By Charles Kumolu& Bose Adelaja
BUT for the event of August 29, 2015, Miss Rita Udoh(not real name), a 400 level law student of the University of Calabar could easily have claimed to have seen it all on campus.
Indeed, the experience was a world apart from the peculiar challenges of Nigeria’s university education system she was already used to. What initially appeared as an academic exercise soon became the saddest story ever told about her. The incident leading to Udoh’s fate was a one-hour test which held on a Saturday at the institution’s Faculty of Law.
With two lecturers supervising, the exercise abruptly ended 20 minutes to the end of the allotted time following the entry of the Dean of Law Faculty, Prof. Cyril Ndifon into the hall.
He came in with a stoppage order while the students were still writing. As the students were preparing to submit their answer sheets, Ndifon reportedly approached Udo, tore her answer sheet and left the shreds on the seat. Surprised and dejected, she collected the pieces and put them in her bag.
The Dean, it was said, accosted her again as she was leaving and asked if she still had the shredded script and she said, yes.
He then instructed her to follow him to his office on the first floor of the faculty building to recopy the answers on another plain sheet, which she did.
Ensuing struggle and resistance
Obliging that instruction proved to be more trouble for Udoh,but obviously had no choice. While at the office at about 3pm, Ndifon reportedly locked the door, concealed the key and started making amorous overtures.
In the ensuing struggle and in spite of her spirited resistance, Udoh was eventually subdued with the randy Dean having carnal knowledge of her.
But acting contrary to the culture in Nigeria where victims hardly speak out about their ordeal, she daringly reported the matter at the Airport Police Station on IBB Way in Calabar.
In acknowledging the incident, the Public Relations Officer of Cross River State Police Command, Mr. Hogan Bassey, described it as a case of ‘’rape or sexual assault” which required discreet investigation.
The matter was also brought to the attention of the institution leading to the setting up of a panel of enquiry.
Ndifon, who is the first professor of Law from Cross River State, was briefly arrested and detained by the police and later released before he was suspended by the panel.
A few weeks ago, there was also a case involving a lecturer at the University of Illorin, Dr. Mohamed Idiagbon, who resigned his appointment over claims that he had harassed one of his students. Idiagbon, the Head of the Department of English, resigned after the audio tape of the incident went viral on the social media.
His victim, who was identified as Faith, was said to be a 200 level student of the department.
According to the audio which VanguardFeatures,VF, listened to, Faith had gone to him to complain about her score in a continuous assessment test. In the audio, Dr Idiagbon could be heard telling Faith to allow him touch her breasts.
Faith resisted saying her breasts were painful as she was undergoing her monthly menstrual cycle. Posssibly to buy time for escape, she also told the randy lecturer that the office was not conducive for such act. The lecturer then told the young lady to lock the office door so they could have privacy. Faith obliged but continued to resist his sexual advances.
Angered by her reluctance, Dr. Idiagbon told her she was not the only one and so she should not feel so special. And frustrated at not having his way, he eventually ordered her out of the office. These two cases are just among several others recorded in the country; they represent a growing population of randy lecturers who have sexually assaulted hapless students or are on the verge of doing so.
Popularly known as sex-for-grade, the trend has long existed in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions and has come to be taken for granted by both the randy lecturers and their victims. But it would appear that at last, questions are now being asked about its criminal definition before the law.
VF found the trend to have sadly turned the ivory towers into centres of sexual exploitation and immorality as well as adding to the growing moral decadence in the Nigerian society. Some students have been continuously failed until they yielded to sexual demands of their lecturers. Students who refuse to succumb to the sexual overtures have been harassed out of school.
Many prominent perpetrators are known to have escaped justice given the indifference of many university authorities. So entrenched is the practice that most academic staff and students, no longer consider it an anomaly.
It has also emerged that sexual harassment has no borders as reports from the news media have proved. Instances abound even in the most unlikely places, including public and private offices, markets, bus-stops and places of worship. Further checks indicated that the country does not lack laws against sexual offenses, but the criminal justice system seems to have lost the capacity to check sexual offences and bring perpetrators to book.
Some of the laws, it was gathered, have for long not been re-examined to determine their adequacy with a view to criminalising the offense.
Certainly peeved by the development, Senator Ovie-Omo-Agege, who represents Delta Central Senatorial District, recently introduced a bill seeking to further criminalise the act.
Titled: “A Bill For An Act To Make Provisions For The Prohibition Of Sexual Harassment Of Students”, it specifically focuses on randy lecturers.
The bill: The bill which is being co-sponsored by 45 other senators, makes it a criminal offence for any educator in a university, polytechnic or any other tertiary educational institution who violates or exploits the student-lecturer fiduciary relationship for sexual pleasures.
VF also learnt that the bill makes it mandatory for any vice chancellor, provost and rector of a university, polytechnic and college of education to promptly act on the report of any sexual harassment by a female student.
The bill provides a compulsory five-year jail term for lecturers who sexually harass students.
Sexual predator lecturers
The bill 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. The bill also seeks protection from sexual harassment for prospective students seeking admissions into higher educational institutions, students of generally low mental capacity and physically challenged students.
While underscoring the timeliness and importance of the bill, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, had remarked that the bill once passed by the National Assembly and assented to by Mr. President, would stamp out all forms of harassment to make schools more conducive for students.
“I can attest to the fact that I have received anonymous emails and messages urging the Senate to make sexual harassment in our universities a criminal offence. In this regard, as we have taken this pivotal step to get this bill off the ground, I enjoin members of the civil society and students across the country to join in the process to make sure that this Bill is passed and signed,” Saraki said.
Pointedly, students are the primary focus of the bill, which has passed its second reading in the Senate and has been referred to its Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters for further action.
ASSU, NUC differ: In spite of the passionate reaction the proposed bill had elicited across the country with many giving it a nod, it has not gone down well with the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU.
According to ASUU, the aim of the bill was to undermine university autonomy. President of the union, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, who spoke at a Public Hearing on the Sexual Harassment Bill, 2016, organised by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters in Abuja described the bill as uncalled for.
Ogunyemi said: “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, and 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.”
Ironically, this came as the National University Commission, NUC, threw its weight behind the passage of the bill in view of its relevance. Executive Secretary of the Commission, Prof. Julius Okojie, noted that while Federal and state universities had administrative structures for handling grievances, there was nothing wrong in having a legislation to help further.
He said: “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.”
Findings by VF showed that many are elated about the prospects of having such a bill, which is expected to entrench moral sanity in schools across the country.
The checks with concerned stakeholders like students, parents and civil society groups among others, revealed that many consider having such a bill salutary.
President, Mother to Child Project, Mrs. Joan Enebulele, said the move was right, noting that it would serve as a spring board for similar laws in other sectors where sexual harassment is rampant.‘’We have an opportunity which should not be missed. For the first time, our lawmakers are coming up with a socially active law which seeks to put evil in its rightful place,’’ she noted.
She said: ‘’The interest showed by most of the lawmakers in the bill testifies to the fact that the time for such Act is here. Lawmakers and other Nigerians should not be dissuaded by the thinking of those kicking against the bill. Our society was traditionally built on moral values and we are duty bound to take the nation back from moral decadence. At the moment we are mobilisng support for the bill in order to ensure that it becomes law. ‘’
Similarly, Vicky Urenma Onyekuru of Child Health Organisation ,CHO, described the bill as timely. She wants the practice in ivory towers stopped and advocated for sensitisation from the community level.
A level 300 Mathematics student of Adeniran Ogusanya College of Education, Ijanikin, Lagos State, who simply gave her name as Esther, said she failed a course in her first year for refusing advances by a male lecturer, adding that for such reason, the bill before the Senate should be passed into law.
She further added that the institution has succeeded in curbing the incidents of sexual harassment unlike other schools.
The President of Lagos State University,LASU, Students Union Government, Mr Sekoni Taofik, passionately supported the bill even as he added that sexual harassment is not a common occurrence in the school.
He, however, stated that the institution has the mechanism for ensuring that such incidents do not occur.
On his part, National President, National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, Mr. Tijani Usman Shehu, told VF that sexual harassment should be discouraged as it is the cause of depression in many female students who have fallen victim to it. ‘’It is perpetrated by hoodlums, male lecturers or even men of the underworld and I as the National President condemn the act in all totality,” he stated.
As a way of curbing the menace, the Guidance and Counseling student of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, said his administration is organising sensitisation programmes across major campuses. He said the programme which focuses on female students aims at sensitising them on the need to report cases of rape to concerned authorities for disciplinary action.
To achieve that, he told VF that committees are in place across various campuses to monitor the sensitised students through Joint Campus Committees.
But he also argued that beyond the bill, students should embrace the habit of dressing decently rather than in provocative or suggestive manners.