Questions over delay to enact sex for grades bill

President Muhammadu Buhari has yet to sign a bill aimed at tackling growing incidences of sexual harassment in Nigerian higher education institutions into law since it was passed by the Senate, the country’s upper law-making body, two-and-a-half years ago. It prescribes imprisonment of up to 14 years for any academic found guilty of sexual misconduct against students.

The July 2020 draft, titled ‘A bill for an act to prevent, prohibit and redress sexual harassment of students in tertiary educational institutions and for matters concerned therewith, 2019’, was introduced by the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege.

According to a 2018 World Bank Group survey, 70% of female graduates from Nigerian tertiary institutions were sexually harassed in school by their course-mates and lecturers.

A 2021 study titled ‘Sexual Harassment on Campus: A study in a Nigeria university’ corroborated the findings from the survey. The research indicates that, out of 1,408 students at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ogun State, who participated in the study, 849 respondents (60.1%) admitted there was sexual harassment on the campus.

Of the 60.1%, “27.4% described the behaviour as very rampant and 32.6% felt it is existing but not as bad”, the study stated, identifying “annoying jokes about looks” as the most frequently experienced form of sexual harassment on the campus.

Other patterns noted in the report include the touching of intimate body parts in a disrespectful way, sending embarrassing photos, deceiving victims to lure them to unsafe places for sex, being forced into intimate relationships, and circulation of false sexual rumours.

Disturbing cases

Despite a lack of will by many victims to report sexual harassment, between January 2021 and June 2022, at least a dozen cases of sexual harassment involving lecturers in universities and polytechnics in Nigeria were reported, but not all cases are reported.

In 2021, three lecturers at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, were dismissed over the alleged sexual harassment of their students. A professor at the university was also probed in April this year (2022) over sexual harassment allegations.

Also, the Kaduna State University, in January 2021, sacked a lecturer for allegedly sexually assaulting a student. In June and August 2021, the management of the University of Lagos and the University of Port-Harcourt, Rivers State, each fired a lecturer over accusations of sexual harassment.

In October 2021, the Federal Polytechnic, Bauchi, dismissed two lecturers over similar allegations, while an academic at Ignatius Ajuru University of Education was sacked because he allegedly impregnated a female student. Professor Abdul-Rasheed Na’allah, the vice-chancellor of the University of Abuja, in June 2022, said two lecturers were dismissed over accusations of sexual misconduct.

Call to sign bill

Many stakeholders are curious why the president who, last month, lamented that ‘sex-for-marks’ had reached an alarming rate, has not signed a bill to address the menace. Garba Shehu, the president’s spokesperson, did not respond to an enquiry on the delay in the assent.

Recently, the Anti-sexual Harassment Advocacy Cluster, a consortium of civil society organisations, appealed to the president to give his assent.

A member of the consortium and executive director of the Centre for Awareness on Justice and Accountability, Kabiru Dakata, said the bill, when signed, will provide a universal guide for prosecuting sexual harassment matters on campuses.

A lawyer, Ikechukwu Obianyo, in an article last year titled ‘Sex for grade in Nigerian universities: Pressing need for regulatory legal frameworks’ urged the president to sign the bill so victims of sexual harassment can get justice.

“Also much as I appreciate the fact that the students are the weaker party which the bill seeks to protect, making it feel as if the educators are the only evil here is a bit one-sided. Hence, we should strive to strike a balance in the level of responsibility expected of both parties, when [the bill is] eventually passed into law,” he advised.

Notably, an investigation by Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC) in conjunction with Open Society Initiative for West Africa revealed that male students sexually harass their female counterparts more than lecturers do.

Addressing journalists on the report earlier in November 2022, the Executive Director of WARDC, Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, said there is a need to strengthen mechanisms in universities and other higher institutions in Nigeria to combat sexual harassment.

“The report talks about the infrastructure that we need to put in place, for example, CCTV (closed- circuit television) so that the activities of both lecturers and students can be monitored,” she added.