From various accounts, most of the nation’s campuses have witnessed a high level of licentiousness and predatory activities of male aggressors and a measure of discipline is required to curb it. Many lecturers see the vulnerable girls as mere tools for satisfying their sexual desires in exchange for academic favours. In their depravity, on a few occasions, some men have reportedly gone for even helpless married women who may be desperate to earn a certificate. Prospective students seeking admissions into higher institutions also don’t have protection from these predators. This is rampant misconduct, which the Senate’s effort should help to curb.
What is being witnessed is a complete breakdown of values. However, it is not beyond redemption especially if stern measures like the law to jail offenders as is being proposed are put in place. That the National Assembly is moved to intervene and consider a law to tackle the menace shows the level of its seriousness. The bill’s promoter, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, with support from no fewer than 46 of his colleagues deserves commendation for the laudable initiative. Their intervention underscores the gravity of the problem as Omo-Agege observed: “We need to protect our students, particularly our daughters from sexual perverts who use unethical and coercive means to instill fear in them and compel acquiescence to sexual liaisons.”
It is also correct to stress the imperativeness of restoring faith in the decency of the country’s learning environment. Sexual harassment or any anti-social behavior for that matter destroys the very concept of the ivory tower as an oasis of sanity and the best conduct. The universities in particular, and other institutions of higher learning must set standards for the rest of the society to follow and should never be associated with values debasement. Such deviation from academic pursuit have, in a way, been contributing to the lowering of standards in the institutions. This must be reversed at all cost.
The Bill proposes a mandatory five-year jail term for any lecturer who sexually harasses a student while heads of institutions of learning where such activities take place are also liable. When the Bill becomes law, Vice Chancellors of universities, Rectors in polytechnics and chief executives of sundry institutions face two years in jail for failing to act within a week of receiving complaints of sexual harassment.
In like manner, the bill, in prescribing the stringent sanctions, also allows victims to file civil damages against their randy attackers even after their conviction. In some instances, female victims confessed that they were neither aware of where to go or who to approach for redress. A study said female students surveyed once on the issue expressed a lack of faith in the ability or willingness of university authorities to provide justice. Worse still, they fear being victimized or stigmatized if they reported. It is even a scandal that many of the institutions do not provide for sexual harassment in the school prospectus. Records say except for the University of Port Harcourt, sexual harassment, references to sexual exploitation of students or how they might seek redress is not mentioned in any of the sampled institutions’ handbooks – universities’ primary source of information, guidelines and policies.
Even that UNIPORT’s handbook merely glosses over the matter as lecturers are merely advised ’’not to victimize students for sex, ethnic, religious or personal reasons.’’ In the same vein students are warned to “not offer money, sex or other enticement in exchange for higher grade or alteration/forgery of record/documents.” Missing in the document is the commensurate punishment for defaulting lecturers or where victims could get justice. Ironically, the National Human Rights Commission, the NHRC, too, does not have a policy on sexual harassment yet.
The change being envisaged in Nigeria today is a comprehensive one and is the collective responsibility of all. Sexual harassment is one of the many factors hindering academic work and excellence. Sex-for-grades syndrome must therefore be successfully tackled while sanity as well as discipline must be maintained in the nation’s educational system.
Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper