*** Why I reintroduced the Bill, Omo- Agege
*** Says we must all support bill prohibiting sexual harassment in tertiary institutions
***Reactions over BBC report will energize my bill
By Henry Umoru
A bill seeking to stop sexual abuse of female students in the nation’s tertiary institutions was yesterday reintroduced in the Senate for consideration and subsequent passage.
The bill, christened: ” Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Education Institution Prohibition Bill, 2019, sponsored by Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo -Agege, APC, Delta Central, was read the first time yesterday in the Senate at plenary.
Recall that the bill was sponsored during the 8th Senate by Senator Ovie Omo- Agege.
Also, recall that six months after it was introduced on the floor of the Senate, the bill that sought to among others, stop sexual abuse of female students in the nation’s tertiary institutions was passed Thursday, October, 27th, 2016 by the Red Chamber
When it was passed, a 5-year jail term was prescribed for lecturers and educators convicted of sexual harassment of their male or female students.
When the Senate passed it, it, however, suffered a major set back in the House of Representatives as it was not harmonized for subsequent assent.
Explaining why he decided to reintroduce the Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Institution Prohibition Bill, Senator Omo- Agege 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.
According to him, concerned parents and youth 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, however, 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 new bill to make prosecution of sexual offenders easier for prosecutors and remove the vexatious argument of ‘consent’ as a 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,” Senator Omo-Agege stated.
While describing the scourge as sexual harassment in the nation’s tertiary institutions as unacceptable, he said it was high time the trend was nipped in the bud.
Nigerians have expressed outrage over a viral British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) investigative video which showed some lecturers of some top universities in West Africa sexually harassing female students.
The 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 recommended expulsion or suspension for students whose claims of being serially abused by lecturers or educators are found to be false by any competent court.
In the alternative, the bill also proposed a fine of N5 million in the event that the accused person is convicted by a competent court of law even as it made 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.
The bill, however, proposed a fine of N5 million after the accused person has been convicted by a competent court of law.
“In the event that the lecturer is falsely accused by his student, the bill provides that he may seek redress – after the lecturer has been acquitted by a court, he can turn the heat on the student who shall be expelled or suspended at the discretion of the institution.
“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 states.
It also categorises 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.
The bill 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.”