In the year 2016, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege from Delta presented before the hallowed chamber of the Nigerian Senate a bill titled Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Institutions Bill 2016. The bill which later got the support of 57 other senators as co-sponsors was literally killed before it could be properly considered and passed into law, in spite of the overwhelming support the bill had already amassed among the electorate.
The bill which has passed the first reading and second reading ran into a ditch when it was presented for final deliberations. The bill suddenly became controversial despite getting the nod from a number of prominent civil society organisations and other human right organisations.
The main dissenting voice was the Academic Staff Unions of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) led by its President Biodun Ogunyemi. According to Ogunyemi, “As a global norm, universities and other tertiary institutions are established by law as autonomous bodies and have their own laws, which regulate their affairs. This includes misconduct generally among both staff and students… Any law or bill, which seeks to supplant these laws violates the universities’ autonomy.” Ogunyemi sufficiently threatened the Senate through ASUU that it eventually shelved the bill.
As much as Ogunyemi’s position was true then, he failed to acknowledge the fact that thousands of lecturers have been accused of sexual harassment by students and have not been punished for their crimes or even summarily sanctioned. In fact, some lecturers are so popular in various university campuses for being rabid when aggressively pressuring and coercing students into engaging sex as payment for grades.
The case of Professor Richard Akindele that is currently trending for demanding sex from a female undergraduate in Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) has brought back into focus the importance of the bill and how it would have added extra impetus for universities to take action by ensuring that students are protected from sexual harassment and coercion.
Lots of individuals have made their opinions on the allegations, however, the fact is that there is no extant laws to punish Akindele for such blatant abuse of power. The management at OAU has released a statement (following pressure from social media) that it is investigating the case, but if precedents are anything to go by, nothing good will come out of this ‘investigation’.
According to the bill, an educator “shall be guilty of committing an offence of sexual harassment against a student if he/she has sexual intercourse with a student who is less than 18 years of age; has sexual intercourse with a student or demands for sex from a student or a prospective student as a condition to study in an institution, or as a condition to the giving of a passing grade or the granting of honour and scholarships.”
Continuing, the bill states that “Any person who commits any of the acts specified in Section 4 of this Act is guilty of an offence and shall, on conviction, be sentenced to imprisonment of up to five years, but not less than two years without any option of fine.”
This bill has made provision for sexual harassment and its accompanying punishment. The fact remains there should have been checks and balances to prevent lecturers like Akindele from exploiting students. Perhaps this might be the push ASUU needs to get off its high horse and do the right thing.