• As ‘complainant’ fails to cooperate
• Students, staff jittery over threat of sanctions
Katelyn Ani-Ogunpitan, Ibadan
As this reporter boarded a vehicle en route one of Africa’s most respected universities, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, in Osun State, she was in a deep thought as to why this great citadel of learning known for producing brilliant minds, eminent Nigerians through the instrumentality of excellent professors and emeritus professors could be enmeshed in a sex scandal that is now threatening to ruin the reputation of the institution.
The sex-for-mark allegation leveled against Professor Richard Akindele of the Department of Accounting by a female student, now in hiding, via a recorded telephone conversation between her and the lecturer, which has gone viral and made headlines in several national dailies, does not seem to be going away anytime soon. Every day, a fresh angle is brought to the story. Still engrossed in this thought, she suddenly became aware of where she was and shouted, “o wa oh” to the driver, as he had apparently forgotten that she had earlier informed him that she would alight at the institution’s gate.
On the trail of sex-for-mark scandal at OAU
Alighting from the rickety mini space bus, popularly known as “so ki n so” (alight from the vehicle so I can too) with her tape recorder in hand and a notepad with pen carefully tucked into her side bag, she briskly walked into the university looking for a fresh angle to the never-ending story.
While inside the institution, normalcy seems to have returned as students were seen dashing to their destinations. However, there were a few students who were standing in groups in different locations discussing with folded hands and bewildered faces. Convinced that they were discussing the sex-for-mark drama, which has plagued the institution, this writer walked up to them, introduced herself and sought their opinions on the matter. The students, who were at first reluctant to talk about the issue, later, on the condition of anonymity, revealed that the university is trying to save face by setting up a committee to investigate the matter because of how viral it has gone and how it has caught the attention of Nigerians, as most similar cases reported to the school authorities in the past were swept under the carpet with the victims getting no justice.
Warning to students
They, however, told this reporter that the management of the university had issued all students a stern warning not to talk to the press or post anything on social media with regard to the issue since the university has set up a committee to look into it; that any student caught violating the warning would be severely punished. Undettered by these warnings, the writer approached another group of students but met the same brick wall. However, one made a comment, saying that even the school management had been trying to contact the lady who made the allegation but she has insisted on making her self anonymous, as she did not want the disgraced lecturer to lose his job because of her. The student wondered why the issue was still being entertained since the victim has chosen to remain silent. “I also do not want to lose my studentship or fall out of favor with my lecturers,” a male student quipped. Disappointed that none of the students was willing to reveal any information to this reporter, she headed to the department and asked the secretary there if there was any authority she could speak with regarding the matter. With a stern face, she responded that the institution had set up a committee to investigate the matter; that it would be made public once they arrive at a decision.
Authority gives a clue on likely outcome of probe
When this reporter contacted the institution’s Public Relations Officer, Mr Abiodun Olanrewaju, via telephone, he had this to say: “First and foremost, I want to state it loud and clear that the university is in the know of the audio that has gone viral. We have set up a committee to critically investigate the authenticity of the audio to ascertain the characters involved in order to ascertain the veracity of the allegation and also to ascertain if the characters are of the Obafemi Awolowo University because throughout the recording, there was no mention of OAU. Yes, the lecturer’s voice heard in the audio was clearly demanding for sex from the student and OAU has zero tolerance for sexual harassment, intimidation or coercion under whatever guise.
“Since it came to our notice, the university has begun the process of identifying the characters in this breach of regulation because OAU has a code of conduct for staff and students. We frown at anybody whose conduct or utterances might breach the code of conduct of the anti-sexual harassment policy and to this end, any member of the university who goes beyond the laws of the university will be sanctioned.” Olanrewaju added that the committee was expected to submit the result of its investigation within one week, after which the university would know what action to take.
On whether the school will still go ahead and sanction the lecturer if found guilty, even if the lady whose voice was heard in the audio refuses to come out to testify, Olarenwaju said, “When we get to the bridge, we will cross it. But let us be clear that for justice to take place, there must be a complainant. For example, a victim has to report to a police station for any injustice before the police can take up the matter. There has to be a complainant before things could be done.”
Law against sexual harassment
In October 2016, the Senate passed the Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Education Institution Prohibition Bill. The bill criminalises any love relationship between a lecturer and a female student. The bill prescribes a five-year jail term for lecturers convicted of sexual harassment.
According to the bill, consent is not admissible and relationship between the lecturer and the student is to be termed harassment, as the student does not have the power to give fair consent.
The bill also proposes a fine of N5 million in the event that a competent court convicts the accused person. The bill also provides for lecturers and educators who maybe falsely accused by their students to seek redress.
As Nigerians, especially parents who have wards at the institution patiently wait to see how this issue will be resolved and what fate awaits the lecturer and the lady whose voice was heard in the leaked audio, if eventually she comes out and tell her story, one thing that is sure is that this story is not dying anytime soon.