The integrity of university dons came under trial recently when an audio recording of a conversation between a professor and a female student went viral on the social media. The conversation took place between a professor of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile Ife and a postgraduate female student of the same institution. Authorities at OAU, Ile-Ife later identified the suspected don as Professor Richard Akindele while the student involved was named as Miss Monica Osagie, who is doing a Master’s in Business Administration.
In the audio recording, Monica had called the professor on phone to enquire about her case. The suspected lecturer told her that she would repeat the exam next academic session since she refused to take advantage of the opportunity he offered. “I gave you an opportunity and you missed it. Forget about it. You will do it next year,” the lecturer said. When the student sought further clarifications, the lecturer said, “The other person has come and I told her straight away because there is nothing I can do to bail that person out and her mark is even better than your own. The person scored 39 while your own is 33.”
The shocking part of the conversation is where the lecturer asked the student why she told him that she was having her menstruation the day they met. Monica replied, “I was really seeing my period, Professor Akindele”. He then cautioned Monica against mentioning his name and asked, “And now nko?” to which Monica replied that the menstruation had ended. His brazen and scandalous persistence brought into question university lecturers’ standing in society as storehouses of knowledge and custodians of decency and ethical conduct.
Vice Chancellor of OAU, Ile-Ife Professor Eyitope Ogunbodede had since announced Professor Akindele’s suspension. The suspension followed submission of the interim report of a committee set up to investigate the allegation of sexual harassment revealed in the audio recording. The VC said, “The committee observed that a prima facie case of inappropriate relationship with the female student had been established against Professor Richard I. Akindele.” Both professor and student later appeared before the investigative committee.
Speaking through her lawyer Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, Monica told the investigation panel that she reported the sex-for-marks harassment by the don to some lecturers in the university but they took no action. She also alleged that the don deliberately failed her in order to force her to give in to his demand. The VC however said “under the provisions of the relevant statute of the university, an academic staff can only be dismissed from service or have his or her appointment terminated only when the matter on which consideration is being given has been investigated by a Joint Council and Senate committee”.
It would be recalled that the Nigerian Senate in October 2016 passed a bill that sought to criminalize sexual harassment in tertiary institutions. The bill titled “Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Education Institutions Prohibition Bill, 2016” which was sponsored by [now embattled] Senator Ovie Omo-Agege prescribed a 5-year jail term for lecturers convicted of sexual harassment of their male and female students. A fine of N5 million shall be paid in the alternative. The bill recommended expulsion or suspension for students whose claims of being sexually abused by lecturers are found to be false.
Although Akindele and Monica’s case could be just one of many such incidents across institutions, sexual intimidation or harassment is one of the intractable nuisances that have refused to disappear from our citadels of learning. Students and lecturers as well are encouraged to take advantage of modern communication technology to expose cases of harassment. We also exhort authorities in our tertiary institutions to further strengthen dress codes in their respective campuses.
While we urge relevant authorities at the OAU, Ile-Ife to promptly conclude investigations into the matter, we advise it to make its findings public and ensure that whoever is found culpable is sanctioned according to provisions of the law.