By Rotimi Fasan
ON Wednesday March 13, 2013, Rebekah Havrilla, a former sergeant and bomb disposal expert in the US Army appeared before the US Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel investigating sexual offences.
In her evidence she recounted how she was raped by a colleague in her unit who later on posted images of her assault on the internet. Havrilla’s experience would lead to her departure from the military.
The committee also heard the case of James Wilkerson, a lieutenant-colonel and fighter pilot who had been sentenced to a year in jail, dismissed and made to forfeit his pay by a military court that found him guilty of sexual assault only to be recalled on the orders of Craig Franklin, a lieutenant-general and commander of the 3rdAirforce.
Havrila made no official report of the attack on her due to the hostile and sexist situation that allegedly existed against women in her unit. Her case was one of many in the US military where ‘sexual harassment’ is said to be common.
On the day Havrilla gave evidence of her experience in Washington, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was being installed as the 266th Pope of a Catholic Church that has been riven by allegations of sexual abuse among other corrupt activities involving senior priests of the Church.
A two-volume, 300-page report, the Relatio, which chronicles sexual offences in the Vatican awaits His Holiness’ attention and action.Keith O’Brien, the disgraced Archbishop of Scotland, was only stopped at the last minute from participating in the conclave that elected the new pope after he admitted to homosexual cravings of which he was a vociferous critic.
On the same as day as Bergoglio ascended the throne of Peter, indeed just hours before this, Dave Lee Travis, a prominent broadcaster with the BBC was rearrested on allegations of sexual offences.
His arrest followed the report, a day before, that Jimmy Savile molested hundreds of girls and boys over a 50-year period without detection until his death.
There are yet more prominent people slated for arrest on allegations of sexual crime in the UK. Earlier in the last week, Ram Singh, one of the six men arrested for the brutal rape of the 23-year old medical student in New Delhi in December last year was found dead in his prison cell. The rape and eventual death of the Indian student had outraged the world and drawn attention to the all too frequent rape of women in India.
In Nigeria, a cursory look at any newspaper would reveal reports of another crime of a sexual nature, including, even if less frequently reported, of politicians snatching one another’s women, rejecting paternity of children, involved in homosexual relations, if not sleeping with their own daughters or sons-in-law.
One could go on and on. But the bottom line: Sexual offences are a fact of human and increasingly modern existence and there are regulations/laws, however inadequate, to take care of sex offenders. This should not be surprising because sex itself is at the heart of human existence, even animals.
People may try but it is a subject that will not be silenced. It is of priority even in the lives of those who choose to deny it a space as we increasingly see with clerics caught in the web of their own making. Often a private act, sex is at the centre of public discourse. But the attention it generates and the priority it assumes changes from one context to another.
The way a religionist, say a priest, will view and discuss sex is not the way a lawyer or an accountant would, to say nothing of an academic- talking from a professional angle. Where this last point is not taken into consideration in the discussion of sex (offences) avoidable confusions set in.
Which is the case with the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC and the National Universities Commission, NUC, report, based on a pilot study into problems facing tertiary institutions in Nigeria.
Although aware of this joint ICPC/NUC initiative and having witnessed one such visit by the team, I am yet to see this report. But first some clarifications. Tertiary institutions are by definition post-secondary institutions, not necessarily universities and this point is recognised by UNESCO.
The Punch newspaper editorial of March 12 titled, ‘ICPC on corruption in universities’, which relies heavily on this report, seems to limit its definition of tertiary education/institutions to universities. One would not know therefore if Punch’s use of the word impresses negatively on university administrators than the writers of the report intended but my comments here while applicable to other tertiary institutions reflects the situation in our universities more.
Whatever the case is about the use of the phrase ‘tertiary institution’ the accent the report apparently places on sexual misdemeanour (sexual harassment- to use a common expression) as the most serious of the problems confronting university education in particular and tertiary education in general in Nigeria, is misleading, borne of serious ignorance and a cheap straining for sensationalism.
Such conclusion is a result of slipshod thinking and betrays ignorance of the actual conditions of universities in the country and the reason universities exist. EkpoNta, Chair of the ICPC, was quoted in the editorial as saying: “Sexual harassment seems to rank extremely very high among corrupt practices uncovered in our universities” (my emphasis).
The brief of the pilot study was to find out problems confronting tertiary institutions but what the sleuths in the ICPC/NUC uncovered are many cases of sexual harassment! Only God knows how much of tax payers’ money was expended to uncover this cliché of a problem.
The editorialist expresses shock and sadness at this revelation and at how “citadels of learning have become havens for sex perverts”. The matter indeed calls for shock but for a different reason, namely, that of 50 problems unearthed by the study it is the matter of sexual harassment, not decayed or non-existent infrastructure- ill-equipped laboratories, libraries filled with outdated books, crowded classrooms, dinghy offices, poorly trained and poorly motivated personnel, teaching and non-teaching, etc.
, none of these problems that creates the condition that makes it possible for a mischievous and irresponsible lecturer to perpetrate criminal acts; or irresponsible students and their criminally-minded parents to seek to pervert standard regulations- none of these problems is of ‘immediate challenge’ that Nigerians ‘need to address’- none but the time-worn line of sexual harassment gets the fact-finding team frothing at the mouth.
It is indeed true that sexual malfeasances can and are destructive of the reasons tertiary institutions exist. But this is true also of other institutions like the church, the military, industries or any human institution as the examples above from vastly different regions and conditions of life indicate.