…Reveals how sexual harassment made her drop out of university
By Juliet Ebirim
In an exclusive undercover investigation, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Africa Eye early in the week revealed proof of a sexual harassment scandal at West Africa’s top universities. During a year-long investigation, journalists posing as students made secret recordings of male academics who harass and abuse young women.
Two of West Africa’s most prestigious universities were investigated – the University of Lagos, Nigeria (UNILAG) and the University of Ghana (LEGON).
The sex for grades documentary is reported by and features the personal story of Kiki Mordi, an investigative journalist, radio presenter and film-maker, who was sexually harassed by a lecturer at university. Her dream to become a doctor was shattered, because she refused to have sex with the lecturer for her exam results.
Kiki Mordi says: “No one should be robbed of their future. When the dream slipped away, I didn’t have any options. I did this story for my 19 year-old self who did not have a voice in the face of sexual harassment.”
Vanguard’s Juliet Ebirim had a chat with Kiki and she shed more light on the investigation, her hopes and regrets. Excerpts…
Why and how did you decide to embark on the sex for grades investigation?
It’s something that has always found me, not something that I set out to do. The stories always find me. After the last huge documentary was done in Nigeria, the Africa Eye team received tons of requests from young women from different parts of Africa, asking that an investigation be done into sexual harassment in universities.
It’s just like what we are receiving right now. More people are telling us “Come to this school, come to this school”. So it’s something that was a huge problem. Being someone who has gone through this before, it was something that I could connect and relate with. It was a no brainer. When the opportunity presented itself, I was very happy to be part of it.
You mentioned that you have gone through something like this before. Kindly share your experience in that regard…
You who have seen the documentary, kind of have an idea of what I went through, which is not peculiar at all. Many people know what it feels like to be targeted and harassed by your lecturer in your place of learning, which is exactly what happened to me. It got so bad that I had to choose between enduring that and getting an education.
I decided that it wasn’t worth it and then I had to drop out of school. It wasn’t so much of my decision anyway, because for two consecutive semesters, I wasn’t seeing my results. At some point, I felt there was nothing left for me. At this point, I would rather not mention the name of the school, but that’s not to say that I won’t tell my story at some point. I just want it to be in my own time.
When you set out on this investigation, did you consider the risks? Did you have any reservations?
Yes, I definitely thought about the risks. Like I always say, every job comes with its hazards. This one has as well and thankfully, the BBC has years of experience when it comes to Investigative journalism and journalism in general. So these are things they’ve assessed for years and have a lot of experience in handling. I’m really glad, because I honestly had a very supportive team. All of us, not just me, understood the risks. We are all a team of women putting ourselves in the line of danger to get the story.
BBC did everything they could to make sure we were safe and in the course of investigating, we all had panic buttons and people infiltrating the schools too pretending to be students, but were ready to act and ensure our safety when necessary.
Even after the documentary, there have been a lot of security measures that have been put in place, to make sure that we don’t get harmed in the course of doing our jobs. Also, essentially, we would also look up to the government. I’m a Nigerian citizen. I was born and bred here. The government owes me protection. If I feel threatened, I would reach out to the police and report. So far, so good, I haven’t gotten any threats yet…
But there are stories that you’ve been getting death threats…
It’s quite preposterous, because I haven’t received any death threat at all. If I have, the sensible thing to do would be to report to the police. So far, so good, I haven’t.
How long did the investigation take you?
It took us over a year to put this whole film together. A whole nine months out of that was dedicated to research, getting information, collecting evidence and testimonies from current and past students. We had screen-shots, recordings, solid evidences, things that we fact-checked and knew that for sure, this was a huge problem and we definitely needed to look into them. Before we even knew where we were going to look into or who we were going to look at, we had to go through that whole phase. It was the evidence we gathered that led us to the persons that we finally investigated.
Did you look at other schools, before you eventually zeroed in on those two?
We didn’t look at other schools, but we definitely had materials and evidence from a whole lot more schools and lecturers.
Did you panic at any point during the investigation?
This would be the first time that I’m mentioning it. Yes, there was a point in time that I panicked. They take my mental health seriously, so I got all the care that I needed. I honestly discovered that before now, this isn’t something that I had addressed properly.
Being able to accept that something happened to me years ago… I had to tell myself that this thing really happened and it has left me emotionally wanting. I had to address all of that, so that I could even be strong enough to do my job as a professional. We had variations of emotions, it wasn’t just panic, but it was handled perfectly well.
Have you done an investigation of this kind before?
No, this is a first. On radio, I’ve done documentaries and insights into a story. We’ve done stuff on sexual harassment. We try to get evidence, but nothing as in-depth as this. This is the most sophisticated, in-depth work that I’ve done.
Having achieved this feat, do you feel a sense of fulfilment?
In the work I did as a journalist, yes. I feel fulfilled, for doing my work diligently and not letting my emotions get the best of me.
Has this project been able to help address the hurtful experience you had in the past?
In my own small way, yes I think so. But there’s still a lot more addressing to be done. I want journalists to know that, this is honestly just the beginning. There’s so much more to be done. We should all as much as possible get the training that we can and do all we can do. More people can address it, but in my own small way, I feel like I have.
Beyond this now, what’s next for you?
As a person, I knew that a lot of women will connect with this story, but I didn’t anticipate the speed at which it would get to the top and back. Personally, I enjoy learning. This whole project has been a learning process. I came out a better journalist. Before the project started, I didn’t have this skill-set that I have, but I underwent training, learned on the job and I was ascertained to be professional at all times. I love that and I enjoy learning. I’m hoping that the next phase for me would be exploring my different career options and most importantly going back to school, because I never got to finish school.
So what has changed about you now, considering the fact that you became an instant celebrity following the release of the documentary?
My followers on social media have changed (Laughs). I miss having my small followers and just lounging in peace. The number of calls I get have increased… I know it will definitely die down after a while.
What role do you think the society and government have to play in this issue of sexual harassment and molestation by lecturers in universities?
The society has a very huge role to play, not just in Nigeria, but also in Ghana and the rest of Africa. Following this documentary, we have seen how society has played out a script we know too well – victim-blaming, trading blames, body-shaming, dress-shaming… People feel like in everything, women should have a share of the blame.
It’s quite unfortunate because we have seen how a young woman between the ages of seventeen and twenty in the university, has little or no power and authority. So when we say women shouldn’t offer sex for grades, we should realise that in that space, the lecturer still has all the power. He has the power to say no and no consequence will happen to him.
The students are not going to fail him. But when it happens to women, they have little or no power in that space, so we should stop victim- blaming. We should have empathy. I was hoping that this documentary would afford us the space to see how it happens through the eyes of the young woman, that is in that space, that is trapped.
So we should always put ourselves in their shoes and be empathetic towards women who come out to tell their stories, accept them and create a safe space for them as much as possible. Also, the government should put in policies and translate those policies to action. As long as our women are safe, it means you’re working.
Are you satisfied with the steps that have been taking towards bringing the perpetrators to book?
Yes, I’ve heard a lot and I look forward to seeing those things implemented. People need to know that it’s much more than they saw in the film. The things we saw in the course of doing this investigation are a lot worse.
What was the reaction of your family members when you set out to do this?
They know I’m a very strong willed person. I guess they know that one day “I will do something and change the world”. Those were my brother’s words. My mum said she was glad and proud. I honestly hold that very dear to me, because if there is anybody’s opinion in this world that matters to me, it’s hers. Of course, they were also concerned when the rumour that I was getting death threats was all over the place, my sister was concerned, in fact everyone was. But I’ve been able to let them know that I’m sorry for causing them distress, but it’s the path that I’ve chosen. In all, they are glad and proud of me.