The year 2015 appears to have been a particularly bad year for female undergraduates in tertiary institutions in Nigeria. The mass media, traditional, new and social, have been replete with sad tales of sexual harassment in many schools.
By Adam Alqali
In September 2015, the Nigerian Feminist Forum, NFF, a non-governmental organization, NGO, cried out about the increasing incidence of sexual harassment of female students and the failure of school authorities to deal with the problem or sanction perpetrators.
In a statement it issued, the NFF said it was “dismayed and alarmed by what appears to be an overwhelming rise in reported cases of sexual assault and rape of female university students by male members of the academic staff and students across university campuses in Nigeria,” calling for stringent actions to stem the tide.
“It is pertinent to state here that the vast majority of cases of sexual violence against female university students in Nigeria go unreported for various reasons associated with victim shaming, stigma, character assassination, public backlash and limited access to justice for victims. In many cases, female students who have reported such cases have been subsequently targeted for reprisal attacks by thugs, cultists or university teachers,” the NFF stated.
The forum contended that sexual harassment in tertiary institutions continues to be a menace because the schools do not have clear policies to deal with the issue and that they must take more concrete steps to deal with the problem, including providing care and support to victims and their families.
The NFF’s reaction was informed by several reports in the media about the harassment of female students in tertiary institutions, with the culprits, mostly lecturers, getting away scot free.
In July, a lecturer with the University of Lagos, UNILAG, Akin Baruwa, was reported to have raped an 18 year old female admission seeker. The lecturer’s friend is said to have approached him to help his daughter secure admission into the university but rather than help, Baruwa allegedly took her to his office on the campus where he raped her. The case is before a Lagos magistrate court.
Also, in August, the dean of the faculty of Law at the University of Calabar, Professor Cyril Ndifon, allegedly raped a 21 year old 400 level Law student of the institution. Nothing is known to have been done against the lecturer for now.
The Randy Lecturers
Many students, male and female, who spoke to the icirnigeria.org observed that sexual harassment of female student is so rampant that hardly can a female student pass through a college of education, polytechnic or university in the country without being sexually harassed or forced to have illicit sex with a lecturer. And, it does not even matter whether the lady is single or married.
Such philandering lecturers offer good grades to their female students in exchange for sex and where such female students turn down their advances they ensure they keep failing their courses, however well they performed during examinations, until they accept their sexual overtures.
Seun Oyetoyan, a level-500 Computer Engineering student at Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State believes there is no justification for male lecturers to have affairs with their female students in order to get good grades, adding that such a situation would affect the quality of graduates and education in the country.
However, talking to students in several tertiary institutions, it also became obvious that there is also a sub theme to the issue of lecturers’ sexual harassment of female students; for, alas, many people also believe that female students do also harass their lecturers sexually, or at least, entice them sexually in order to earn good marks.
According to many students, male and female, there is also a growing trend of female students harassing or seducing their male lecturers for better grades, or other reasons, of which little is known. Hence, the now emerging discourse about who is guiltier between female students and their male lecturers, when it comes to the business of sexual harassment on the campuses of Nigerian tertiary institutions.
“I think the male lecturers should be blamed for what is happening in tertiary institutions,” said Zainab Muhammad, a Science and Laboratory Technology, SLT, student of Kano Polytechnic.
“They are the ones that give room for female students to approach them with such offers because whereas they are supposed to mold the characters of their students into good people, they are the ones that are encouraging them to engage in immoral acts.”
Toluwanimi Ademola-Popoola, a medical student at the University of Ibadan also thinks the male lecturers should be blamed for cases sexual harassment in tertiary institutions, arguing that they are the ones in a position to harass their female students.
Many factors make female students susceptible to being harassed by their male lecturers. For Ismail Auwal, a 200-level Electronics student at Bayero University Kano, BUK, dressing indecently by female students makes them susceptible to being harassed by male lecturers.
“Because the female students think university is free world, they tend to dress in manners that attract the attention of their male lecturers. And since the lecturers are human and they have feelings, if they don’t control themselves, it can lead to sexual harassment against the female students,” said Auwal.
But such arguments appear faulty as there are cases of very decent female students who also get harassed by their lecturers.
“Some lecturers are just randy, they will harass whatever is in skirt, they don’t care whether you are decent, but in most cases, it is those that dress indecently that get harassed by the male lecturers,” said Amina Aliyu, (not real name) a 400-level undergraduate student of BUK who was sexually harassed by a lecturer.
The other side of the coin
Even then, though we rarely hear of cases of female students harassing their male lecturers, the phenomenon seems to be a growing trend in tertiary institutions across Nigeria.
Like their male lecturers, most of the female students who harass or seduce their male lecturers do so in anticipation of academic favours. Such female students are reported to go to the extent of offering to pay for hotel rooms for their male lecturers to have sex with them in exchange for good grades.
In fact, it was discovered that many male lecturers of tertiary institutions are silently grappling with the dilemma of being harassed by their female students to curry favours, which even lead to blackmail against the male lecturers, when they refuse their advances.
Like the female students, male lecturers also rarely report such incidents, maybe because they feel they are “matured enough” to handle such issues. Olunifesi Suraj is a lecturer in the School of Communications, Lagos State University, LASU, who has been sexually harassed by his female students. He thinks the subject of sexual harassment in tertiary institutions is a complex issue.
“I was personally harassed by my female student for refusing to go into a relationship with her so I can pass her in my course. In fact, she and her friends threatened to come to my house and rape me,” Suraj told ogalecturer.com.
“A colleague in the University of Ibadan also went through a similar situation: a female student barged into his office after sunset, locked the door, removed her cloth and asked him to have his way so he could pass her his course.”
“Generally speaking, morally upright male lecturers feel very insecure when they are alone with female students in their offices,” says Nura Maaji, a lecturer in the School of Continuing Education at BUK.
“This is because it is obvious that some female students do come to our offices dressed skimpily, wearing all sorts of seductive make up and perfumes, to simply harass us.”
Felix Gure, a Banking and Finance student at Rivers State Polytechnic, Bori, Rivers State, also believes the female students should largely be blamed for acts of sexual harassment against them by lecturers. He argues that many of the female students don’t give their studies the attention they deserve as they believe they can always have their ways with their male lecturers.
Both parties are guilty
Ngozi Illoh, a lecturer in Department of French at the University of Benin and former national welfare officer of the Academic Staff Union of Universities also believes that female students are guilty as male lecturers in this matter. She even brings a new perspective to the issue, saying that some female lecturers actually do sexually harass young male students.
“Sexual harassment these days is not only against female students,” she said, adding that “all sorts of sexual pervasion exist now – male lecturers harass female students and female lecturers harass young and handsome male students.”
“I don’t think the lecturers should be blamed alone. It’s because many a time female students make themselves susceptible to being harassed, by going to seek for academic favours from their lecturers which the lecturers tend to exploit,” says Hannan Haruna Ismail, a student of the College of Arts, Sciences and Remedial Studies, Kano.
Deborah Hassan, a Mass Communication student at the Lagos State University, LASU, also believes both male lecturers and female students should share the blame for sexual harassment in tertiary institutions. She argued that whereas randy male lecturers always try to use their positions to harass their female students, lazy female students who do not want to study for examinations also try to offer their bodies to their male lecturers in exchange for marks.
Unconcerned school authorities
The most unfortunate aspect of sexual harassment in tertiary institutions is that it rarely gets reported by victims who fear the backlash of reporting such incidents to the authorities of their schools since, from experience, such erring lecturers rarely get penalized for their actions.
The fact that they can harass and sexually molest their female students and get away with it has over the years emboldened male lecturers in Nigerian tertiary institutions to continue to harass their students.
Nothing exemplifies the nonchalance of school authorities and the helplessness of victims of sexual harassment on campuses as the story of Professor Enefiok Essien, recently appointed Vice Chancellor of the University of Uyo, UNIUYO, who still rose to assume that position in spite of a court indictment in 1995 for sexual assault.
The 55 year old Professor of Commercial Law was said to have victimized a student in the Law department of the institution, Linda Onyebuchi Essell, who spurned his sexual overtures so much so that she was expelled. Essien, then a senior lecturer in the Law department, had accused her of being involved in exam malpractice. But Essell challenged her expulsion at the Federal High Court, Calabar which set aside her expulsion. She went ahead to win the appeal launched by the university authorities at the Court of Appeal, which affirmed that Essell’s accusations against the lecturer was a “serious indictment”.
Essien’s appointment was opposed by many people and groups which argue that he is not fit to hold the exalted position of Vice Chancellor having been indicted for sexual harassment. Even after he assumed office, a coalition of NGOs, the Civil Society Network Against Corruption petitioned President Muhammadu Buhari and the Minister of Education to halt his appointment.
But, as at today, Professor Essien is the Vice Chancellor of UNIUYO.
Many Nigerians agree with the NFF that the lack of a clear policy against sexual harassment in Nigerian tertiary institutions has made it even more difficult for victims to report such cases and therefore allows perpetrators to get away unpunished.
This has resulted in a situation where harassed female students keep the incidents to their hearts and only reveal them to close friends since there are no reliable alternative platforms to channel their grievances; reporting such incidents to the authorities in the past had only led to further persecution or even their expulsion as in the case of courageous victims like Essell.
The role of civil society
Although several civil society groups are working in the area of sexual harassment, it was discovered that there are hardly any working specifically around campus sexual harassment.
“It is always difficult getting victims of sexual harassment on the campuses of tertiary institutions to report such issues, probably because they are afraid of the stigmatization that will follow reporting such incidents,” said Aisha Ado Abdullahi, a lawyer and the director of Kano-based Coalition Against Rape and Violence, CARAV, a coalition of civil society organisations working in the area of rape and sexual harassment.
Abdullahi, said their work was mostly in communities and they deal with mostly cases of rape against minors but added that they plan to extend their advocacy to tertiary institutions.
“By next year, we are going to launch a campaign in tertiary institutions. Our plan is to do massive awareness campaign among the students of tertiary institutions through student unions so as to encourage female victims of sexual harassment to report such issues,” she said.
She stated that their investigation had revealed that the female students find it difficult reporting such incidents because they don’t have reliable avenues to channel their grievances adding that CARAV would provide all necessary legal support to such victims if they came forward to report it.
For the NFF, it believes that the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, as well as the governing councils of universities have a lot to do in dealing with the menace of sexual harassment on campuses.
The group wants ASUU to come up with and enforce policies that would discourage sexual harassment by its members. It also advocates the delisting of any member indicted for sexual offences.
As for the authorities, the group want governing boards of tertiary institutions to adopt comprehensive policies aimed at eradicating sexual harassment on campuses, set up mechanisms for reporting, investigating and prosecuting cases of sexual harassment on campuses, as well as conduct massive sensitization campaigns in the schools about the evils of sexual harassment.
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