By Douglas Anele
The University of Lagos, Akoka, has an effective system for handling such cases. For instance, the university’s management does not waste time in sanctioning any staff or student found guilty of such offence after thorough investigation – indeed, the university has zero tolerance for improper sexual conduct. In addition, aside from organising orientation programmes during which students are educated on various aspects of life in the university, including appropriate interpersonal relationships, there is a Counselling Centre run by experts in the relevant disciplines to help them deal with life’s issues in a rational, civilised and levelheaded manner.
Consequently, the sexual harassment bill, if passed into law, would be an unnecessary duplication of what the university is already doing effectively to eliminate or at least reduce to the barest minimum incidents of sexual misbehaviour in the university.
To further demonstrate the folly and uselessness of the bill, let us examine in details what its lead sponsor, Ovie Omo-Agege, representing Delta Central Senatorial district, reportedly said when the bill was read for the first time in the Senate. According to him, the bill seeks to make provisions for the prohibition of sexual harassment of students by educators in tertiary educational institutions nationwide and for matters connected therewith. The bill, he says, was intended to restore morality, discipline and sanity between male educators and female students in tertiary institutions.
He further claims that “Over the years, our position, as proposed in this bill, is that since the female students being negatively influenced by male lecturers into sexual relationship are not capable of giving voluntary consent to that arrangement, there is need for a potent law to stop that immorality.” In the proposed bill, an educator or lecturer “shall be guilty of committing an offence of sexual harassment if he or she has sexual intercourse with a student who is less than 18 years of age, has sexual intercourse with a student or demands for sex from a student or prospective student as a condition to study in an institution or as a condition to the giving of a passing grade or the granting of honour and scholarships.”
Also guilty in Omo-Agege’s archaic puritanical sexual morality is any lecturer who “grabs, hugs, 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; displays, gives or sends by hand or courier or electronic or any other means unclad or sexually explicit pictures or videos or sex-related objects to a student, or whistles or winks at a student or screams or exclaims or jokes or makes sexually complimentary or uncomplimentary remarks about a student’s physique.” Omo-Agege asserts that since extant laws dealing with rape create a situation in which prosecutors are incapable of proving their cases because the culprits insist that whatever they did with a particular student was consensual, there is need to make it easy for the alleged offender to be nailed
. This would be achieved since the bill in question occludes the possibility of a lecturer bringing forward evidence that the sexual relation she or he had with a student was consensual – it only requires that a victim of sexual harassment should merely prove that the sexual act actually took place. Now, keep in mind that in the existing penal code, consent or the lack of it is a critical factor in establishing a case of sexual harassment, particularly rape, for a good reason, which we will disclose later. The only comment I would make at this point is that Omo-Agege and his overpampered colleagues appear determined to ensure that lecturers are found guilty anytime a student brings up a case of sexual harassment against them, on the mistaken presumption that lecturers harass female students and never the other way round.
In trying to make sense of the sexual harassment bill, the first question that comes to mind is – what motivated Omo-Agege to come up with this laughable, puritanical medievalist bill? According to media reports, his “decision to plunge into this was because of the failure of extant laws in the country’s penal code to make it easy for the victims to prove their cases.”But there are far more important issues begging for legislative attention than the silly and vindictive preoccupation with how to make it easier for female students to prove that their lecturers are harassing them sexually.
The problem of lopsided unitarist federation stipulated in the 1999 Constitution, outrageous allowances collected by members of the National Assembly most of whom merely occupy space in the chambers and consistent reduction in budgetary allocation by the federal government to the education sector are weightier than the issue of winking at a female student, touching her breast for a brief second or making complementary remarks about how beautiful and seductive she looks. Of course, I do not intend to belittle the physical and psychological damage that results from rape and milder forms of sexual misconduct.
My point is that the penal code together with existing structures and regulations in our institutions of higher learning are working. That is why, despite the phenomenon of underreporting, genuine cases of sexual harassment in our tertiary educational institutions are relatively uncommon. Omo-Agege and his colleagues should stop their childish, narrow-minded and prudish preoccupation with sex and focus on making good laws that would enhance the welfare of suffering and downtrodden Nigerians.
Furthermore, some provisions in the bill are completely ridiculous, stupid and unenforceable. The proposed bill implies that anytime a lecturer hugged, winks at or tells a female student that she looks more beautiful than Beyonce, the American singer, he risks being imprisoned for at least two years without the option of fine! In any case, how can a student prove that a lecturer touched, stroked, or caressed her breasts, hair or buttocks? Why is Omo-Agege obsessed with curtailing ordinary human display of friendship and affection between students and their lecturers?
Was he brought up in a puritanical home in which sex was considered dirty and a capital sin? Is he a victim of the psychological dysfunction and cognitive dissonance resulting from antiquated sexual morality? Did he lose out to a lecturer for the affection of a female student when he was in school? Oftentimes people hide their sexual frustrations, unhappiness and inability to enjoy healthy erotic relations by pretending to promote and safeguard the virtues of chastity and “sexual decency”. Consequently, it is very possible that both the sponsors of the bill and those supporting it, like most Nigerians who sermonise about sex, are victims of conventional taboo sexual morality they learnt at home, in schools, churches, mosques and within the community as a whole. There is abundant scientific evidence that such morality is extremely damaging and unhealthy. It is time to replace it with a more scientific and humane sexual ethics.
Concerning the question of consent we mentioned earlier, the bill is fatally flawed. Proving consent or otherwise is essential for determining guilt in order to avoid frivolous or mischievous allegations. Imagine, for instance, a female student who performed woefully in an examination but decided to have sex with lecturer believing that that would make the lecturer give her a pass grade in the course. Eventually, when the result was released she failed and out of anger decided to deal with the lecturer, what then?
Based on the proposed bill, once she proves that she slept with the lecturer the latter is guilty even though there is evidence that the encounter was consensual, that she, in fact, seduced the lecturer. Definitely, rape and unwanted persistent sexual advances are bad and ought to be eliminatedeverywhere, not only in tertiary educational institutions.
But it is futile and an irrational curtailment of sexual freedom for the National Assembly to enact a law which potentially allows female students to harass, embarrass and intimidate lecturers with frivolous allegations of sexual misconduct. In any case, unlike political office holders and legislators that have a lot of money for “social rascality,” most lecturers are just managing to survive: they do not have the financial resources to indulge in “democratisation of sex.” Hence, senators promoting the sexual harassment bill should remove the logs in their eyes first so that they can see clearly the specks inlecturers’ eyes. On a final note, our public officials should concentrate on what really matters and stop wasting taxpayers’ money on minutiae. Concluded.