Sex-for- grade: Beyond outrage, condemnations

ASUU President

Recent Sex-for-grade video involving two University of Lagos lecturers had drawn wide range condemnations, prompting the Senate to revisit the rejected Sexual Harassments Bill of 2016. In this report SAMSON BENJAMIN asks whether public outrage and legislation were enough to curb the menace.

A BBC Africa Eye documentary recently exposed two lecturers of the University of Lagos, and a lecturer of the University of Ghana of alleged involvement in sexual harassment. The lecturers at the centre of the messy videos are a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Arts, University of Lagos, Boniface Igbeneghu, and Samuel Oladipo of the Department of Economics. Both were caught in the BBC sting operation allegedly seducing an admission seeker.

As expected, the documentary sparked anger, outrage and condemnations from many Nigerians who described who described sex for marks as a norm in many Nigerian universities and other institutions of higher learning.

One too many

In 2018, the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile- Ife, dismissed a professor, Richard Akindele, for sexual offences. His student, Monica Osagie, accused him of demanding five sex sessions to pass her. She recorded their conversations, the audio of which shocked the nation.

An Osogbo High Court later sentenced Akindele to a two-year jail term for the same offence.

Also, in 2018, an associate professor of Economics at the Lagos State University, Ojo, was entrapped with the help of an NGO, demanding sexual favours from a female student. Fellow students also caught an accounting lecturer at the Ekiti State University, Ado Ekiti, literally pants down, as he attempted to harass a female student.

In October 2011, the then Provost of the Ebonyi State College of Education, Ikwo, Silas Omebe , announced the suspension of five lecturers for extortion and sexually abusing students. A Dean at the University of Abuja was also uncovered in a sting operation demanding sex in exchange for marks from yet another female student.

There is hardly any higher institution where this pandemic has not caught on. The then Head of the English Department, University of Ilorin, allegedly resigned after a video surfaced in which he appeared to have harassed a 200-level female student.

Report’ll serve as warning

Speaking with Blueprint Weekend, Lead for Keeping Girls in School in Africa Dr Mairo Mandara lamented the high incidence of sexual harassments on our campuses, called for prosecution of suspects to serve as deterrent for others.

She said: “Those who have passed through any of the Nigerian tertiary institutions, especially the government-owned, would agree with me that the sex for grades practice did not begin with the University of Lagos lecturer that was caught in the act by the BBC investigative journalist neither is the practice peculiar to the said institution UNILAG.

“In fact, it is common across the tertiary institutions in Nigeria. If a survey were to be carried out now, the outcome will shock every one of us. The UNILAG lecturer was just unfortunate to be caught, which is good, at least it will serve as a warning to the other sexual predators that are still hiding in the universities, polytechnics and colleges of education across the country.

“However, the scourge may not end with the UNILAG lecturers if all we do is mere condemnation through press statements and on social media. Indeed, UNILAG’s decision to suspend the lecturers may look good on paper, but is cold comfort to many female undergraduates that suffer in silence from the lecherous activities of randy teachers. The authority must show desire to bring suspects to book through diligent prosecution,” she said.

Beyond suspension

Similarly, a gender equality advocate Barrister Chisom Agbo told Blueprint Weekend that tackling female sexual harassment head – on requires more than the suspension or dismissal of culprits.

She said: “Sexual assault is a criminal act and should be treated as such. In the United States, the approach is much more radical. Universities are, by law, required to protect students against sexual harassment. The critical requirement is creating many uninhibited and non- bureaucratic accesses for students to report sexual harassment to university authorities.

“It is, therefore, incumbent on governing councils and vice – chancellors to institute mechanisms that will ensure that the depravity is vehemently confronted. With the increasing sex – for – marks scourge that makes nonsense of the degrees awarded from such unholy unions, universities worth their names must enact code of conduct governing female students-teachers relationship, which must be religiously monitored.

“Universities need to update their discipline procedures to address harassment, provide clear information on how to report an incident and offer greater support for students who report harassment. Organising periodic training and campaign for staff and students on sexual harassment will help in keeping the scourge on the front-burner of university life,” she said.

Enforcement of laws

Similarly, in a chat with Blueprint Weekend, the former secretary of Students Union Government (SUG) University of Abuja, Esther Omeiza, added that to curb the act, there should be enforcement of laws against sexual violation.

“Even for the victims, Nigeria rehabilitation system is faulty,” she said.

She said most educational institutions do not have laws for sexual harassment while noting that most universities do not have policies against sexual assault.

“For instance, in the University of Abuja handbook, there is no section that talked or explained how sexual harassment should be treated or handled.

“The only thing you see is dress properly. Dressing should not be a reason for a student to be harassed. There should be a clamour for punishment for sexual harassment in the school guide,” she said.

ASUU, NUC silence

The executive director Gender Mobile Initiative (GMI), an NGO Omowumi Ogunrotimi, has berated the Academic Staff Union of University (ASUU) over its silence in the sex for marks scandal.

“ASUU ought to be mindful of its complicity in failing to call its members to order but choosing rather to be heard solely when fighting for increased pay and allowances.

“As an integral part of our university systems, it can hardly claim to be unaware of the normalisation of Sex For Grade activities, even so, its deafening silence in failing to condemn the act as revealed in the BBC documentary is telling and truly disappointing.

“We are shocked and disappointed that our halls of learning have become camps for lechery and sexual patronage where individual merit or brilliance amounts to next to nothing. The investigative effort of the BBC Team exposes how systemic the rot has turned to.

“There must be policy to protect students in universities from being sexually harassed while making the very act itself unattractive through a system of checks and balances and sanctions that respects neither person nor status,” Ogunrotimi said.

She also urged the National Assembly to revisit the Sexual Harassments Bill of 2016 that was rejected by ASUU.

“It is, therefore, a fitting moment to revisit the Sexual Harassment Bill that was successfully fought down by ASUU, an intervention bill that sought, inter alia, for severe punishment against sexual predators on university campuses as a deterrent to future occurrence.

“Mechanism should be put in place for pressured female students to find redress and escape from preying lecturers,” she said

The anti-sexual harassment advocate also pointed out that incidences of female lecturers taking advantage of male students just like their male colleagues should also be addressed to avoid a situation where favours are superior considerations to merit. She also called for stiffer sanctions against violators of women especially those in positions of authority who now believe that “nothing goes for nothing.

“The transactional sex on the campuses of institutions of higher learning in Nigeria is first and foremost a reflection of anomy in our society; it also reflects the abysmal decay of standards in our educational system.

“We are dismayed that such an immoral and exploitative system has continued to pervade Nigeria’s tertiary institutions despite unfolding social dynamics that continue to redefine women as disadvantaged and suitably in need of protection, equality and respect,” Ogunrotimi added.

Technology to the rescue

Similarly, Ogunrotimi said her NGO is partnering with the Ford Foundation to develop anti-sexual harassment policy and mobile application for confidential reporting and data generation. She said that the development of the application and policy would reduce cases of abuse.

Ogunrotimi said the “Sex for Grade” revelation in the country’s universities had presented the real task of protecting students, adding that concerted efforts should be intensified by all groups to forestall adequately future occurrences.

Senate revisits Bill

The Senate on Wednesday October 9, 2019, re-introduced the Sexual Harassments Bill. The bill was sponsored by the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, and 106 Senators.

The 8th Senate under the leadership of Bukola Saraki had in 2016, passed the “Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Education Institution Prohibition Bill” which was also sponsored by Omo-Agege and 57 other senators.

The Bill was, however, rejected by the House of Representatives when it was sent for concurrence. Lawmakers at the lower chamber argued that the bill did not take care of other spheres of the society like work place, religious institutions among others – an argument which was adopted by many members of the House.

Why ASUU rejected bill

The Publicity Secretary of ASUU, University of Nigeria, Nsukka chapter Dr Vin Kalu, told Blueprint Weekend that the union rejected the Sexual Harassment Offences Bill of 2016 because it was targeted at lecturers and it undermines university autonomy.

He described the 2016 version of the Bill as vindictive. He advised the National Assembly not to allow any bill that would undermine laws setting up universities in Nigeria.

“Universities and tertiary institution as a whole were established by law as autonomous bodies and so, have their regulating roles.

“Any law or bill which seeks to supplant these laws violates the university autonomy. In this particular instance, the bill violates the federal government of Nigeria and ASUU agreement of 2009 that was why we rejected it.

“The bill was discriminatory because it was targeted at educators, as sexual harassment was a societal problem and not peculiar to tertiary institutions alone.

He also pointed out that besides violating the constitution, “the bill failed to recognize various extant legislations that adequately dealt with sexual offences.

 “It failed to provide convincing evidence to show that sexual harassment in tertiary institutions had attained a higher magnitude than other spheres of the society” he added.

Laws not enough

Similarly, in an interview with Blueprint Weekend, Ukegbu Chibuzo, a lecturer with Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic Ebonyi state said the issue is beyond legislation.

“Well, the issue of sex for grade as made viral by the BBC is an endemic malaise that has eaten deep into the fabrics of our tertiary educational system.

“Some highly placed academics are involved in it not forgetting other lecturers and even non-academic staff. And the problem lies not in making laws that will tackle this menace but the value system that is lacking and the universal set of it all which is corruption.

“If the nuances of good governance are perceived by the citizenry then political will exerted on those found wanting in this misdemeanour through the promulgation and enforcement of extant laws will yield dividends. This will help bring to book offenders and serve as deterrents to those nursing the evil in their hearts.

“Until we are able to battle and defeat corruption in this country we cannot stamp out or drastically reduce the spate of this sex for mark drive in our tertiary institutions,” he said.

He also called for caution in enacting legislations so as not to come out with laws that will make easy for lecturers to be blackmailed.

“We should however be cautious in the approaches we may wish to hastily take like we always do in this country so we don’t bring in what would be used to blackmail lecturers when not well applied.

“As an academic, I will rather be of the opinion that an extensive research on the causes of this sex-for-marks issue be done to ascertain the immediate and remote causes, with the view of finding lasting solutions to the problem which can then be enshrined into laws to checkmate further occurrences,” he added

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