The BBC Africa Eye exposé on sexual harassment in West African universities is what we need right now

It’s been a year since BBC Africa Eye’s groundbreaking documentary Sweet Sweet Codeine was released, receiving a 2019 Emmy nod and continues to be the ”magnum opus” from the media platform. But in the twilight of yesterday’s Big Brother Naija, journalist Kiki Mordi dropped a bombshell: an explosive documentary from BBC Africa Eye going undercover to investigate sexual harassment in West African universities. Sex For Grades, it’s called, and hashtags soon surfaced and the internet went into a frenzy.

Sexual harassment in universities is as ubiquitous as air, with a predominant number of female students as victims. Before now, the media has never done large-scale investigations into this endemic, and arguably the closest reference of it in pop culture is Idris Abdulkareem’s 2003 hit song Mr Lecturer. In Sex For Grades, Mordi uses herself as the documentary’s reliable anchor. There’s a moody, quietly ceremonious quality about the first few minutes, which somehow underscores the sensitivity of the subject.

The University of Lagos and the University of Ghana are the institutions in the spotlight, undercover journalists preparing themselves for the task, body cameras and mics, and the scene plays out like a Hollywood movie where the police are about to bust up a drug cartel. At the University of Lagos, a 17-year-old female journalist is sent as bait, who tells Dr. Boniface, a lecturer, that she’s a fresh graduate seeking admission into the university. In his office, Dr. Boniface’s eyes have a predatory, leering glint, his body language is that of one accustomed to being in the position of power which he abuses. He has done this many times before.

Frankly, I felt a moment of panic where he mildly insists he wants to kiss her. He has dimmed the lights and the doors are locked. All this while, she’s secretly filming and Dr. Boniface looks exactly how I had imagined – out of shape, bald, and slimy. He admits to sex for grades, that lectures create these conditions of sleeping with female students or otherwise they fail them. Weeks of painstaking interviews with students led the BBC Africa Eye team to a lecturer in the University of Ghana, Dr Paul Kwame Butakor, who openly regurgitates these same conditions to another female undercover journalist in order for her to advance.

It’s really a cold, bleak world women have to live in, I realised yet again. And women sharing their stories of sexual harassment and abuse is never easy, but BBC Africa Eye has shown that these stories need to be told and that perpetrators need to be held accountable for their actions.

 

 

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