Nigeria

ASUU, NANS, other women rights advocacy groups clash at the Senate over sexual harassment bill

IPPIS: Uniben ASUU says no threat; blackmail will sway its resolve
IPPIS: Uniben ASUU says no threat; blackmail will sway its resolve
…As ASUU Rejects it, Says it will amount to “proliferation” and “repetition” of legislation

..We have so far received over 2000 complaints of sexual harassment of female students by lecturers, NANS

By Henry Umoru

THERE was a sharp disagreement  Monday between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and other women rights advocacy groups at a one day public hearing on a  bill seeking to stop sexual abuse of female students in the nation’s tertiary Institutions.

The bill,  christened: The proposed legislation titled “A Bill for an Act to Prevent, Prohibit and Redress Sexual Harassment of Students in Tertiary Educational Institutions and for other matters connected therewith 2019, sponsored by Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo -Agege, APC, Delta Central, was  co- sponsored by 105 other Senators.

The bill which scaled Second reading 6th November, 2019, with 27 clauses, proposes up to 14 years jail term, with a minimum of 5 years, without an option of fine for any educator who commits sexual offences in tertiary institutions.

The bill defines sexual offences as including: sexual intercourse with a student or demands for sex from a student or a prospective student or intimidating or creating a hostile or offensive environment for the student by soliciting for sex or making sexual advances.

Other forms of sexual harassment identified in the bill are grabbing, hugging, kissing, rubbing, stroking, touching, pinching the breasts or hair or lips or hips or buttocks or any other sensual part of the body of a student; or sending by hand or courier or electronic or any other means naked or sexually explicit pictures or videos or sex related objects to a student, and whistling or winking at a student or screaming, exclaiming, joking or making sexually complimentary or uncomplimentary remarks about a student’s physique or stalking a student.

Recall that the bill was sponsored during the 8th Senate by Senator Ovie Omo- Agege. Also, recall that six  months after it was introduced on the floor of the Senate, the bill that sought to among others, stop sexual abuse of female students in the nation’s tertiary institutions was passed Thursday, October, 27th, 2016 by the Red Chamber.

At the Public Hearing organised organised by the Senator Michael Opeyemi Bamidele, All Progressives Congress, APC, Ekiti Central led Senate Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, ASUU vehemently rejected the Bill, saying that when passed, it would amount to “proliferation” and “repetition” of legislation to make a separate law to check sexual harassment in tertiary institutions.

On the other hand, National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and other women rights advocacy groups supported the Bill, stressing that the Bill would help curb the incidence of sexual harassment in the nation’s Ivory Tower and other Higher Institutions of learning.

The National President of ASUU, Professor Abiodun Ogunyemi in his presentation before the Committee at the Public Hearing said that there were already  existing laws that  can be inadequately amended and strengthened and at the end of the say, nip in the bud, the alarming cases  of Sexual harassment in tertiary institutions.

Ogunyemi who told the Committee that though the University Lecturers were not in support of Sexual Harassment of students by the same Lecturers whom the Students are under their tutelage, but was buttressing his position with the fact that universities already have mechanisms put in place to handle such cases when the occur.

The ASUU President who warned against what he desecribed as demonizing or stigmatizing lecturers, said that it would lead to a complete loss of faith in the nation’s institutions and therefore promote ignorance in the country, adding that the government never waited for the Sexual Harassment Bill to be passed into law before Professor Richard Akindele of the Obafemi Awolowo University OAU, accused of the offence was prosecuted and sentenced to jail.

Ogunyemi said: “I am not sure this is not the best of times for academics. If we go the way we are going, very soon nobody would be proud of his or her former teacher. We shall all discredit our teachers and by so doing, we shall also degrade the value and integrity of our certificates.

“Does ASUU supports sexual harassment? No, ASUU does not support sexual harassment in any form.

“Are there other problems in the universities that warrant being given immediate attention, I am sure many of us will mention corruption.

“Maybe very soon we will come back to say let’s have a law that focuses on corruption in the universities. Are there laws that addresses this problem we are concerned with? I think the answer is yes.

“Are there no laws that would address this same problem we are concerned. I think the answer is yes. We have the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act of 2015.

“What does it take to review that Act to ensure that it covers our news areas of concern? That is the poser that we are placing before this Distinguished Senate.

“If we have a law that addresses issues related to this problem of sexual harassment, why are we wasting time talking about another law?

“Are we also going to formulate another law to address corruption in the universities?

“Are we going to formulate another law to address sexual harassment in the policemen in the National Assembly?

“We have a law, the universities autonomy law of 2007, legislated by the National Assembly already made provisions for us to address all of these. We talk of the institutional procedures; these procedures are irreconcilable with prosecution.

“There are aspects that are criminal; immediately such instance happens, we know where to go.Universities are currently handling problems like this and we should not agree with you, we should not discredit our custodians of knowledge.”

On his part, the  National President of NANS, who was represented by the Director Research, Strategy, Planning and Documentation, Victor Essien, explained that the power dynamics between students and lecturers predisposes female students to incessant sexual harassment.

According to NANS,  a committee set up by the  present national executive of the Students’ body  on assumption of office has so far received over 2000 complaints of sexual harassment of female students by lecturers, just as he  described sexual harassment in tertiary institutions as an epidemic in the form of the Corona Virus Disease (Covid 19) in China.

On their parts, the Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative, (WRAPA), International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Deputy Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Felicia Bassey, Chairman, Nsit Atai Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, Hon. Emem Ibanga, among others, supported the Bill.

In his remarks while declaring open  the public hearing,  President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan who noted  that sexual harassment and and intimidation was not just a sexual offence but a criminal offence, said  that there was need for stakeholders to fashion new resolutions and sanctions to check the menace if the extant laws were not tight enough, adding, “As citizens we must have a common responsibility to fight the menace.”

On his part. Chairman of the Committee Senator Opeyemi Bamidele explained that parliament exist in the world  to continuously make new laws and amend existing ones.

Vanguard