By Gabriel Dike
The Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Osun State, is in the news for the wrong reason again. Just like in June 2018 when it dismissed a professor of Accounting, Richard Akindele, for demanding sex from Monica Osagie.
In January 2020, another lecturer, Olabisi Olaleye, was accused of demanding sex in exchange for grades from a 19-year female student, Motunrayo Afolayan. Same year, OAU announced the suspension of yet another lecturer, Mr Monday Omo-Etan, for assaulting a 19-year-old female student.
On Tuesday, September 7, 2021, the institution announced the dismissal of a senior lecturer, Dr Adebayo Mosobalaje, Department of English Language, for sexual misconduct, three years after a female student accused him of sexual harassment.
But observers believed the sack of Mosobalaje was long overdue. Why? The allegation against him dates back to 2018. The real question is, why did the council suddenly take the decision to sack him now?
The lecturer was found guilty of sexual demeanour in 2018. He was instantly recommended for dismissal by the Joint Committee of Council and Senate.
Some of the allegations against the lecturers were dealt with within the time frame, but that of Mosobalaje dragged on till the new governing council headed by Owelle Oscar Udoji approved his dismissal. Staff, students and stakeholders wondered why this was so.
The immediate past governing council under Dr Yemi Ogunbiyi, on December 11, 2018, set up Joint Committee of Council and Senate to look at Mosobalaje’s case. The four-member panel was headed by Prof Felix Madubuike. It also had in Mr Y. N. Ayantola, Chief Legal Officer; Mrs A. O. Asahiah, Principal Assistant Registrar (Council Affairs) and Mr A. I. Ogunyemi, Assistant Registrar, (Academic Staff Establishment). The committee found him guilty but recommended light punishment. Others with similar cases were earlier sacked.
At its maiden meeting on February 11, 2019, the committee deliberated on 12 exhibits before it. Mosobalaje through his lawyer told the committee that the case was before a court and asked that the committee to stay further action.
At the second sitting, the lecturer informed the committee that he had withdrawn the suit and was ready to submit himself before the committee. The allegations were then read out to him:
“You, as an academic staff in the Department of English in which Miss Rachael Momoh with registration number – EGL/2013/216 – was a student at the material time, related with her in a manner inconsistent with your duty as an academic staff. Your conduct is in breach of Paragraph 1 (ii) of the Code of Conduct for the university community, which states that ‘an academic staff shall not relate to his student in a way that could compromise or be seen to have compromised his position as a teacher, examiner and guardian’. “Moreover, this is misconduct in contravention of Paragraph VII of the Code of Conduct for the university community, which defines misconduct ‘to include general misbehaviour to the prejudice of the good name or reputation of the university, and or has the effect of embarrassing or tarnishing or bringing into ridicule the good name of the university, including the Senate, the council and officers of the university.’”
The accused lecturer pleaded not guilty. Mr Ogunyemi, an assistant registrar in the academic staff establishment, gave evidence against him. He said by internal memo dated July 5, 2018, the Vice Chancellor, Prof Eyitope Ogunbodede, received a written report of “sexual harassment bordering on unsolicited, unwelcome and subtle sexual overtures recorded in an audio device against Dr Mosobalaje.
“The Registrar via a letter dated July 23, 2018, requested the accused to respond to the allegation that he tried to pressurize the female student to give in to his sexual overtures.
“Mosobalaje responded to the allegation via a letter dated July 24, 2018. While admitting to the audio record conversation, he denied that he harassed or intimidated the female student in any form.
“The VC was advised to set up an investigating panel to look into the allegation in compliance with the Code of Conduct for the university. The lecturer was issued query after the panel set up by the VC submitted its report.”
Cross examination of Momoh
Mosobalaje’s told the committee: “The complaint of Miss Momoh of sexual harassment against the senior lecturer was not put in writing at any time by her to the VC as provided for by the Code of Conduct.
“The Code of Conduct did not state categorically that a lecturer cannot date a student. There was no place in the audio recording that showed that Mosobalaje harassed Momoh.
“There was no letter of complaint from the female student as required by the Code of Conduct, before the investigating panel was set up by the VC.
“The panel did not accord Mosobalaje fair hearing. He was not allowed to hear the evidence of the complainant and witnesses neither was he given the opportunity to cross-examine them.
“The panel brought in people to interact with; it was not a case of Miss Momoh bringing witnesses to back-up her complaint. The interaction of Mosobalaje with the female student as captured by the audio recording could not be said to be sexual harassment.
“Miss Momoh herself admitted that her grades and the class of degree she graduated with were what she deserved and not as a result of sexual harassment. There was actually ‘no case’ before the Joint Committee of Council and Senate. “The committee should not allow itself to be an unbiased arbiter in the proceedings as the university was both the complainant and the judge in the matter.”
He said his client had no case to answer; his client only asked for a date not prohibited by the books. He urged the committee to recommend deserving justice to the two parties.
Members of the committee asked the lecturer: “Would propositioning a student who came to discuss project with her supervisor not put undue sexual pressure on her? Would there not be a negation of roles for an examiner who was also in loco parentis asking the same student on a date? What was going on when you (Mosobalaje) said, ‘I can’t rape you. Why he, (Mosobalaje) had to propose to a student when she came to him for supervision?”
Ayantola, however, said: “Asking the female student on a date by the lecturer was inconsistent with his duty as an academic staff. Asking a student on a date by her supervisor was an outright breach of the Code of Conduct of the university. The conversation between him and the female student had sexual connotations and pressure.”
The committee said: “The audio recording of Mosobalaje pressurising Momoh did in fact take place as admitted by the lecturer. Based on the evidence, he pressurised her sexually when she came to discuss her project with him as her supervisor in his office.
“The lecturer got Miss Momoh alone in his office by sending her to buy food for him. Mosobalaje had ‘power over’ the student at that particular time.
“The recorded conversation where he stated, ‘I can’t rape you’ showed that the situation had sexual undertones which implied that if she did not succumb to his sexual advances, it may affect her project. He related with her in a manner inconsistent with his role as lecturer.
“His explanation that he wanted to marry Miss Momoh was an afterthought. Mosobalaje is culpable. The allegation against him did not refer to the Anti-Sexual Harassment Policy, reference was made to only the Code of Conduct of the university.
“He had breached paragraph 1(ii) and VII of the Code of Conduct of the institution in the manner he had related with her and the lecturer had also brought disrepute to the university.
Recommendations of the committee
The committee found Mosobalaje culpable and was deserving of the highest punishment of dismissal. The Madubuike-led committee recommended that the senior lecturer be issued an official warning. It stated that he should lose two promotional years; he should lose the half salaries of the period of his suspension and he should not be allowed to hold any position of authority for five years.
Staff and stakeholders wondered why the sexual harassment case against Mosobalaje dragged on till September 2021. The Education Report gathered that Mosobalaje’s case lingered on because of vested interest by some prominent politicians and a first class traditional ruler in Osun State.
It was not surprise that the Joint Committee of Council and Senate
Despite the overwhelming evidence against the lecturer was unduly given a soft landing with light sanctions and while others with similar cases before him were dismissed.
An indication of the outside interest was when the lecturer rescinded his decision to challenge the case in court and agreed to face the committee because of assurance to get him a soft landing.
Apparently to avoid the backlash of double standard, the university decided to do the needful by dismissing the lecturer based on the committee’s report, which found him guilty. It stressed that Mosobalaje was deserving of the highest punishment of dismissal. That explained the sudden U-turn.
OAU defends decision
Public Relations Officer, OAU, Mr. Abiodun Olanrewaju, said: “What happened is that the case started in 2018. The case never went to the governing council. The committee submitted its report last month. The committee couldn’t meet in 2020 because of Coronavirus pandemic and lockdown. COVID-19 affected the work of the committee.
“The committee submitted its report to the Senate and there was arguments over the report. Irrespective of the committee’s recommendation and Senate position, the council has the final say. When the report was brought to council, it took the final decision to dismiss the lecturer. This is the first time the council met on the case.
“The insinuation of external intervention on the case is not true. There was no plan for soft landing for the lecturer. Council took the decision based on the provisions of the university law on such issues.”