Sexual harassment bill: Lecturers fire back at lawmakers

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Sexual harassment, as an act, is as old as man. But until recently, Saturday Sun learnt, there was no law, in the country, specifically targeted at tackling the menace, which has remained a recurring decimal in virtually all universities’ campuses, without exception.o

Alarmed at the rate of the menace on campuses, the Senate recently, passed a Bill, which would in the thinking of the Senate, helped stem the tide of the menace.

But some lecturers think that the issue was being over-exaggerated, as such, they are asking the Nigerian lawmakers to concentrate their energies on other worthy ventures, and not mundane ones, like sexual harassment.

The Bill, known as the Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Education Institution Bill, prescribes a 5-year jail term for lecturers and educators convicted of sexual harassment of either their male or female students, just as it made provisions for a fine of N5 million, should the accused be convicted by a competent court of law.

And taking into cognisance, the fact that some students may just take advantage of the law, to raise false alarm, the Bill, it was further gathered, has also provided cover, for this category of lecturers, but not without a caveat. The caveat is that the lecturer, so falsely accused, must be acquitted by a competent court of law. Once that happens, the Student, who raised the false alarm “shall be expelled or suspended, as the University deems fit.”

 Saturday Sun’s findings also revealed that one fundamental difference between this new Bill and the existing Rape law is the fact that, while consent is a defence in rape, it is not tenable in sexual harassment. This much, was reiterated by the sponsor of the Bill, Senator Omo Ovie-Agege, when he declared shortly after the passage of the Bill, that: “we have now removed the element of consent as a defence. As you know, most of you are familiar with the law. Consent is always a defence to a charge of rape,” he said, adding that with regards to the provisions of the new Bill, the Prosecutor would no longer have to prove whether or not the consent of the female was obtained.

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According to him, the same way minors’ cases are handled, in rape cases, was what the Senate has achieved with this, declaring that “now it is touch and go. You stay away from these girls. You touch them as a lecturer; you know there is a price to pay. Somebody described it, as a zip up legislation.”

To gauge the mood of the nation on the provisions of the Bill, Saturday Sun, went to some of the campuses across the country, to speak with students and lecturers, and the responses it got, were varied, just as one of the lecturers bemoaned the lawmakers for coming up with the Bill, arguing that the law was not necessary in the first place.

According to the lecturer, Dr. Aniekan Brown, who is a Senior lecturer in the Department of Sociology, University of Uyo, the law was a case of vendetta from the Senate, against the academic community, since the Senate has not told Nigerians what constitutes sexual harassment.

“As we speak, officially, I don’t think that we have up 150,000 people who lecture in the Nigerian universities. And out of about 181 million Nigerians, the Senate, in the myriad of laws available for them to evolve, will target academic staff, something tells me there is something vendetta about that.

“Granted,   it is their responsibility to make laws; but I wished they had started with themselves, by beginning to query how much of harassment they have offered to women as Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria before getting to deal with some other Nigerians.

“I’m not saying that there may not be harassment here and there. It happens in banks; it happens everywhere.  But it shouldn’t be particularised to any sub-sector of the Nigerian economy; it should be full blown. But for them to zero in on the Nigerian lecturers, it means there is something personal about it. So, what happens if somebody doesn’t harass from the university, but begin to harass from the bank point of view, from church, from Senate, from mosque and every other place?

“So, when you sit back, you realise that it was myopic for them to want to close in on lecturers. In any case, I don’t expect any lecturer to fall prey to such a farce. And on the whole, I think the Senators would have thought of better things, instead of coming to deal with this minute issue,” Brown, said.

On her part, a female lecturer in the Communication Arts Department, Dr Nevelyn Bata, said there was need to be careful, because, some of the sexual harassment claims, students make, are spurious.

“But if the claims are verifiable, I think, there should be some restrictions to help bring down the incidences, if at all it exists. I’m saying if at all it exists because,  all the time I had stayed in the University  as a student,  I wasn’t  harassed.  So, when you hear of claims of lecturers harassing students, it sounds strange to those who never had the experience,” she added.

She said further that most of those who raise the alarm are those “who have issues, who don’t sit down to read; they have issues in their academics and when they fail they begin to cook up all stories. Well, for lecturers, who would condescend to harass students who they are old enough to be parents to, I think, the law should catch up with them.”

Like his colleague, Dr. Aniedi Ikpang, who is the Dean, Faculty of Law of the University of Uyo, also argued that there were more pressing things in the country that the National Assembly could have legislated on; since, by his own claim, he has never received any report or experienced any sexual harassment since becoming a lecturer more than 15 years ago.

He further said “if members of the National Assembly want to do their work, they should engage in more viable legislative process, other than (issue of) sexual harassment.”

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Like their counterparts in the South-South, Academics in a number of higher institutions in Kano State have also frowned at the Sexual Harassment Bill which was recently passed by the Senate. A cross section of lecturers in Kano State felt that the issue of sexual harassment has been exaggerated as it was not as rampant in the nation’s tertiary institutions as had been suggested by the promoters of the Bill.

Mr. Mike Adeyi, who teaches at the School of Languages, Federal College of Education, Kano, remarked that, “If I were to address them on the floor of the House on this issue, I would tell them that there are more pressing problems facing our country than the issue of sexual harassment by university teachers”.

“Nigeria is confronted by the problems of poverty, kidnapping, militancy and insurgency and I think that it is a misplacement of our priority expending and exercising our energy in this direction. We should worry ourselves with the many more pressing problems before us at this time,” he added.

He further said: “And come to think of it, what about a law for our dear Honourables in the National Assembly? Are they telling us that some of them do not ‘harass ‘ or put mildly, take advantage of their privileges in their relationship to the ladies they encounter on their job?

“This is not to say the Bill is altogether bad. It is good and we all stand for what is good but it ought to have been all encompassing. Teachers in the higher institutions should not be singled out and indicted in the name of Sexual Harassment Bill,” he added.

“I challenge the sponsors of the Bill to single out any such case of harassment where the University authorities had not responded appropriately? There are internal administrative mechanism that deals with all form of malpractices, whether by lecturers or by students. Where a lecturer is found in breach of his duties, he must surely go. No university takes this lightly. Yes, it is a good law, but we have more pressing challenges.”

But the Students’ Union Leader from the University of Uyo, Mr. Kufre Samuel, described the Bill, as one that was timely, and which would help check the harassment of students by lecturers, a development he noted, has been on the increase.

Like the University of Uyo’s Students’ Union leader, Blessing Edet, a third year student of the Department of Marketing, Cross River State University of Science and Technology, said: “harassment law is a good development. I hope they will enforce it. I also think both parties deserve punishment because, the girls are also guilty of seduction.”

Speaking in the same vein, a 300 level student of the Department Communication, UNIZIK, Obiora Umekasi, also expressed happiness over the new law against sexual harassment of students. He lamented that over the years the trend had been on the high side, but the federal government kept mute over the situation across the universities.

He said further that “It is not only passing it into law but making it to be effective and prosecute and convict those reported or caught in such act. A situation where a lecturer will force a student to pay for hotel room and wait there for him to come and have all day or all night affair with her or else he  will fail the student in his course, is uncalled for and an aberration,” Umekasi stated.

Relaying her own experience, another student, Vivian Mokogwu of  Delta State Polytechnic, Ozoro, revealed that she witnessed a situation, where a lecturer was asking his would -be victim to “block(give money as bribe)” him, but the girl said she had  no money.

“And the lecturer now asked her to come and meet him in a hotel room. We decided to go with her and took refuge. Once there, the lecturer was forcing the girl, we now captured the moment and gave the evidence to the school authority. So, the lecturer was summoned but he denied it, until he was shown the picture (evidence). But he continued to deny it, saying it was a frame up, and that we ganged up against him because we don’t like his course. But he was given ten months suspension in the end,” she, added.

Also speaking, a female student at the Kano State Polytechnic who gave her name as “Aisha” but declined to disclose her surname argued that it was not always true that lecturers harass female undergraduates, adding that sometimes it was usually the other way.

“What is reported as sexual harassment may be a case of mutual attraction until something goes wrong. There are cases where it is the female students that harass their lecturers. They search them out for academic favours. They make the first move because they want to pass at all cost. I am a female student and I know what we girls can do.

“Secondly, it is not also true that all relationships between university girls and lecturers are as a result of compulsion or are negative. Many have come to positive outcomes. Take a census of the wives of lecturers; some of them were at one time students of the same university community where their husbands teach. That means there were relationships that blossomed into marriage,” she added.

On his part, a lecturer with Kaduna State University who does not want his name in print, said “Since Idris AbdulKareem, a popular Nigerian musician gave Nigerians a wake up about the issue called ‘Mr. Lecturer,’ the perpetrators are now using that background between them and their female students.

“If you go to most of our higher institutions today, you will see billboards advertising the need for female students to dress well. You will agree with me that if female students are not dressing indecently we will not be having such warning.

“We are not talking of minors here but adults. Even if we tell some of them to dress well, they tell us to look the other way which some lecturer may not be able to.

“The government for instance needs to provide funds for our lecturers to research and learn not only how to impart knowledge, but also how to reject sexual enticement from their female students.

Unlike her other colleagues, Professor Chinyere Stella Okunna, who  is the Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, sees the Bill, as a welcome development, saying that the National Assembly should be commended for passing the Bill into law.

“It will protect the rights of the female students. I am totally against the harassment against the female students and even male students in the universities. Any law that will stop the degradation of the women is welcome and any lecturer caught in such act should be sacked based on the law.

“The law will sanitise the university system from the immorality on campus. The cases of rape are on the high side in this country, the value, norms and culture that control the dignity of men and women are no more in our society.

“The cases of sexual harassment are not prevalent in UNIZIK but that does not mean that it doesn’t exist in the school. The Vice-Chancellor has put measures in place in UNIZIK to checkmate the trend and punish anybody who engages in such act.

“I want to urge the female students to come out and report cases of sexual harassment to the management or report to female lecturers who will take it up. I also learnt that there are cases of sexual harassment against the male students too and not only the female students. We are also aware that students harass lecturers sexually in some universities, where some female students will go after male lecturers by all means to seduce them in order to get what they want or get favour. So, in such cases, I think the same law should be applicable to punish the student, if it is established,” Prof Okunna, added.

Also speaking, a parent, Chief Jacob Nwokedi commended the lawmakers for a job well done, saying that “I have two daughters in the university but none of them have ever complained about sexual harassment but I know it exists in the universities. You know that women are always secretive when it comes to sex and relationship. It is difficult for some children to report such harassment to their parents because they always want to protect their future or scandal. Some students are dying in silence because they have been in sexual bondage from the lecturers.”

But another parent, Alhaji Usman Ibn Lapai, believes that sometimes the way the female students dress, they invite sexual harassment.

“Sometimes, the way and manner our children, particularly the female ones dress and even the way they talk to their lecturers, their male counterparts, are partially responsible for the harassment we are talking about.

“Beside that, some of them are very lazy. They don’t want to attend lectures, they don’t want to read and study their books, yet they want to pass. So unfortunately for such students, there are other devilish lecturers who will take such advantage to unleash their uncontrollable libido on them.”

In his own submission, Dr Aliyu Ibrahim of Psychology Department, Federal College of Education Zaria, said  “I don’t see any wrong in coming up with a law to deal with serious issue like sexual harassment which has so much negative consequences.”

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He was however, quick to add that what was more important was how to arrest the phenomenon through a process of re- orientation and application of simple regulations in the school that would deter its manifestation.

This is because he feared that the way the proposed law attempted to address the problem, by focusing on punishments for offenders, it might have its own negative psychological implications for teaching/ learning situation in the universities and may end up not solving the problem.

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