The road to hell is paved with illicit sex. Nothing guarantees the reduction of an intellectual peacock to a whimpering felon as that variant of sexual behaviour that is at once offensive, humiliating or intimidating — be it verbal, written or physical. It happens everywhere — school, workplace, social media, telephone, or even in public spaces such as parks, worship places and markets. But it appears that the monster is most active in educational institutions where lecturers who are supposed to act “in loco parentis” (as surrogate parents) decide to eat the pie under their care.
Thanks to the ubiquitousness and relative anonymity of social media, quite a lot of people have been coming out of the closet in recent times to expose what in years past would have been seen as personal shame. Sexual harassment is alive and well in our tertiary institutions. Many will take the horrid details to their graves because they can’t trust the society to empathise with them. But some have defied taboos and possible stigma to call out their tormentors.
The new generation of students have refused to take the humiliation lying low. We now hear stories of teachers, lecturers, religious leaders and other people in positions of authority and trust making sexual overtures to those under their care.
The good news is that, more than ever before, Nigerian higher institutions are confronting the monster headlong. And that development, in an environment where the confetti of bad news rains cats and dogs, is at least worth appreciating.
I was impressed when the Obafemi Awolowo University issued a press release a couple of weeks ago naming and shaming a lecturer, Mr. Monday Omo-Etan, who had been suspended for having irregular sexual relations with a 19-year-old student. He was handed over to the police for prosecution. Three weeks before that, a lecturer at the Department of International Relations, Mr. Olabisi Olaleye, had also been suspended for sexually harassing a female student.
Remember that in the dying days of 2018, a former lecturer in the Obafemi Awolowo University, Prof. Richard Iyiola Akindele, who was dragged to court for demanding sex to pass one of his students, Monica Osagie, was sentenced to two years in prison.
The more credible ones among our higher institutions have bought into the zero tolerance for sexual harassment movement, just like Great Ife, realising that bad eggs are better exposed and cast into the rubbish bin rather than protected.
The Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, last year sacked 15 staff and demoted one academic staff on charges bordering on corruption and sexual harassment — an action commended by the Babatunde-Irukera-led Federal Competition & Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC).
Last December, Prof Adeniji Abiodun of the Department of Animal Science, University of Abuja, was sacked by the institution for having “an inappropriate relationship with a female student” which, according to the university, “is a misconduct of scandalous and disgraceful nature”. Another lecturer, Prof Agaptus Orji of the Department of Science and Environmental Education was also dismissed over alleged falsification of academic records, while two other professors were demoted over acts of misconduct. Dr Dajal was demoted by a rank, from Associate Professor to Senior Lecturer, while Mr Gana was demoted by two ranks — from Lecturer 1 to Assistant Lecturer – “for their complicity in various acts of misconduct inimical to the good image of the University”.
Also last year, Salamatu Bello, a victim of alleged sexual harassment by a university lecturer, staged a solo protest round Kaduna metropolis to highlight the plight of female students in the country, alleging that the lecturer who molested her at ABU had now transferred his services to Kaduna State University.
The image of Nigerian and Ghanaian universities took a serious bashing last year when the British Broadcasting Service, BBC, released an exposé showing Professor Boniface Igbeneghu, a Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Arts, and a former Sub Dean of the University of Lagos (Unilag) trying to sexually harass a BBC reporter who posed as a 17-year-old, while sharing tales of sex for grades with her. Unilag promptly suspended Igbeneghu and his other colleague, Oladipupo. The BBC exposed four lecturers — two from UNILAG and two from the University of Ghana, Legon.
At the Ekiti State University, it was a viral 29-second video that nailed Mr. Aduwo, a senior lecturer at the department of Accounting. Aduwo was caught pants down. In the same Ekiti State, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice recently warned teachers to desist from sexually molesting their students, revealing that the government was aware of at least three such cases in secondary schools.
The courts are taking notice of the sexual harassment epidemic and are determined to rid the society of it. Last week, a Lagos High Court sentenced a lecturer at the University of Lagos, Afeez Baruwa, to 21-year imprisonment for raping an 18-year-old girl seeking admission.
What to do? The sexual Harassment bill sponsored by Senator Ovie Omo-Agege in 2016 should be dusted up and passed without further delay. Also the idea championed by the Fist Lady of Ekiti State, Erelu Bisi Fayemi — that of opening and publicising a register of sex offenders should be adopted nationally.
Someone should shout Joy Jennings’ declaration (I’m Not Your “Baby”: An Australian woman’s tortured life of sexual harassment and assault) on the rooftop: “I am not your dog that you whistle for; I’m not a stray animal you call over, and I am not, I never have been, nor will I ever be, your ‘baby’!”