Sexual harassment, as an act, is as old as man. But until recently, it was learnt, there was no law, in the country, specifically targeted at tackling the menace, which has remained a recurring decimal in virtually all universities’ campuses, without exception.o
Alarmed at the rate of the menace on campuses, the Senate recently, passed a Bill, which would in the thinking of the Senate, helped stem the tide of the menace.
But some lecturers think that the issue was being over-exaggerated, as such, they are asking the Nigerian lawmakers to concentrate their energies on other worthy ventures, and not mundane ones, like sexual harassment.
The Bill, known as the Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Education Institution Bill, prescribes a 5-year jail term for lecturers and educators convicted of sexual harassment of either their male or female students, just as it made provisions for a fine of N5 million, should the accused be convicted by a competent court of law.
And taking into cognisance, the fact that some students may just take advantage of the law, to raise false alarm, the Bill, it was further gathered, has also provided cover, for this category of lecturers, but not without a caveat. The caveat is that the lecturer, so falsely accused, must be acquitted by a competent court of law. Once that happens, the Student, who raised the false alarm “shall be expelled or suspended, as the University deems fit.”
According to the lecturer, Dr. Aniekan Brown, who is a Senior lecturer in the Department of Sociology, University of Uyo, the law was a case of vendetta from the Senate, against the academic community, since the Senate has not told Nigerians what constitutes sexual harassment.
“As we speak, officially, I don’t think that we have up 150,000 people who lecture in the Nigerian universities. And out of about 181 million Nigerians, the Senate, in the myriad of laws available for them to evolve, will target academic staff, something tells me there is something vendetta about that.
“Granted, it is their responsibility to make laws; but I wished they had started with themselves, by beginning to query how much of harassment they have offered to women as Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria before getting to deal with some other Nigerians.
“I’m not saying that there may not be harassment here and there. It happens in banks; it happens everywhere. But it shouldn’t be particularised to any sub-sector of the Nigerian economy; it should be full blown. But for them to zero in on the Nigerian lecturers, it means there is something personal about it. So, what happens if somebody doesn’t harass from the university, but begin to harass from the bank point of view, from church, from Senate, from mosque and every other place?
“So, when you sit back, you realise that it was myopic for them to want to close in on lecturers. In any case, I don’t expect any lecturer to fall prey to such a farce. And on the whole, I think the Senators would have thought of better things, instead of coming to deal with this minute issue,” Brown, said.
On her part, a female lecturer in the Communication Arts Department, Dr Nevelyn Bata, said there was need to be careful, because, some of the sexual harassment claims, students make, are spurious.
“But if the claims are verifiable, I think, there should be some restrictions to help bring down the incidences, if at all it exists. I’m saying if at all it exists because, all the time I had stayed in the University as a student, I wasn’t harassed. So, when you hear of claims of lecturers harassing students, it sounds strange to those who never had the experience,” she added.
She said further that most of those who raise the alarm are those “who have issues, who don’t sit down to read; they have issues in their academics and when they fail they begin to cook up all stories. Well, for lecturers, who would condescend to harass students who they are old enough to be parents to, I think, the law should catch up with them.”
Like his colleague, Dr. Aniedi Ikpang, who is the Dean, Faculty of Law of the University of Uyo, also argued that there were more pressing things in the country that the National Assembly could have legislated on; since, by his own claim, he has never received any report or experienced any sexual harassment since becoming a lecturer more than 15 years ago.