BY RILWAN BALOGUN
ON October 7, the media was awash with the debauched acts of two university dons, one from the University of Lagos and the other from College of Education, University of Ghana who were allegedly caught in the act of sexual assault against university admission seekers. Since the “premiere” of the video in the theatre of the social media, there has been a cacophony of voices on the serial abuse of academic power and brazen slap on our societal values. This is most compounded by the fact that it was an allegation against members of well revered academics environment which is supposed to be the bastion of our morals and societal values.
Hitherto to the ignoble characters played out by these randy dons, certainly not new to our debased society, cold room is a structure generally known for storing things, especially edibles, as a form of preservation. To the staff and the students of the University of Lagos, however, the cold room is a building metaphorically designedas an arena for having conferences, seminars and meetings. The concern of this writer is that the coinage called”cold room” is a satirical expression meant to expose our societal ills by using a sector of a larger society to portray the happenings in its other sectors. Drawing from the above analogy, it can therefore be logically deduced that the modern and bastardised definition of the phrase “cold room” is an environment or avenue where societal moral decadence thrives in multi-dimensional perspectives.
The question that should bother us as a people should be: is the university environment the only arbiter having a creation for “Cold Room” for assaulting ladies as a form of indulgence in debauchery and immoral acts? I am of the firm view that you find at least a “cold room” everywhere you go in Nigeria, even at sacred edifices meant for worship of the Supreme Being. In addition to being an arena for sex-for-mark decadence, “Cold Room” really symbolises so many societal ills, to wit: a place where looted public funds are shared, where budgets at every level are padded, an office where directors sexually assault their subjects before granting appointment or due promotion, a conference room where the negotiation of international contractual agreements are skewed and permutated at the expense of the generations unborn by way of insolvency; a dungeon where an accused is incarcerated and subjected to excruciating torture and detained for more than 48 hours in defiance of the rule of law; in fact, the list is endless.
The naked truth is that any sector or institution where there is the need for one to offer something in furtherance of getting something else in return is ipso facto qualified to be tagged a “cold room”. Perhaps the reason why it has attracted so much attention is simply because the main dramatis personae are university dons, members of the revered academic sector, who are supposed to be bastion of good societal values, who basically should be moulding effective and productive manpower for societal development. The untainted truth, however, is that what transpired as a home video between the suspended UNILAG don, as exposed by the undercover journalist, Kiki Mordi, is a miniaturised version of a failed society that we are. Therefore, it stands to reason to look beyond the meaning of “cold room” which the UNILAG’s sex-for-mark saga has painted us as a nation.
Just like the pervasive smell of a dead and decaying rat, this menace has permeated virtually all spheres of human endeavours. In a stunningly corrupt society, where government parastatals at all cadres are negatively overwhelmed by perennial malaise of bribery before appointment; a country where drugs meant for poor patients are diverted to individually-owned hospitals so as to enrich the corrupt doctors to the detriment of the hapless sick; where the police, an institution expected to be a custodian of our laws, has become infamous for harbouring personnel who are serial law breakers.Metaphorically, by cold room here, we mean a society the judiciary routinely perverts the course of justice or murders justice in a broad day light; a nation where embarking on litigation in the course of seeking justice is akin to a trance, a figment in the firmament of wilderness. Here, we mean a clime where the values and respect for its educational system, its products and values, both within and outside the shores of it as a country, are fast evaporating into thin air and becoming a subject of derision among the altruistic panel of revered nations. In fact, to nail it hard, at worst, we are referring to a society whose every sector is gradually sinking into a comic banana republic. By this, we are talking of a failed society where nothing thrives except stark corruption, thus stretching it to the extreme; a society where nothing works for better!
No sooner had the sex-for-mark saga permeated the social media space than the elite joined the chorus of condemnations of the age-long malady. The question begging for answer remains: is the sex-for-mark tragedy a novel phenomenon that has just broken out like the deadly Ebola disease? The reality is that this endemic “cold room” saga is another facet of a phenomenon called academic corruption.
In October 2016, the Nigerian Senate woke up from slumber to see the need to legislate and pass a Bill against sexual harassment, hence the Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Education Institution Bill. The moribund Bill proposed a five-year jail term for any erring lecturer found wanting on allegation of sexual harassment against any female student. However, this bill has been gathering dust in the legislative archive, thus dead on arrival.
One of the reasons why the Bill was “killed” and “buried” at infancy was because it was alleged that it did not cover sexual harassment in workplace and also included a defence for consent. The President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Prof. BiodunOgunyemi, reportedly claimed that the Bill was targeted at men alone and further stated the Bill to be too restricted, thus concluded that what the lawmakers did was to narrow down on lecturersstictosensu. The Don was of the further view that laws should be made open; not saying lecturers, male lecturers who are in tertiary institutions harassing female students.As if the sex-for-mark saga is a fierce hungry pig that is scouting cemetery for the exhumation of a decomposing corpse called the anti-Sexual Harassment Bill, the long overdue-alacrity of our dormant legislature is further exposed when after the occurrence of the saga it saw the need to revisit and put life to the decomposing Bill. This pointed to nothing but the fact that we have failed as a nation and heading towards a brink of total apocalypse.
From a legal perspective, laws should be a respecter of nobody and it should not be targeted at clamping down a legitimate set of people; save in some special circumstances. What in my opinion is the overt stance of the ASUU president is that a Bill targeted at sanctioning randy “cold room” serial patronisersshould not be limited to academic environment only. It can therefore be deduced that the ASUU Chief was advocating for a society where such Bill would tame the unruly bull in every sector of the country. In all these conundrums and sociological malaise, we cannot pretend to rule out the fact that “cold room” as a metaphor, is ubiquitously sited as an edifice that can be found every nook and cranny of our society. I dare conclude that we must as a people disentangle ourselves from the cocoon of filthy and morally debased society, therefore, we should as a matter of modern and societal exigency break loose from the maximum prison of corruption, advisedly, we all are enjoined to gallop quickly to the altruistic cadre of a just society,so as to redeem our lost glorious image.