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Nigerians express concern over sexual harassment of female varsity students by lecturers
Guilty or not guilty. That has been the controversy trailing the alleged acts of a lecturer at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Prof. Richard Akindele, and a female student of the institution.
Since a telephone conversation between the don and the student was widely circulated on the Internet, the professor’s name has become the trending topic across the country.
In the conversation, the professor promised to upgrade the mark of the student from 33 to 40 after he must have had a sex romp with her five times. But she later rejected the condition and said she would rather fail than have the professor sleep with her five times.
A committee has since been set up by the institution’s management to investigate the telephone conversation. The vice chancellor, Prof. Eyitope Ogunbodede, said the process of identifying the person involved has commenced, even as he insisted that OAU had zero tolerance for sexual harassment.
Earlier in the year, a former lecturer at the same institution, Dr. Francis Fakoya, was also accused of sexual harassment by a former medical student, Funke Dezarn. The lady accused him of masterminding her failure at the medical school because she refused to sleep with him.
Dezarn, who named the lecturer on her Facebook wall, alleged that Fakoya taught her in the Anatomy Department of OAU, and was in the habit of punishing students for “refusing his sexual advances.” She claimed the incident happened 14 years ago and he failed her in Part Two and Three.
Already, authorities of St. George’s University, a private international institution in Grenada, West Indies, have started investigation into the allegation against Fakoya. Two other universities, Northumbria University, Newcastle, United Kingdom, and OAU have also launched separate investigations.
As if waiting for a cue, a number of former students have also started sharing their experiences, all alleging that they either dropped out or got extra years for not sleeping with Fakoya.
On July 17, 2010, a lecturer at the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State, Dr. Peter Otubu, was embroiled in another sex-for-marks scandal with Ivie Judith, a 400-level engineering student.
Otubu, a Catholic Knight of Saint Mulumba (KSM), was publicly stripped in the student’s residence while allegedly attempting to have sex with her.
Judith was later found guilty of “breaching her matriculation oath” by the two committees set up to investigate the case and suspended for six semesters. Otubu was fired by the university in October 2010.
Vice chancellor of the institution, Prof. Sam Uniamikogbo, said: “Dr. Otubu was considered chaste, as he had helped the institution to bust a lecturer who habitually demanded sex from a married undergraduate.
“It was Otubu that we put on the case. The married woman was told to play along. Otubu helped us to arrest the lecturer at the hotel to which he had invited the woman. I could never have imagined that a man we thought was a clean and veritable role model would be involved in this kind of scandal,” Uniamikogbo said.
The scandal involving Akindele has received widespread condemnation among Nigerians across the globe.
These scandals, many have averred, were just a few of the many cases of sexual harassment of mostly female students in the hands of university lecturers. Perhaps validating the claim, an online report described Nigeria’s tertiary institutions as “sex colonies, where rape and other forms of coerced copulation and sexual intimacy are practised without sanction.”
A retired lecturer, Mrs. Cecilia Ikoku, said the moral fabric holding society together was being eroded by some lecturers who should be mentors. She lamented that it was made worse in an environment meant to be a moulding and filtering ground for building virile leaders and intellectuals in the country.
She said the age-long sexual harassment of female students was a silent disease negatively impacting on academic excellence in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions and urged the authorities to identify the bad eggs and show them the way out.
Many have also averred that what allows this malaise to thrive is the culture of silence embraced by victims of such harassment. They also noted that while others have been bold enough to call the bluff of such randy lecturers and lived with the consequences, some have bowed to such overtures. Such women have continued to live with their agonising secrets.
In 2016, the Senate mulled a five-year jail term for lecturers sexually exploiting students. The bill, sponsored by Ovie Omo-Agege (Labour Party, Delta Central) and co-sponsored by 46 other senators, sought to completely prohibit any form of sexual relationship between lecturers and their students.
The bill was meant to stem the tide of sexual harassment by protecting the rights of mostly females. It also sought to impose stiff penalties on offenders by providing a tighter statutory protection for students against sexual hostility and all other forms of harassment in higher institutions.
It also aimed to criminalise any form of intimacy between lecturers and their students and provided for a compulsory five-year jail term for lecturers found guilty. The bill advocated a two-year jail term for vice chancellors, rectors of polytechnics and other chief executives of higher institutions if they fail to act within one week on complaints of sexual harassment made by students.
But lecturers in higher institutions, in their numbers, kicked against the bill, describing it as a violation of their rights. They maintained that the issue was being over-exaggerated and should be abandoned.
Reacting to the bill then, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), said it would undermine the autonomy of universities.
Biodun Ogunyemi, president of the union, said the bill violated the 2009 agreement between the federal government and ASUU, and as such should be rejected. He spoke at a public hearing on the bill organised by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, noting that sexual harassment was a societal problem, and was not peculiar to tertiary institutions. The lecturers claimed the bill smacked of vendetta as the Senate had not told Nigerians what constitutes sexual harassment. The bill has since been suspended by the Senate.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a cloak of silence enveloping the issue of sexual harassment in Nigeria’s citadels of higher learning. The various reactions trailing the recent scandal have shown that the issue has assumed a worrisome proportion.
Mr. Lanre Arogundade, journalist and director, International Press Centre, said sexual harassment in universities has continued to work at cross purposes with the attainment of the educational dreams of many females. He also noted that it strips victims of self-worth and esteem.
“It is a scandal that has reached an alarming level and which requires emergency intervention from key stakeholders in the educational sector,” he said.
Arogundade said he expects ASUU to take a lead in investigating the issue. He noted that the union was always at the forefront of agitation for improved educational system and good governance: “So it should rise when its members negate the ideal of professionalism in the academic environment.”
He stressed that ASUU’s intervention in this case would give some assurance to parents that the tide of sexual harassment could be tamed.
“ASUU should also investigate and make recommendations. Certainly, it is a two-way thing, as the ladies can sometimes be culpable because they have also been accused of seducing lectures. Lecturers should also report such overtures. The university should put in place mechanisms where complaints can be launched by sexually-harassed female students; a system that can protect their identity and save them from being victimised.
“The university system is meant to bring out the best in students. Those not doing well academically should be engaged and helped to become better. The fear of failure usually drives students to the act of sexual exploitation and, in extreme cases, some might even commit suicide. The powers that be should be humane in addressing these concerns.”
Angered by the rising trend and the latest scandal, Prof. Stella Okunna, dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, lamented that it thrives due to the culture of silence that exists in society.
“I have always emphasised to my students that, if they can find the courage to tell me about any lecturer pressurising them for sex, they should just leave the rest to me. I will ensure to get to the end of the matter. It is a promise,” she said.
While admiring the courage of the student that allegedly recorded her conversation with the lecturer, Okunna, former commissioner for information, Anambra State, said sex-for-marks had become a common phenomenon in the country but noted that a step such as the one taken by the female student would nail the coffin of the harassers.
“These men think women are just there for the taking. Some of them are sexual perverts and predators. Unfortunately, they tend to pick on the dull ones that can’t pass their exams and make good grades. It is the height of insensitivity because, as a lecturer, you should be helping them. Though, sometimes, these girls actively seek out these lecturers, the bulk of it comes from the lectures involved,” Okunna said.
She, however, said the latest scandal would be a turning point in the academic world. She advocated stiff penalties as punishment for any lecturer caught in the sex-for-marks web, stressing that it would serve as deterrent to others involved in the act.
“The thought of stiff punishment would even make some of them to have erectile dysfunction. I expect women groups to take this up. They should battle sexual harassment of female students the same way they have united against domestic violence,” she said.