Missing Clauses In Nigeria’s Tertiary Education Sexual Harrasment Law
Sexual harassment is one of the most worrisome vices and crimes in tertiary institutions of learning in Nigeria. It ranks with cultism and examination malpractices that are also wrecking havoc. Often times, these three vices go hand in hand.
There are extant laws that ought to effectively tackle these vices that have also thrown up related criminal acts such as rape, kidnapping, forced-marriage, under-aged marriage, drug abuse, nude dressing, voluntary and involuntary posting of nude pictures online, online stalking, blackmails and monetary extortion. But the vices and crime of sexual harassment and the others persist in the country. In fact they occur on daily basis.
Against this backdrop, the National Assembly considered it vital to pass a bill to tackle sexual harassment in the nation’s tertiary institutions of learning.
As much as the on-coming Act, to regulate this immoral and criminal behaviour of sexual harassment is greeted with ovations by Nigerians, there is fear that it might not effectively address the problem, just as some similar laws are nearly impotent and extinct.
In the case of the sexual harassment law, problem of efficacy could arise mostly from the limited definition of the behaviour it is out to regulate as well as limited scope. Thus, the behaviour and scope, ought to have been broadly defined.
There are different forms of sexual harassment not covered in the bill passed into law. Hence it is imperative to define the various forms.
In this context, sexual harassment simply means, the seduction of a student by an academic or non academic staff to derive illicit sexual pleasures through any form of sexual orientation, and to fulfill the desired or undesired needs of the students and the harasser.
Put in another way, sexual harassment is the forceful use of a student by a staff to derive illicit sexual gratification from the student, through any pattern, for the student’s negotiated or non-negotiated purposes.
These aspects are covered in the bill passed. However, there are others that are left out.
One of it is consensual sexual harassment in schools. This often ignored aspect, involves the student offering sex to a staff, mostly lecturers in order to merely satisfy emotional needs, pass examinations or to improve grades.
Another neglected aspect, is that of female lecturers harassing male students in order to have emotional gratifications, the refusal of which earns the student failure in examination.
There is also same-sex harassment, which has been introduced in our schools, as a result of the emergence of homosexuality, an act ungodly endorsed by some Western and European countries. The advent of internet, social media and mobile handset devices which convey dangerous pornographies, have also worsened immorality in schools.
Student-to-student harassment which often manifests as rape within and outside the campus constitutes another type.
Lest we forget, campus prostitution, in which female students turn to commercial sex workers in hostels, and are picked by Sweet Daddies and Aristos and used sexually within the school hostels outside campus, is a booming trade. The boom in this trade has been facilitated by Runs Boys who link the ladies and the Aristos for a fee. Sometimes, top government officials hire the campus pimps to big funerals and executive parties, where the vulnerable ladies entertain guests.
Aside passing examinations and scoring good grades, other reasons for indulgence in the debasing and illegal sexual acts are usually listed by students as need for financial survival in school and post – school connections to get jobs and contracts.
Indeed, some Aristos who may or may not be connected to lecturers influence grades for beautiful girls that they have slept with. They also pave way for employment to the girls of easy virture and Runs Boys when they graduate. Sometimes, the Aristos do not live up to the promises made when the game was on.
In which ever form, sexual harassment in schools have far reaching negative effects on the moral, psychological, medical and academic well being of the victim or ‘consentee’. It is also one of the causes of brain-drain in Nigeria since exams could be passed with bottom-power instead of hard work. The outcome is the flood of incompetent graduates who could hardly speak or write in good English, let alone pass genuine employment interviews. Work places are also full of graduates who could perform well to justify their academic qualifications.
Despite these effects, the evil act of sexual harassment has been allowed to flourish in tertiary institutions, despite its negative effects. This is irrespective of the existence of Child Rights Act, Women Act, Criminal and Penal Codes, the recent Anti-Gay Marriage Act and regulations within tertiary institutions have not been utilised by authorities to abate the abate the unwholesome behaviours.
Therefore, the bill just passed into law, and its positive provisions to prohibit and penalize tertiary institutions’ staff having hot-pants, is a welcomed development, despite important omissions spotted.
Sponsored by 57 senators including Senator Ovie Omo-Agege (Delta Central), Senator Ben Murray Bruce (Bayelsa East) and Senator Forster Ogula ( Bayelsa West ), the bill seeks to reinforce efforts to tackle the menace of sexual harassment in schools.
Its laudable provisions are five years jail term or N1million fine or both; criminalization of concensual sex usually used a defense by defaulters; prohibition of proof of intent as defense; use of pornography to induce prey; erotic touching, jokes, kissing, whistling, admiration of beautiful physique and right to students, parents, lawyers and NGOs to report and sue defaulter.
Others are institution of panel of inquiry by school within 2 days, to be headed by assistant director if an academic staff is the one alleged and senior lecturer if a non-academic staff is alleged; issuance of report after 30 days; authority to schools to within 21 days of conclusion discipline defaulters by sack or demotion provided the matter is not in court; school to recommend prosecution of defaulter; fine of ₦ 1 million against school that fails to act ; expulsion or one year suspension against student who makes false allegation; one year jail or ₦500,000 fine or both for illicit play and use of pornography to induce students as well as protection of student-complainant from victimization by alleged staff or colleagues who stand receiving same penalty as for alleged staff.
These provisions, especially the penalties for the primary offender and accomplices are laudable as these could deter staff from committing the acts under any disguise. However, the penalty for principal offender need to be raised beyond five years imprisonment as it is for murder and some other crimes. This is because sexual harassment and its attendant outcomes could kill the victim psychologically or physically.
The provision to protect whistle blowers from being harmed by way of failing them in examinations or being awarded poor grades by the defaulter or by colleagues as well as giving any trumped charges to implicate a whistle blower, will facilitate implementation of the bill when made to law.
Also appreciable are the provisions empowering the schools and representatives of a supposed victim to act. This later provision will empower human rights groups to take matters to conclusion.
For balance, the bill seeks to also protect staff from false allegation by providing punishment for false whistle blowers. This will discourage some students from orchestrating allegations against lecturers perceived as difficult or who refuse sexual advances from being blackmailed. Lecturers will equally be mindful of blackmailing one another with false sex allegations.
Despite these good aspects, the bill passed, does not include some of the forms and causes of sexual harassment as earlier in this write-up, thus will create chances for sexual harassment to continue under different guises. To recast, the missing clauses include student- to-student, student-to-lecturer, female-lecturer-to-student, same-sex student-to-student and same-sex lecturer-to-student harassments as well as student-prostitution and ‘runs-boyism’ perpetuated by Aristos.
Also omitted are two other worrisome patterns of sexual harassment in tertiary institutions of learning. One is staff-to-staff sexual harassment which goes on regularly, especially, against junior staff, but not captured in the bill passed into law.
The second one is the worst form of harassment – that, which is done against married students especially women, but the bill did not capture. To say the least, married women suffer some of the most humiliating abuses in the hands of some lecturers. It is to the extent that even wedding rings, deliberate marital demeanors exhibited by some women to show their status as well as pregnancy, do not scare away the assailants from making advances. Some married women who cannot resist, do bow to the pressure and defile their holy body with randy lecturers, just to pass examination or project.
Although the senate committee on judiciary, human rights and legal matters, that handled the bill, consulted stakeholders widely, these omitted aspects, may not have been taken cognizance of, to make the expected law more effective.
Giving the relevance of the omitted aspects and to tackle the menace of sexual harassment holistically in schools, they ought to be to be included in the bill. Non-inclusion of the aforesaid aspects could make smooth implementation a mirage, as is the case with some other laws in the country.
Inclusion of the omitted clauses would have guaranteed better, the protection of all genders, categories of persons and ages including teenagers who gain admission into the university bellow 18 years of age as well as married and pregnant female students who are tormented and could risk divorce by their spouses.
Provisions to tackle student-prostitution would have also deterred the student-prostitute, Runs Boys as well Sweet Daddies from turning citadels of learning to brothels.
The bill should have also foreseen the likelihood of campuses becoming a breeding ground for gay-acts, by making special provisions in such regards, even though the anti-gay marriage exists.
Cognizance would have also been taken of the fact that sexual harassment also exists at primary and secondary school levels. As such, provisions ought to have been extended provisions to all those levels.
Most of these suggestions are irrespective of the existence of other laws guiding some of the aspects being observed as omitted in the just-passed bill. More so, the bill just passed is also similar to other extant laws, yet it was passed.
These suggestions if adopted by way of addendum or amendments could make holistic successful tackling of the various forms of sexual harassment at all levels of educational institutions in Nigeria.
Doing so, besides tackling other vices and crimes, as well as providing adequate resources, will no doubt, make our academic institutions, award certificates in character and learning, to make society a better place.