Editorial

Sex-for-Grade: Senate’s intervention, apt and timely

 

On Wednesday the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria took the
bull by the horns by separating sexual harassment in tertiary
institutions from all other forms of sexual abuse when it presented a
bill for consideration to that effect.
To be fair this is not the first time that attempts will be made to
criminalise sexual exploitation at that level in Nigeria. Under Senate
President Bukola Saraki similar attempts were made but got stuck at
the presidency for one reason or the other.
All that may be in the past now going by the seriousness the new bill
attracts and coming on the back of recent expose by BBC on the
University of Lagos scandal, it is appropriate to say this came at the
right time. In fact there are several other instances where lecturers
have been sacked since the UNILAG incident went public.
The Senate debated the sexual harassment bill and it scaled second
reading on the floor of the Senate. The bill is sponsored by the
Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege and Senate Leader, Abdullahi
Yahaya, respectively.
The proposed legislation titled “A Bill for an Act to Prevent,
Prohibit and Redress Sexual Harassment of Students in Tertiary
Educational Institutions and for other matters connected therewith
2019” has 27 clauses.
This time it proposes up to 14 years jail term, with a minimum of 5
years, without an option of fine for any educator who commits sexual
offences in tertiary institutions.
The bill defines sexual offences as including: sexual intercourse with
a student or demands for sex from a student or a prospective student
or intimidating or creating a hostile or offensive environment for the
student by soliciting for sex or making sexual advances.
Other forms of sexual harassment identified in the bill are grabbing,
hugging, kissing, rubbing, stroking, touching, pinching the breasts or
hair or lips or hips or buttocks or any other sensual part of the body
of a student; or sending by hand or courier or electronic or any other
means naked or sexually explicit pictures or videos or sex related
objects to a student, and whistling or winking at a student or
screaming, exclaiming, joking or making sexually complimentary or
uncomplimentary remarks about a student’s physique or stalking a
student.
Senator Omo-Agege, in his lead debate, said “the most effective way to
deal with the offence of sexual harassment in our tertiary
institutions is to penalise the very impropriety of the act, with or
without consent.”
He said sexual harassment must be defined in tertiary educational
institutions as statutory rape with strict liability for offenders to
be prosecuted easily.
Those who feel the bill should have been extended to primary,
secondary schools, worship centres and work place, Omo-Agege said
doing so will not be necessary because the Criminal and Penal codes
already adequately deals with these categories with sufficient
clarity.
Thankfully there’s something for false allegations. The bill
prescribes expulsion for students who falsely accuse educators of
sexual harassment.
“An educator whose character is maligned is at liberty to sue for
defamation under the law of defamation which is well-settled in our
jurisprudence and needs no duplication in this bill.”
We are comfortable with the turn of events. We hope the House of
Representatives will complement what the Senate is doing. And we hope
the State Houses of Assembly are keen at domesticating this bill. Much
of the abuse happens at state tertiary institutions anyway. Lecturers
should control themselves and not see their position as a point of
contact for bad behaviour.
Perhaps the bill should find a way to protect victims and their
testimonies. The same protection should be extended to sexual assault
whistleblowers.

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