Saraki restates loyalty to APC, rallies support for Buhari

The issue of sexual harassment by lecturers in Nigerian higher institutions is as old as the introduction of schools in the country. Though not as rampant as it later used to be in recent years, female students have in the past suffered in silence from the hands of some randy lecturers in their various schools.
Worst still, what used to be limited to higher institutions of learning, like the menace of cultism, has now been extended to secondary schools and if not checked by the government and authorities, may find its way into the primary schools.
A lecturer in the Accounting Department at the University of Lagos in August last year spent his weekend in Kirikiri Prison following a remand order by an Ikeja Magistrate court, after a rape charge. The lecturer was reportedly taken to court by the Isokoko police station for raping an 18 year-old daughter of a friend of his, seeking to be shortlisted by the University for the Post UTME test.
It was gathered that the violated girl scored 211 in the UTME and nurses the ambition to study Mass Communication at the university, but since she failed to meet its high cut-off mark, the father had approached Baruwa for help.
Baruwa reportedly agreed to help and took the girl with him to UNILAG on 23 July. Both of them drove out early from their Abesan Estate, in Ipaja, in the suburb of Lagos.
Unfortunately, the admission seeking-girl did not get the assistance promised, but she ended up being violated by Baruwa right in his office, at the university, according to child rights activist, Mrs. Esther Ogwu, whom the case was reported to by the family.
Director of the Esther Child Rights Foundation and social worker handling the case, Esther Ogwu, said: “I believe this lecturer had been doing this in the past. It is necessary for girls to be aware and know what to do when in a potentially dangerous situation where they may be assaulted.
“I don’t expect him (the lecturer) to admit that he raped her. I knew he would say it was consensual, but I suspect that this is not the first time he would do such thing. Let the law take its course because we don’t know how many other girls are being saved because this case is coming out to the public”, she added.
It is against this background that the Senate recently recommended five years jail term without any option of fine for any lecturers found guilty of harassing female students sexually. A bill to that effect titled: “Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Institutions Bill 2016 “, sponsored by Senator Ovie Omo- Agege (LP Delta Central) and co- sponsored by 45 other senators, has passed first reading in the nation’s upper legislative chamber of National Assembly.
According to a public affairs analyst, Soyombo Opeyemi, no warning could be more foreboding and advised that a stitch in time saves nine. “Lecturers in Nigeria have turned our campuses into individual fiefdoms where they reign and rule; they have become gods that must be appeased by our youths. Lecturers enjoy near absolute freedom which you don’t find in other workplaces”, he said.
The bill by the Senate prohibits any form of sexual relationship between lecturers and their students and prescribes jail term of up to five years but not less than two years with no option of fine for lecturers who engage in sexual relationship with students.
Senator Omo-Agege, during the presentation, said the bill, among others, “makes it a criminal offence for any educator in a university, polytechnic or any other tertiary educational institution to violate or exploit the student-lecturer fiduciary relationship for sexual pleasures; 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 Bill expressly allows sexually harassed students, their parents or guardians to seek civil remedies in damages against sexual predator lecturers before or after their successful criminal prosecution by the State”.
There was an argument by the lecturers under the Academic Staff Union of Universities; ASUU that the bill is discriminatory because sexual harassment is not peculiar to tertiary institutions is equally not sustainable.
In those other instances or places where you have this crime committed, Opeyemi noted that they are generally among adults and fiduciary relationship is virtually non-existent. “But on our campuses, our children are ranged against marauding fathers who hold the power to determine who or who does not graduate and when. The government puts these students in your care and pays you to teach them to become great asset to the country but you abuse them and turn them into liabilities to the society”.
This has led to serious confrontation between ASUU and National Female Students Association of Nigeria which expectedly supported the bill by even went to the senate to thank the lawmakers.
According to ASUU, the Sexual Harassment Bill, 2016 before the Senate undermined university autonomy. President of the union, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, stated this at a public hearing on the bill, organised by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters that universities were established by law as autonomous bodies, adding that there were laws that clearly articulated redress procedures.
“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”, he said.
He said that the bill was discriminatory because it was targeted at educators. “It is unfair to come up with such a bill; sexual harassment is a societal problem and not peculiar to tertiary institutions”, the ASUU president said.
Ogunyemi also said that the bill was a violation of Section 42 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, adding that it was embarrassing that the legislative arm could seek to make such law that would violate the Constitution. He added that besides violating the Constitution, the bill failed to take cognizance of various extant legislations that adequately dealt with sexual offences.
Faulting the bill further, he said that it failed to provide convincing evidence to show that sexual harassment in tertiary institutions had attained a higher magnitude than other spheres of the society.
“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, victimize and persecute, especially lecturers, through false accusation,” he said.
But National President of the female student association, Comrade Idongesit Micah, said “This is a bill that must be passed into law. It is either we enact this law to send sexual predator lecturers to prison for correction according to law under the fine democratic tenets of the rule of law or we provoke helpless parents, husbands, or guardians to, some day, pick a loaded gun and deal with this problem in a barbaric manner”.
“Therefore, we passionately urge the Senate to ensure that it does not by inaction impose the Hobbesian state of nature of a banana republic on victims of sexual harassment in our tertiary institutions and their relatives by provoking them to fight for themselves by all means possible, including outside the law”, she pleaded.
Micah, during a thank-you visit to the Senate, said a lot of female students have dropped out of school, some end up with low grades, some fail respective courses intentionally by lecturers and so on, hence she solicited their contacts for other passionate, intellectual and influential women to support the Bill to become law.
“Female students are afraid of being humiliated by lecturers or being stigmatized among students. And even when she speaks up to the school authorities, little or nothing is always done about it,’’ she said.
She added that the growing abuse of female students is orchestrated by lack of consistent and clear policy by school governing bodies and school authorities concerning sexual harassment hence her opinion that an independent and unbiased Committee be set up in tertiary institutions to look into cases of sexual harassment.
Interestingly, the National Universities Commission, NUC supported the introduction of the bill “in view of its relevance” and called for its passage. Executive Secretary of the commission, Professor Julius Okojie, said that while federal and state universities had administrative structures for handling grievances, there was nothing wrong in having a legislation to help with that.
“University Miscellaneous Provision Act gives them power to formulate policies and by-laws to guide them and most institutions have structures to handle these incidences. However, there is nothing wrong if there is a legislation to add to what is on ground. We are only saying that universities are doing something about sexual harassment, which may not be enough”, he said.
Okojie therefore called on the senate to extend the scope of the bill to cover primary and secondary schools. “The bill appears to have duplication of offences already created in our extant laws. There should be holistic approach to accommodate existing regulations in schools”, he said.
Beyond enactment of laws, he advised that Code of Conduct should be given to workers in schools, reiterating the need to be morally sound. He also called for more awareness on the matter as well as the need to have dress codes in schools to prevent any form of harassment.
However, there is need for caution because of the indecent dressing by some students. Although, many, especially women have argued if students lose their common sense, the lecturers, most of who are fathers and grandfathers, are not expected to lose their sense of value. They noted that whether the female students entice the randy lecturers with indecent dressing or not, once they set their eyes on them, it becomes difficult for them to control themselves.
Notwithstanding, dressing code should be introduced or revived in the nation’s tertiary institutions to combine learning and character in the students, especially the female ones that are being harassed sexually by the lecturers.

READ ALSO  UNICEF, group trains 60 NYSC members on hygiene