By Douglas Anele
Knowing that not all allegations of sexual harassment are true or could be proven beyond reasonable doubt, it is disheartening to observe moronic moral terrorists, menopausal feminists and lynch mobs from different backgrounds most of whom are probably suffering from the radioactive effects of sexual repression deeply rooted in early childhood hastily conclude that any man accused of sexual misconduct must be guilty even in cases where there is no patina of solid evidence to back the accusation. Let me say it once again, to erase any doubt about my stance on the issue at hand: sexual harassment is ignoble, and reasonable efforts must be made to reduce it to the barest minimum. But to presume that any woman who accuses a man of sexual harassment must be saying the truth or else she would not have the audacity to do so, is utterly irresponsible and demonstrates pathetic ignorance about the human capacity for mischief and evil. Some women are wicked: sometimes, due to bitter life experiences in the hands of bad men or obscure psychological problems, they just transfer their anger and frustrations to any unlucky man within their reach.
Although it must be acknowledged that BBC’s sex-for-grades documentary casts the lecturers involved in bad light and that there are indeed university teachers who use their academic positions to coerce female students to have sex with them, the caption is misleading, a misnomer that might have been deliberately selected to embarrass academics in sub-Saharan African universities generally. Not a single lecturer featured in the videos demanded sex in exchange for grades. Rather, they spoke recklessly and demonstrated immaturity in the art of wooing or toasting women, which is common with a lot of men in similar situations. Besides, since none of the girls involved, as can be deduced from their fake identities, is a student offering courses taught by the lecturers, it is wrong to describe what happened as sex-for-grades encounters. The footages contain mostly off-key amative discussions by the lecturers who demonstrated mediocre sexual negotiation skills without malicious intent. Now, in their eagerness to portray academics as sex predators, Kiki Mordi and her cohorts forgot that none of the girls they used in the sting operation can make a valid claim based on extant sexual harassment policies in the two universities concerned because they are neither students of those universities nor offered courses taught by Dr. Boniface Igbeneghu, Prof. Rashford Gyampo and others. The most that can be inferred from the documentary is that the lecturers were willing to help girls seeking assistance from them in exchange for sex and romantic relationship. But because a sizeable percentage of Nigerians feel that there is something particularly wrong for a man to ask a woman for sex in exchange for a favour, they overreacted. Assuming Dr. Igbeneghu and the rest had asked the girls to run errands first for them (or something along that line) as a condition for acceding to their requests, there probably would have been little or no negative reaction. So, the problem still revolves around the unhealthy attitude to sex associated with traditional taboo morality, which erroneously exaggerates the moral and ontological significance of the erotogenous parts of the human body, and encourages hypocrisy and prudishness in matters connected with sex. I strongly suggest that the people demanding maximum punishment for the lecturers, especially those who call themselves Christians, should read John 8: 1-11 and re-examine their own lives critically.
In all this, no one has really taken the trouble to reflect on the unintended negative consequences of the documentary as it pertains to the relationship between lecturers and female students going forward. Lecturers are often told that they are in loco parentis (Latin for “in the place of a parent”) to their students, but I have never subscribed to that view because it is extremely difficult for me to really see myself as a surrogate parent of a student whose family background and upbringing I knew nothing about, not to talk of contributing to the formation of the person’s character. Furthermore, I have two lovely daughters to look after, which is a demanding undertaking. I can discipline them as I deem fit whereas I cannot exercise the same freedom in disciplining a student since lecturers do not have those special emotional connection and parental responsibilities to their students which they have towards their own children. Consider also the fact that the behaviour of an increasing percentage of students in our tertiary institutions today leaves much to be desired: many of them are from dysfunctional homes and have formed bad habits before entering the universities. Consequently, it is unrealistic to expect lecturers to perform magic on students with a baggage of bad character traits that jeopardise their academic work and life on campus generally. In my view, parents should be parents and stop outsourcing their responsibility for rearing good children to others – lecturers, pastors, imams, and so on. In addition, senior academics, especially those in top management positions who sermonise on in loco parentis to lecturers should engage in critical self-examination and think realistically of how underpaid, usually overworked, lecturers who have their own biological children to bring up properly can genuinely act as surrogate parents to the unserious, smartphone- intoxicated students that populate our various campuses nowadays.
Going back to the issue of negative repercussions I mentioned a moment ago, the BBC documentary could create an atmosphere of anxiety and distrust between lecturers and their female students. Several lecturers might overreact by suspecting unnecessarily any female student that comes to their offices even for legitimate reasons, and some girls will feel uncomfortable going to male lecturers when they have genuine problems. The documentary would embolden some female students to try their own sting operation too either to get back at lecturers whose courses they deservedly failed or just to cause mischief. Some male lecturers might become excessively harsh and mean towards female students as a way of avoiding falling into temptation or just to avenge their colleagues caught in the dragnet of sting operations or set-ups. In other words, they would become unapproachable or formalistic towards their female students. Such a lecturer could make simple things more cumbersome or difficult for such a student by foot-dragging when attending to any issue she brings to his attention or insist on following inconsequential procedures that can easily be dispensed with, such as asking her to write to the head of department through her course adviser before he would look into a simple request or problem that might be sorted out in less than twenty minutes. Moreover, lecturers could decide from now on to implement strictly certain regulations by their universities, such as enforcement of dress code rules by expelling female students who, in their own estimation, did not dress decently from the class; insistence on using attendance register for allowing students to write continuous assessment tests and examinations; and rigid application of regulations guiding both to the extent of compelling female students to fill malpractices forms for minor examination misconduct that ordinarily could be overlooked without compromising the integrity of the test or examination in any way. Given this scenario, repressed hostility or cold war between female students and male lecturers could hamper effective teaching and learning in universities.
Several universities have anti-sexual harassment policies that contain ridiculous provisions. For instance, some have stipulated dress codes purportedly meant to curb indecent dressing, without realising that the idea of a dress code is a red herring and that the only logical way of avoiding ambiguity is to prescribe a uniform for students. The relevant questions to ask at this point are: who determines decent and indecent dressing and what criteria should be applied in doing so? What percentage exposure of a woman’s breasts, thighs, or derrière constitutes “indecent exposure”? Within certain limits, school authorities can recommend in general terms how students should dress. But to stipulate a rigid mode of dressing that would necessitate punishment for those who flout the dress code opens the possibility of abuse by those who would enforce the rule, including, I am afraid, male lecturers whose romantic advances were rejected by female students. As was the case in the anti-gay legislation, the senators working on the so-called sexual harassment bill are hypocrites grandstanding with the issue knowing full well that Nigerians are among the most gullible human beings on earth. Ovie Omo-Agege and his colleagues are not qualified to tell anybody how to conduct their romantic lives.