By Ikechukwu Okaforadi
Sexual predators have turned the blessings in the student-educator fiduciary relationship of authority, dependency and trust to a source of torment, the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege has said.
Delivering a keynote address in Abuja, Thursday at the Conference on Sexual Violence in Nigeria, Senator Omo-Agege explained that this concern informed his decision to sponsor the Sexual Harassment Bill in the Senate.
Citing jurisdictions in the United States, the United Kingdom, South Africa and Australia with laws that specifically penalize sexual harassment in educational institutions of higher learning, he noted that the Sexual Harassment Bill passed by the Nigerian Senate is not in isolation.
It would be recalled that on July 7, 2020, the Senate passed ‘The Bill to Prevent, Prohibit and Redress Sexual Harassment of Students in Tertiary Educational Institutions, 2020’. It prohibits sexual harassment of students in tertiary institutions and prescribes jail term ranging from two to fourteen years for various degrees of offences.
Sponsored by the Deputy President of the Senate and co-sponsored by 106 lawmakers, the proposed legislation also prescribes N5million fine for offenders.
Omo-Agege noted that if approved by the House of Representatives and signed into law, it would not only send a strong signal to those who may want to abuse women but ensure that students are not at the mercy of ‘sexual predators’.
Represented by his Special Adviser on Legislative and Plenary, Prince Efe Duku at the event, Omo-Agege described sexual harassment in tertiary institutions as a sore point in our collective psyche and existence as civilised people.
His words: “Coming further home in Africa, according to the 2018 World Bank Group’s Women (Business and the Law) report, about 11 African countries have laws that specifically penalize sexual harassment in educational institutions of higher learning. That same report however, regrets that in 65 percent of the economies of the world, young women and girls are not adequately protected from sexual harassment in their places of learning.
In a related report in collaboration with the Global Partnership for Education, the World Bank body observes that between 2013 and 2017, the level of sexual harassment in institutions of learning, dropped from 57.5 percent to 55 percent in 141 of the 189 countries considered, it is dismally poor and even worse than the drop from 16 to 13.5 percent that obtained at work places within the same period of review.
“I must add that consistent with the spirit of the doctrine of in loco perentis particularly as it relates to power imbalance between the educator and those under the educator’s tutelage, the Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Educational Institutions Prohibition, Prevention and Redressal Bill, 2019, considers sex between the parties as statutory rape. To this extent the Bill also considers all the appurtenant issues, including sanctions that are consistent with statutory rape.
“In all, however, we are making progress. But it must be seen that with institutions of learning still posting up to 55 percent of women at the mercy of sexual predators, against 13.5 percent at the work place, there is still plenty of work to be done.
“For me, I see the Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Educational Institutions Prohibition, Prevention and Redressal Bill as a trailblazer for us here in Nigeria. With a new legislation coming from this Bill to address this pandemic at the foundational place of character formation, it will in no small measure help to also address the issue. They will become bolder, more confident, and with higher degrees of self-worth.
“I am confident however, that in the fullness of time, this initiative being introduced in our tertiary institutions, by law, will eventually find expression, also by law, in every organisation where women are found”.
The event also witnessed the presentation of the book, ‘Lend Your Voice’, written by the Country Coordinator of Breakforth Nigeria, Ambassador Osere Daniels Ewharekuko. The book was reviewed by the Chief of Staff to the Deputy President of the Senate, Otive Igbuzor.