President Muhammad Buhari had added his influential voice to calls for tougher sanctions against sexual violence, not only on university campuses but any where it occurs. He spoke recently after a documentary showed a university lecturer propositioning a reporter posing as an underage student. The BBC film used an undercover reporter to expose sexual harassment at two universities in Nigeria and Ghana, sparking debate on social media about the problem of “sex for grades”.
“Nigeria needs stricter laws to protect girls and women from abuse,” said President Buhari in a tweet. A statement later by presidential spokesman Garba Shehu suggested Buhari did not think government and society in general were doing enough to tackle the problem. “The country must do more to address incidents of sexual violence, sexual abuses in our schools, discrimination, human trafficking and cultural practices that violate women’s rights.”
The President said he welcomed amendments proposed by the National Assembly to address these issues and urged police and schools to take harassment cases seriously. Federal parliamentarians have promised a flurry of legislation in coming days to facilitate the prosecution of sex abuse cases. A bill aiming to tackle violence against women and gender discrimination was introduced in 2016, but did not pass the Senate.
The uproar kicked up by the BBC documentary exposed the official and societal hypocrisy over a matter that reaches down to the country’s soul. The impression given is that the problem is new. But the truth is it has been with us for ages and is getting worse by the day. A recent ISN survey estimated a 35% surge in sexual harassment cases in the past one year.
There are several reasons for that. Firstly, the legal framework for punishing the crime is either not there or is too weak. This is why perpetrators of rape and other forms of sexual harassment often get away with their crime. Secondly, the rejection syndrome that victims suffer in addition to the emotional torture they go through makes them unwilling to go public. However, not doing so only emboldens the criminals. This is why we support Buhari’s appeal that victims and their families speak up. “Survivors and their families must avoid cover-up. They should be encouraged to come forth and report cases of abuses wherever and whenever they occur”, he said.