The prevalence of sexual molestation of female (and male?) undergraduates in our institutions of higher learning has been of great concern not just to parents of the victims but to all people of good conscience.
They have reason to be worried because many of those undergrads have become victims of shattered dreams. Studies conducted under the auspices of UNESCO reveal that sexual harassment of female students result in outcomes ranging from shame, stigmatization, traumatization, loss of self-esteem, unwanted pregnancies, poor academic performance and, in some extreme cases, suicide.
This ugly phenomenon is made worse by the fact that sanctions against the perpetrators, usually lecturers, never went beyond 'suspensions' and occasional dismissals, while a number of the cases are eventually swept under the carpet, until another randy lecturer strikes. Sadly, there is hardly any higher institution where this pandemic has not caught on.
The 'sex-for-marks' scourge may have eaten into the very fabric of lecturers, but there comes a day of recompense. As fate would have it, the popular saying that 'one day for the thief, another day for the owner' happily, is already playing out given developments across the country.
Among other manifestations is the recent humiliation of two senior lecturers in the University of Lagos, Dr. Igbeneghu and Dr. Oladipo.
Igbeneghu, who is also a pastor in a popular Pentecostal church, was said to have used various methods to solicit sex from a BBC undercover reporter, Kiki Mordi.
Not minding that Mordi, who posed as an admission seeker, claimed to be 17 years old, Igbeneghu reportedly invited her to a series of meetings and proposed sex to her.
Among other salacious tips, Igbeneghu allegedly unraveled UNILAG Senior Staff Club's “cold room,” where innocent undergraduates are sexually abused by callous predators old enough to be the parents of these traumatized souls. Here, sexually explicit expressions are said to be rampant.
This sounds brutish. Rightly, the school authorities have suspended both Igbeneghu and Oladipo, pending the outcome of investigations, and summarily closed down the “cold room” – the nest of illegal sex on the campus. Other incidents may suffice.
In October 2011, the then provost of the Ebonyi State College of Education, Ikwo, Silas Omebe, announced the suspension of five lecturers for extortion and sexually abusing students. A dean at the University of Abuja was also uncovered in a sting operation demanding sex in exchange for marks from yet another female student. The then head of the English Department, University of Ilorin, allegedly resigned after a video surfaced in which he appeared to have harassed a 200-level female student.
In 2018, the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, dismissed a professor, Richard Akindele, for sexual offences. His former student, Monica Osagie, accused him of demanding five sex sessions to pass her. She recorded their conversations, the audio of which shocked the nation. An Osogbo high court later sentenced Akindele to a two-year jail term.
Similarly, an associate professor of Economics at the Lagos State University, Ojo, was entrapped with the help of an NGO, demanding sexual favours from a female student. Fellow students also caught an accounting lecturer at the Ekiti State University, Ado Ekiti, literally pants down as he attempted to harass a female student.
Reports also have it that a senior lecturer at the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt has been relieved of his job for sexually abusing a student at the nation's premier Science and Technology University.
Universities are not only learning environments, but places where students socialize, develop relationships and live. So, sexual harassment can permeate a female student's entire environment.
It is also instructive at this juncture, to look at the other side of the coin. While we are totally against all forms of sexual molestation at institutions of higher learning, female students should be advised to eschew modesty in dressing and general conduct. A situation whereby a female student makes it a habit to dress 'to kill' is an invitation to harassment. After all, lecturers are mortals, brimming with flesh and blood!
Another point of note is that students should define their mission in the university. They should take their studies serious so they would not always be at the messy of examiners when put to test.
That is why National Network newspaper commends the Senate of the Federal Republic on the major move it made towards curbing the menacing issue of sexual harassment of students in tertiary institutions in Nigeria by their educators.
The apex legislative chamber passed for second reading, a Bill for an Act to Prevent, Prohibit and Redress Sexual Harassment of Students in Tertiary Educational Institutions and for other matters connected therewith 2019.
The bill, sponsored by the Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, proposes a maximum of 14-year in jail term, with a minimum of 5 years, without an option of fine for any educator who commits sexual offences in tertiary institutions.
According to the bill, sexual offences include: sexual intercourse with a student or demands for sex from a student or a prospective student or intimidating or creating a hostile or offensive environment for the student by soliciting for sex or making sexual advances.
The bill also describes as sexual harassment the following: grabbing, hugging, kissing, rubbing, stroking, touching, pinching the breasts or hair or lips or hips or buttocks or any other sensual part of the body of a student.
Others include, sending by hand or courier or electronic or any other means naked or sexually explicit pictures or videos or sex related objects to a student, and whistling or winking at a student or screaming, exclaiming, joking or making sexually complimentary or uncomplimentary remarks about a student's physique or stalking a student.
But while the bill goes through the remaining processes to becoming law, we make the following recommendations among others:
- Governing Councils and Vice-Chancellors should institute mechanisms that will ensure that the depravity is vehemently confronted. A code of conduct should be enacted governing female students-teachers relationship, which must be religiously monitored.
- Female victims should be encouraged to speak out and be protected by the authorities from victimization. Students' union governments on all campuses, which are supposed to be vibrant platforms for combating this vice and seeking the welfare of female students, should wake up now.
3. Universities need to update their discipline procedures to address harassment, provide clear information on how to report an incident and offer greater support for students who report harassment. Organizing periodic training and campaign for staff and students on sexual harassment will help in keeping the scourge on the front-burner of university life.