By Ifeanyi Nwoko
The menace of sexual harassment in higher institutions of learning has taken a worrisome trend, with lecturers now undaunted in their quest to have sex with their students.
The recent exposé by the BBC, of a University of Lagos lecturer, Boniface Igbeneghu, who solicited sex from a supposedly 17-year-old admission seeker, is a case in point.
The lecturer was a former Sub-dean, Faculty of Art, and head pastor of a local Foursquare Gospel Church.
The video which showed the ‘exalted’ lecturer and pastor, stooping low, behaving like a child, gave details on how the ‘cold room’ is used by Nigerian lecturers.
Igbeneghu, is however not alone, as just recently, an Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, lecturer was dismissed and is being tried in court for threatening to fail a student if she does not give him sex.
The OAU lecturer, Richard Akindele, was exposed by Monica Osagie, who leaked a phone conversation of the lecturer demanding for sex.
Although a number of lecturers have been caught and punished, many people now believe that the rot is like a cankerworm, and requires enactment of stringent laws and severe penalty to serve as deterrent.
Luckily, the National Assembly has come to the rescue, as it recently proposed the Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill, aimed at deterring and punishing offenders.
The bill which is on its second coming to the national legislature, was first introduced and passed by the 8th Senate, presided over by Dr Bukola Saraki.
As the bill was never concurred by the House of Representatives, it was therefore, not forwarded to the President for assented.
With the uncovering of many other cases of sexual abuse in schools, the clamour to find permanent solution to the menace was re-enkindled by the Deputy Senate President, Sen. Ovie Omo-Agege, and supported by all his colleagues.
According to the new bill, a lecturer could be jailed for up to two years if he or she winks at, or touches a student in a manner considered to be inappropriate.
In fact, like in the case of sex with minors, even if the student consents to it or lures the lecturer to the act, the lecturer is still liable.
Section 4 of the bill states: an educator shall be guilty of committing an offence or a felony of sexual harassment if he/she –
(1) has sexual intercourse with a student or demands for sex from a student or a prospective student; or
(2) intimidates or creates a hostile or offensive environment for the student, by soliciting for sex from the student or making sexual advances towards the student; or
(3) directs or induces another person to commit any act of sexual harassment, under this bill, or cooperates in the commission of sexual harassment by another person without which it would not have been committed; or
(4) grabs, hugs, kisses, rubs or strokes or touches or pinches the breasts or hair or lips or hips or buttocks or any other sensual part of the body of a student; or
(5) displays, gives or sends by hand or courier or electronic or any other means, naked or sexually explicit pictures or videos or sex related objects to a student; or
(6) whistles or winks at a student or screams or exclaims or jokes or makes sexually complimentary or uncomplimentary remarks about a student’s physique or stalks a student.
For the various offences, the bill prescribed punishments, ranging from two years imprisonment to as much as 14 years imprisonment, depending on the degree of the offence.
As penalty, the bill proposes that: “Any person who commits any of the offences or acts specified in Clause 4 (1), (2) and (3) of this bill, is guilty of an offence of felony and shall, on conviction, be sentenced to an imprisonment term of up to 14 years, but not less than 5 years, without an option of a fine.
“Any person who commits any of the offences or acts specified in Clause 4 (4), (5) and (6) of this bill is guilty of an offence, and shall be liable on conviction, to imprisonment term of up to 5 years, but not less than 2 years, without an option of a fine.”
Though commendations have continued to pour in for the proponents of the bill, however, many wonder if the bill will effectively serve as deterrent to randy lecturers.
For instance, they argue that although the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act, which prohibits all forms of rape and domestic violence have long been passed, it has not been able to abate such cases.
Mrs Omowumi Omowale, an educationist, stressed that the proposed law against sex for grades should be made more stringent.
She called on the National Assembly to make the public hearing on the bill open, so that many people can contribute to enrich the bill and close all loopholes.
“The bill does not state what happens to such a lecturer after the jail term or fine. If a lecturer serves a two-year term and comes out, is he supposed to be allowed back into the school system?’’
For Mr Innocent Njemnobi, an analyst, believes that it goes beyond merely stopping the trends, adding that intensive value re-orientation was required.
He said that those who passed through institutions where paying for grades, sleeping with lecturers for grades or being sexually abused, already had their values fundamentally skewed.
“That perhaps explains why we have some parents nowadays who pay for their children to be enrolled in special centres to pass examinations – parents who encourage their children to cut corners even in education.
“The new generation of parents would even be worse than the past, because they experienced far worse that those before them did.
“We must therefore re-orientate every Nigerians to embrace the core values, because only laws won’t stop this ugly trend,” he said.
A human rights lawyer, Segun Sawyerr, however believes that a panel of inquiry should be set up so that students who were abused in schools can name these lecturers so that they can be shamed.
It is hoped that the new bill should get accelerated passage, assent and implementation, so that our tertiary institutions will truly become citadel of learning.(NANFeatures)