By Ikechukwu Okaforadi
National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) on Monday said that sexual harassment in schools is worse than the current rampaging coronavirus, and should therefore be stopped with stiffer penalties for offenders, “having destroyed many lives and future of many students.”
This was just as the National President, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, called for a review of existing laws on sexual harassment rather than formulating new ones by the National Assembly.
They spoke, alongside many other stakeholders at a public hearing on “Sexual Harassment of Students in Tertiary Educational Institution Prohibition Bill”, organized by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, chaired by Senator Bamidele Opeyemi (APC Ekiti Central) in Abuja.
National President of NANS, Akpan Edet, who described sexual harassment as endemic which should be urgently dealt with by the federal government in view of its long-term effects on the victims, maintained that lecturers have no excuse of being attracted to commit the offence with students’ “provocative dresses.”
Represented by Victor Essien of the Nasarawa State Polytechnic, Lafia, the students’ leader, said sexual harassment is more than just a special kind of bullying, adding that aggression related to sexuality are less common than bullying but have more adverse effects.
He informed that his administration has been putting great effort into anti-bullying campaigns in tertiary institutions across the country “because of the way sexual harassment gets less attention in the country.”
In his own, the ASUU national president said the union was not in support of sexual harassment in any form, adding that if there was a law that addressed issues related to sexual harassment, why wasting time on another law.
Ogunyemi said: “Are there no laws that would address this same problem we are concerned. I think the answer is yes. We have the Act of 2015. We should reconcile this bill with that act to cover our new areas of concern. Are we also going to formulate a separate law to address corruption in universities; are we going to formulate other laws to address sexual harassment in the police.
“If we find laws that we find deficient, what does it cost us to review the law. This bill has failed to take cognisance of various extant legislations that currently deal with sexual offences. I see confusion between sexual harassment and abuse.”
But the Executive Director, Youth Alive Foundation, YAF, Dr. Uduak Okon faulted the ASUU’s position that the existing laws on sexual harassment be reviewed, saying it was a way of defending the atrocities being perpetrated by some lecturers.
“This is not about lecturers. This is a menace. This bill is about those lecturers that are perpetrating these offences, identifying them and giving sanctions.
“The thing ASUU does is to close ranks and protect. They should instead see that this could be a situation for ASSU to clear their names and to sanitise their reputation. ASUU has to stop feeling threatened by this bill,” she said.
Earlier in her submission, the deputy speaker of Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Hon. Felicia Bssey, advised that the proposed legislation should cover all schools, public and private establishments in the country, explaining that sexual harassment is not limited to tertiary institutions alone.
“Sexual harassment doesn’t happen in schools alone, but everywhere, and we must note that most consent for sex in schools and other places are obtained by fraud. The fact that some ladies dress provocatively is not an excuse for sexual harassment.
“Let’s (ladies) have access to admission, employment, promotion, and so on, without being devalued,” she said.
President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan while declaring the public hearing open, said that sexual harassment and intimidation was not just a sexual offence but a criminal offence.
He said that there was need for stakeholders to think upon new resolutions and sanctions to check the menace if the extant laws were not tight enough, explaining that “as citizens we must have a common responsibility to fight the menace.”
In his opening speech, chairman of the committee, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele said that the only reason why parliament existed was that there would continue to be laws.
“If you don’t create existing laws to be reviewed, lacuna will be filled. Definitely when there are specific issues to be addressed, there will always be the need for new legislations,” he said.
The bill, sponsored by the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, seeks to prohibit the offence of sexual harassment of students in tertiary educational institutions and impose stiff punitive measures on perpetrators and intending perpetrators.