office. He motioned for me to enter and I stuttered as I stated my mission.
He must have noticed my discomfort as he told me to sit down (across the table) and to give him a few minutes to wrap up what he was working on. I thanked God silently in my mind as I also needed the time to get myself together. After breathing in and out for a few seconds, I brought out my reporters’ diary and a pen and tried to recollect the questions I needed to ask. He asked if I was ready to start and I answered in the affirmative. I would ask the question and he would answer as slowly as he could to enable me write his responses down because I did not have a midget or recorder. And we did that until we exhausted the few questions I had. I asked him for his name and position and he wrote it in a jotter and handed it to me. I thanked him (without looking at the paper) and stood to leave. I was close to the door when he called me to return to the seat.
He asked for my name and I told him. He asked how old I was and I responded. He asked what my year 1 CGPA was and I mentioned that it was 3.67. He squeezed his face at this point and said that was a risky grade and that I needed to do better or I could risk dropping to a second class lower grade, so he advised me to be more serious. Then he threw the bombshell; he asked if I had a boyfriend. I looked down at my palms and responded nervously and without looking up that I didn’t. Then he said that was great because boys were serious distractions and they could prevent me from focusing on my studies. He asked what grade I wanted to graduate with and I responded that I was working on ensuring it wasn’t less than a second class upper. He asked what my ambition was and I mentioned that I would love to be a lecturer.
He smiled and said he was impressed and he would be willing to support me in any way he could. By this time I had relaxed again. He told me to feel free to walk up to him if I needed anything and he would also mentor me to ensure I achieved my goal of joining the academia. I thanked him and left. The whole encounter couldn’t have been more than twenty minutes. It was when I gave my report to a colleague to edit for me that I was informed that Prof. Lai Olurode was the Dean of the Faculty of Social Science. I couldn’t believe he was that modest.
I told my colleagues I wouldn’t have dared to enter his personal office if I had known he was the Dean. I shouldn’t forget to mention that I got a B in Feature Writing. That was how I met Prof. Lai Olurode.
I am sorry to disappoint you; he didn’t ask me to lock the door. He didn’t ask me to turn off the light, he didn’t ask me to sit close to him or kiss him for a minute. But he did something that has changed the course of my life from the moment I walked into that office in the Faculty of Arts Building. He kept his promise: he mentored me, he ensured I graduated with a second class upper, he ensured I got my results so I could claim the NNPC/Chevron Scholarship I won in 200 level, he ensured I stayed focus and didn’t go into any illicit relationships, he ensured I did my masters’ degree immediately I finished my NYSC, he made certain I focused professionally and made me value my job as an editor in Voice of Nigeria (VON) even though my salary was less than forty thousand naira (in 2007) and he made sure I achieved my dream of becoming a lecturer.
I obtained my Ph.D. in Media, Gender and Communication from De Montfort University, Leicester, United Kingdom early 2019 and his contributions towards these great strides cannot be discounted. He didn’t know my parents, our physical meetings never exceed 30 minutes, our telephone calls are always less than five minutes. We may not relate more than twice in a year but this great scholar has been true to his commitment since 2001! So I can’t forget what happened to me in his office in 2001. That meeting changed my life. I met an angel who God is using to help achieve my life’s goals. And he has never taken anything material or immaterial as a form of appreciation. All he says whenever I ask how I could show appreciation was that I should treat others the way he has treated me. And I wonder if I can ever beat his record. I doubt it.
So yes, as I watched the Sex For Grades exposé I couldn’t help but shed tears for my Alma Matter. I can’t help but wonder what such perverts are doing in the offices that once served as factories where great leaders are made. I don’t know why some academics have failed to emulate the likes of Prof. Lai Olurode who mentor students and make great leaders out of them. I wonder why some others cannot be like the lecturers who taught me in the Department of Mass Communication who pushed us to do things we never thought we were capable of doing by putting us on the run. These depraved misfits want to cause the local and international communities to lose confidence in Nigeria’s educational institutions but courageous students, disciplined academics, University managements, the civil society, the media and the judiciary will not permit. Nigerians are now more committed than ever before to rid our academic institutions of animals in suits and we’re going to make the ‘cold rooms’ hot for them. I am not saying that there weren’t such perverts in the University of Lagos during my time, I heard stories from my colleagues but I didn’t know they were this brazen. I didn’t know they took advantage of students even in broad day light in facilities built with tax payers’ money.
I have read the condemnation of the BBC report as unprofessional. Let me be clear that BBC is a medium like several other news media and so its staff and adjuncts are not infallible.
One of the disparaging remarks is the fact that the undercover journalist who exposed Dr. Boniface Igbeneghu presented herself as an admission seeker and not a student. So, are we saying that admission seekers can be sexually harassed because they aren’t students ‘yet’? We need to appreciate the fact that current students are likely to be worried about being victimised, hence, the use of undercover journalists. Again, if these lecturers could harass an “admission seeker” with such brashness, you can imagine what they do to students who can be easily blackmailed with carry-overs, extra-years or even rustication due to poor grades.
The issue of dressing and poor morality has also been identified by some as being responsible for sexual harassment by unscrupulous lecturers. I need to state that as a Muslim woman, I cover my nudity and will not encourage indecent dressing. Still, no right thinking person should lay the blame of sexual harassment at the feet of women. I have spoken with Muslim ladies who cover up and several other women who dress modestly and yet, were harassed sexually as undergraduates in the University of Lagos and several other institutions. The hypocrisy of Nigerians easily surface here. Some of the same people who deny Muslim women in hijab their fundamental human rights to education, employment and several social services on the basis of their dressing are the same people trying to defend perverts by claiming that female students dress seductively.
Some others have called for the investigation of the harassment of lecturers by female students, highlighting the fact that female students seduce lecturers for favours. No doubt this is happening, but we shouldn’t allow that to diminish the fact that the lives of several other serious female students are destroyed by the very lecturers employed and paid to educate them. Lecturers have a moral obligation to exercise restraint and self-control rather than satisfying their immoral desires on the ‘excuse’ of seduction. Let male lecturers who are seduced write complaints to Disciplinary Committees of their institutions and allow the seducing-students to face sanctions.
I have also read with sadness the demeaning comments about the Nigerian news media. Many have condemned journalism and journalists in Nigeria, claiming that it took the BBC to unravel the sex-for-grade situation in Nigerian institutions. To this I say we are being unfair to ourselves and the Nigerian media. I have read several investigative reports in Nigerian newspapers about this situation but none of them have gained the kind of attention we gave to the BBC story because although we have formally gained independence as a country, we are still subliminally in slavery. Nothing has value unless it is from the global North; and no investigation is worth responding to unless it shames us in the international community!
As typical with us Nigerians when scandals like this break, there will be a huge outcry and we will revel on it for a while. But as evident from our current situations, not much change and we move on to the next scandal, forgetting to trash and bury the old one deeply. I see the trend playing out again. We are moving on to other things while we diminish the implications of sex-for-grades in our higher institutions with technicalities, sentiments and needless arguments. I will never forget what happened to me in the office of a UNILAG professor, abused female students won’t ever forget what happened to them. Please, don’t forget.
Tijani-Adenle teaches Journalism at Lagos State University School of Communication.