Fred Ezeh, Abuja
With the recent upsurge in sex-for-marks in tertiary institutions and the Sexual Harassment Bill going through the second reading in the Senate, The education Report sought the views of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
While NANS welcomed the Bill and suggested an amendment to the section which vested the powers of prosecution on the school management, ASUU insists the nation does not need such new laws to tackle the sex scandal rocking tertiary institutions. Rather the union insist that there are existing laws to apply against the scourge.
President, National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Danielson Akpan, in his submission, confirmed that the issue of sexual harassment in tertiary institutions has been going on silently for years, the reason being that victims are afraid to openly speak about it.
Akpan said that, from interactions with students who were once or are victims of sexual harassment, they are afraid to speak up because of discrimination and unfriendly treatment they may receive from friends, society and other lecturers in the institution, in the case of undergraduates.
He was, however happy that the media, through their investigative skills, have been able to expose the wrath in the system, thereby generating public outcry and discourse.
“That had given more confidence and encouragement to other students who are victims or once a victim of sexual harassment to speak out and demand justice,” he said.
The NANS president added: “The recent media report on sex-for-grade at University of Lagos (UNILAG) that heralded public outburst and reaction was another source of encouragement for more victims to confidently speak up and get justice.”
He, however, commended the National Assembly for the Sexual Harassment Bill being considered in the Senate and called for speedy action and passage of the bill to give legal protection and justice to victims of sexual harassment in tertiary institutions.
Akpan said: “We have not been involved in the process so far. We only hear or read about it in the media. However, we are impressed with the bill. We have studied some sections of the bill and was happy with it, except the sections that concern prosecution powers which were handed over to the school management by the bill.
“We suggest that the sections on prosecution be amended. It should be removed from the school management as recommended by the bill to more reliable and neutral people. We have zero confidence in the ability of school management to give protection and justice to victims of sexual harassment in tertiary institutions.
“Besides, most of the senate and governing council members are familiar faces. They know each other except for the students that don’t have a representative in such bodies where decisions are taken.
“From our findings, those in such positions try as much as possible to protect themselves and, in most cases, do everything possible to cover up the ills of each other, thus denying the victim justice.”
The NANS president disagreed with the position of some people that female students are the ones harassing lecturers with their mode of dressing and other seductive moves to gain one favour or the other.
He said: “That argument is not valid. These students are weak emotionally and otherwise and as a lecturer, you are expected to guide them properly and not take advantage of them for any reason as being the case now.”
President, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, insisted that Nigeria does not need new laws to fight sexual harassment cases in Nigerian tertiary institutions or elsewhere.
He said: “We have existing laws which we can make use of to tackle the menace. Recall that a few months ago, a lecturer in Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) was convicted of sexual harassment of a female student and adequate punishment was served. It was existing laws that were used to try and convict him.
“However, we opposed to the sexual harassment bill when it was introduced in the 8th National Assembly and our reasons were made known to Nigerians. The bill was hostile on male lecturers in universities.
“You can’t make a law that is targeted at a particular set of people. The bill had already prejudged male lecturers in universities, and provided an opportunity for total stigmatisation for lecturers.
“Howbeit, we are not yet involved in this ongoing effort but in the previous bill we had access to, we saw sections that stated that lecturers should not hug, smile, laugh, chat, exchange mails, and not befriend with students. That’s totally against the law of pedagogy.
“For effective and easy teaching and learning, there must be a friendly and relaxed environment in which the students would connect with lecturers easily and understand whatever message they intend to pass.”
He, however, disagreed with the argument that female students are largely responsible for sexual harassment or sex-for-marks.
He said: “Lecturers are supposed to have a parental figure on the students. So the issue of abuse should never arise. Lecturers should be matured enough to control themselves, emotionally and otherwise.”
The Senate on November 6th proposed between five to 14- year jail term without an option of fine for any lecturer involved in sexual offences in tertiary institutions. In a proposed legislation titled: “A Bill for an Act to Prevent, Prohibit and Redress Sexual Harassment of Students in Tertiary Educational Institutions”, the Senate said sexual harassment must be defined in tertiary institutions as rape with strict liability for offenders to be prosecuted easily.
The Senate proposed that “the most effective way to deal with the offence of sexual harassment in tertiary institutions is to penalise the very impropriety of the act, with or without consent. The Bill prescribes expulsion for students who falsely accuse educators of sexual harassment’’.
Other forms of sexual harassment identified in the Bill are grabbing, hugging, kissing, rubbing, stroking, touching, pinching the breasts, hair, lips, hips, buttocks or any other sensual part of the body of a student.
Sexual offences also include sending by hand, courier, electronics 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. It also covers screaming, exclaiming, joking or making sexually complimentary or uncomplimentary remarks about a student’s physique or stalking a student.