By Henry Umoru, Asst. News Editor
The Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo- Agege, last Wednesday, reintroduced a Bill seeking to completely prohibit any form of sexual relationship between lecturers and students in the nation’s tertiary institutions.
The Bill was reintroduced in the Senate for consideration and subsequent passage.
It is christened: ‘A BILL FOR AN ACT TO MAKE PROVISION FOR THE PREVENTION, PROHIBITION AND REDRESSAL OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT OF STUDENTS IN TERTIARY EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS AND FOR MATTERS CONNECTED THEREWITH, 2019.’
The Bill had been sponsored during the 8th Senate by Omo-Agege and supported by 46 other senators.
Six months after it was introduced on the floor of the Senate, it was passed on October 27, 2016 by the Red Chamber.
It prescribed 5-year jail term for lecturers and educators convicted of sexual harassment of their male or female students.
The Bill, however, suffered a setback in the House of Representatives as it was not harmonized to be forwarded to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent.
For a Bill to be sent to the President to be signed into law, there must be concurrence by the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The immediate past Senate President, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki, had, in a tweet after four lecturers, Dr. Boniface Igbeneghu and Dr. Samuel Oladipo of the University of Lagos as well as University of Ghana lecturers Professor Ransford Gyampo and Dr. Paul Kwame Butakor, were secretly filmed allegedly sexually harassing undercover BBC reporters in the Sex-For-Grades documentary, appealed to the 9th Senate and Buhari to revisit the Bill to safeguard students in educational institutions in the country.
The tweet read: “As a father, I’m appalled by the actions of lecturers captured in the #SexForGrades exposé. We cannot allow this sort of deplorable behaviour to fester.
“In 2016, my colleagues and I in the 8th Senate passed the ‘Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Education Institution Prohibition Bill’ to prescribe a 5 year jail term for any lecturer, educationist or person in a position of authority in any tertiary institution in Nigeria found guilty. I appeal to the 9th Senate & President @MBuhari to revisit this Bill so that we can implement the institutional reforms necessary to safeguard our children in educational institutions in the country.
“I also urge the institutions to conduct robust investigations, not only on the accused but also for all other reports and complaints that come in. We need to believe victims and make institutions safer for our students”.
But while rejecting the 2016 Bill on the floor of the House, then-Majority Leader and now Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, had expressed concern that it did not take care of other spheres of the society.
Gbajabiamila, who noted that the Bill ought to take care of work place, religious institutions, among others, however, advised the House to take into cognisance some of these issues in order for the National Assembly to come up with a more comprehensive law.
At the end of the day, then-Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, agreed with the submissions, stepping the Bill down pending consultations between both chambers of the National Assembly.
Meanwhile, at a public hearing organised by then-Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) kicked against the Bill, describing it as a violation of the rights of its members.
In his presentation at the public hearing on the Bill, the President of ASUU, Biodun Ogunyemi, stated the position of the union.
With much importance attached to the Bill and how the issue of Sexual harassment in tertiary institutions has become a burning one and a matter of discourse at international fora, this time, 106 senators are co- sponsors of the Bill as against the 46 senators that co-sponsored in the 8th Senate.
The citation of the reintroduced Bill read: “This Act may be cited as the Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Educational Institutions Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act, 2019.”
According to Omo- Agege on the Bill, which was read for the first time, “This Act is enacted to promote ethical standards of education, the sanctity of the student-educator fiduciary relationship of authority, dependency and trust and respect for human dignity in tertiary educational institutions, by providing for:
“Protection of students against sexual harassment by educators in tertiary educational institutions; prevention of sexual harassment of students by educators in tertiary educational institutions; and redressal of complaints of sexual harassment of students by educators in tertiary educational institutions.”
Giving an insight into why he came up with the Bill three years after it suffered a setback, the Deputy Senate President described sexual harassment as a problem that has caused academic injustice, depression and countless other negative effects on individuals and the society in various parts of the world.
Concerned parents and youth, he said, should help energize support for proposals towards enacting an effective law against sexual harassment in workplaces and educational institutions.
A statement by his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Yomi Odunuga, quoted Omo- Agege as vowing to ensure that the energized concerns of all fathers, mothers and youth accelerate the success of his Bill towards becoming an effective law against sexual harassment in Nigeria.
He said, “It is a problem that has caused academic injustice, depression and countless other negative effects on individuals and the society in various parts of the world but the key to lasting change is for us to begin it within our own environment.
“I applaud the First Lady, Hajia Aisha Buhari, the First Lady of Ekiti State, Erelu Bisi Fayemi, the Academic Staff Union of Universities and all those who stoutly rose in support of the BBC’s commendable journalistic endeavour that is effectively beaming light on a hidden menace.
“I am wholly convinced that the unique student-educator relationship of authority, dependency and trust should never be violated. By the maxim of ‘loco parentis’, educators are like parents. They owe a special fiduciary duty of care to students under their authority – students who trust and depend on them to shape their future career paths.
“It must therefore be extremely offensive to a reasonable mind where an educator treats students as ‘perquisites’ of his office. As a father, it is an issue that I cannot just accept. It is a shame on our conscience as a people. We will stop it.
“In 2016, with the support of several colleagues in the Senate, I tabled the Bill on the Prohibition of Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Institutions which provides for a five-year jail term or a fine of N5 million for any lecturer convicted for sexually harassing male or female students.
“The Bill also criminalizes any act of neglect or failure by administrative heads of tertiary institutions to address complaints of sexual harassment within a specified period and it also made provisions to adequately punish anyone found to have levelled false allegations of harassment against lecturers and educators.
“I deeply appreciate the Academic Staff Union of Universities’ (ASUU) decisive change of position on this issue which they opposed three years ago; I see myself, not only as a representative of my senatorial district but as a representative of every parent who has a daughter that will one day, pass through our tertiary institutions.
“Nobody’s daughter deserves to be treated as ‘fringe benefit’ for anyone in position of trust and responsibility; the psychological trauma of sexual harassment has existed for too long and that is why we are reintroducing the Bill to make prosecution of sexual offenders easier for prosecutors and remove the vexatious argument of ‘consent’ as defence to perpetuate evil. “The punishment of five-year jail term for those found guilty should serve as deterrent in a society that urgently needs to address this issue of sexual harassment.
“I feel proud and further motivated. What we all collectively need at the moment is urgent action, especially for the passage of the Bill for the Prohibition of Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Institutions into law.”
While describing the scourge as sexual harassment in the nation’s tertiary institutions as unacceptable, Omo-Agege said it was high time the trend was eliminated.
The reintroduced Bill prohibits any form of sexual relationship between lecturers and their students and prescribes jail term of up to five years for lecturers who engage in sexual relationship with students.
The Bill also recommends expulsion or suspension for students whose claims of being serially abused by lecturers or educators are found to be false by any competent court.
It proposes a fine of N5 million in the event that the accused person is convicted by a competent court of law even as it makes provisions for lecturers and educators who may be falsely accused by their students to seek redress.
In such instances, an accused lecturer or educator who is acquitted by a court can turn the heat on the student who shall be expelled or suspended, as the institution where both belong deems fit.
The Bill also recommends expulsion or suspension for students whose claims of being serially abused by lecturers or educators are found to be false by any a competent court.
It adds, “An educator shall be guilty of committing an offence of sexual harassment against a student, if he or she has sexual intercourse with a student who is less than 18 years of age, an imbecile or of generally low mental capacity or blind or deaf or otherwise physically challenged”.
The Bill deems it as an offence when such a person “has sexual intercourse with a student or demands for sex from a student or a prospective student as a condition to giving a grade or the granting of honours and scholarships, or the payment of stipend, allowance or other benefits, privileges or considerations.
It further states: “An educator shall be guilty of committing an offence of sexual harassment against a student if he or she solicits sex from or makes sexual advances towards a student when the sexual solicitation or sexual advances result in an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment for the student.
“Or directs or induces another person to commit any act of sexual harassment under this bill, or cooperates in the commission of sexual harassment by another person without which it would not have been committed; grabs or hugs or rubs or strokes or touches or pinches the breasts or hair or lips or buttocks or any other sensual parts of the body of a student.
“Or displays, gives or sends by hand or courier or electronic (means) or any other means, naked or sexually explicit pictures or videos or sex related objects to a student.
“Or whistles or winks at a student or scream or exclaims or jokes or makes sexually complimentary or uncomplimentary remarks about a student’s physique.”
Now that the Bill has been read the first time, going through to second reading will be a formality considering the number of senators who co- sponsored it.
At the public hearing, it will also be easy for the sponsor of the Bill to have his way against the backdrop of the fact that ASUU that lampooned it three years is now in support.