A 25-year-old female student of Linguistics and African Language department, Faculty of Arts at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, South-west Nigeria, Hannah Bababunmi, has accused a 66-year-old professor of Yoruba Language in the department, Joseph Opefeyitimi, of sexually harassing her, and subjecting her to physical and emotional torture.
Mr Opefeyitimi did not deny the allegations in a telephone interview but described the development as a “set-up.”
The lecturer, who has only four years until retirement, told this newspaper that what happened between him and the student was consensual and that Miss Bababunmi was his fiancee.
This fresh sex scandal is coming about seven months after a lecturer in the department of English Language Studies at the same faculty, Adebayo Mosobalaje, was sacked over similar allegations.
Before alleged harassment
According to a petition addressed to the university through the office of the head of the department, Felix Fabunmi, a professor, Miss Bababunmi, a 400-level student, narrated how the elderly lecturer invited her to the university during the crisis that rocked the institution in March.
Some protesters barricaded the university’s entrance gates, even as they invaded the campus with fetish objects over the selection process of a substantive vice-chancellor.
Miss Bababunmi’s petition was dated March 21, 2020, and titled; “Report of Sexual Assault and Molestation against Professor Ayo Opefeyitimi.” She claimed the lecturer had sent her a message on WhatsApp on Thursday, March 17, and requested to see her on the campus between the hours of 8 a.m and 2 p.m on Friday, 18.
The student said Mr Opefeyitimi had always sought her help in the past to upload his notes on the university’s teaching platform during the coronavirus pandemic when the institution switched to online mode of studying.
She said: “But I was not always alone in his office then. There were usually other students. But I diplomatically stopped going to him because I was staying very far away from the school and the transportation fare was much for me then.
“But I later realised he did not like it and stopped answering my greetings whenever I saw him at the department. One day, he called a friend of mine to assist him and I accompanied her to his office where I knelt down to beg if I had offended him in any way. He then said there was no problem, and that if he had been angry with me, he would have shown me.”
Miss Bababunmi said she also later noticed that the lecturer had been envious of her relationship with another lecturer, Olusola Ajibade, a professor, whom she described as her mentor.
“So towards the end of 2021, Professor Ajibade travelled abroad, and Professor Ope, as he is popularly called, would keep asking me if I knew when he would return, which I didn’t know,” she said, adding that; “When the lecturer eventually returned in December 2021, he developed an eye problem and Professor Ope kept asking me about the man’s health. He would even tell me not to let him know that he was asking after him from me. I began to wonder what could be happening between them.”
Photograph with the accused
Meanwhile, on March 10, Miss Bababunmi was, alongside four other awardees including the veteran thespian and former lecturer at the university, Kola Oyewo, honoured at an award ceremony organised by the Linguistics and African Languages Students’ Association.
Miss Bababunmi, who was the only student among the honorees, was awarded the best cultural female student in the department.
The excited student said she became the cynosure of all eyes and took pictures with everyone present including Mr Opefeyitimi.
Fatimat Sekoni, Prof Ope and Miss Bababunmi
“Just the way I shared pictures with everyone that appeared in the different copies, I also sent the one I took with Professor Ope to him. A friend, Fatimah Sekoni, is also in the picture with the professor,” the student explained.
She guessed the picture may have ignited the lecturer’s interest in her.
The student said as a lecturer she respected, she obliged the request to see her because “I really couldn’t question his order.”
She narrated: “I got to his office around 1:23 pm. He told me that he only wanted to ask about what was going on on the campus since he wasn’t on campus the previous day.
“I was astounded to hear that but I told him to take the Road 7 route when ready to go home because road 1 was blocked. He asked me to sit down and he asked me the reason why the road was blocked. Then I told him that I didn’t really know and heard that it was all about the appointment of the new VC.
“He decided to leave the office immediately and he packed his things saying that I was God-sent to him because it was almost 2p.m and he needed to pick up his son from the school. He carried the bag and we were about to leave the office. I offered to help him with the bag but he declined and I headed to the door.
“He grabbed me from behind and held me so tight. At this point I was in shock, then he said and I quote “Mo fẹ́ kí èmi àti ẹ jọ wà papọ̀ ni [thrice] but problem tí mo ní tẹ́lẹ̀ ni boy Ajibade yẹn but mi ò rò pé ó yẹ kó jẹ́ problem mọ́- (I want the two of us to be together (three times), but the problem I had before was that boy called Ajibade, but I don’t think he should pose any challenge again.”
Award plaque for Bababunmi
The student said until she went through the whole experience in her head again and married the events of the recent past together, she couldn’t understand what Mr Opefeyitimi was referring to when he mentioned the name of her mentor, Mr Ajibade.
“Meanwhile, after he grabbed me behind, he already dropped the big bag he was carrying and held me with his other hand. He made me sit on his lap and was groping me, he then said again “Mi ò mọ bí a ṣe fẹ́ ṣe é tí o fi máa graduate pẹ̀lú 2:1 kí o lè padà wá ṣe Masters”- (I don’t know how we would do it so that you could graduate with 2:1, so that you would be able to come for Masters),” she added.
She said all her pleas for the lecturer to leave her fell on a deaf ear, “even when I said I would come back next time.”
“…he then stood up from the chair still forcefully holding me and dragged me to the couch in his office. By this time he had already pulled down his trousers and brought out his erect penis.
“He grabbed my right hand, and used it to rub his penis. It happened so quickly that I was petrified. He continued to do this and I was so distressed by the entire situation that I lost count of time,” she further explained.
Meanwhile, the student said at one stage the lecturer felt relaxed, sleeping on the couch with his head lowered backwards on the arm of the couch.
“At that stage, I managed to take out my phone from my pocket and snapped him with his erect organ out of his knicker,” she said.
She said when she told the lecturer that someone was waiting for her at the ground floor of the department, which is located in the same building that is also occupied by the Dramatic Arts, Music and Fine Arts departments, he was not bothered.
Miss Bababunmi said: “But he replied me and said “Gbogbo time tí mo ní pẹ̀lú ẹ báyìí kò ju 5mins lọ, jọ̀wọ́ bá mi ṣe é mo kàn fẹ́ cum ni (The time I have with you now isn’t more than five minutes, please play with, I just want to cum); I won’t touch you today please because I didn’t inform you before.
“I begged him that I was not comfortable at all and that he should please let me go, but he didn’t listen to me. He laid down on his couch and was using my hand to stroke his penis.
“At some point, he stood up, dragged me to his table, turned my back to him and was rubbing his manhood on me. At this point, all my pleas to him to please release me fell on deaf ears.
“He pinned me there against the table, rubbing his penis on my back, repeating over and over again, “O ṣe é, O ṣe é (Thank you, thank you).”
The student said by that time, the lecturer had already worn his knicker but continued to rub his erect penis on her buttocks with her pair of jean trousers firmly worn.
“I think the reason he put on the knicker was to avoid my pair of jeans trousers being wet with his sperm so that whoever sees me coming out of his office in that condition would not raise concern,” she added.
Meanwhile, she said when she was eventually freed and wanted to leave, the lecturer asked him where she was staying and whether she would see him again on Monday, March 21 “but I told him, no!”.
She said: “He asked me why? Out of fear for my life and safety, I told him that it was because my place was far. I was trying hard to say whatever would make him release me. I had never been so terrified as I was that day in his office.
“He asked me where my place was. And I told him that I live at Aba Iya Gani. He then offered to come and pick me but I declined, after which he asked me if I knew Olatoke Hotel at Opa. I said I did not know the place and he said that was no problem; that anytime I’m free to come on Monday, nobody will disturb him and then he gave me a thousand naira for transportation.
“I collected the money because I believed he wouldn’t have allowed me to go if I didn’t collect it from him.”
In her petition, Miss Bababunmi described the situation as “an obvious abuse of power in which my faith in someone who has been a teacher and mentor, someone that I look up to and had maximum respect for since the very day I entered this university, has been exploited.”
“Professor Opefeyitimi teaches a class that I currently take, and he has the power to fail me or give me any grade that he pleases. In addition, I took another class with him, and he has not yet released the grade for that class.
“My career depends on the grades he gives me. I believe his failure to fully penetrate me in his office frustrated him, and I was lucky that I wore tight trousers that he was unable to yank down,” she also said.
“It was a set-up”
In a telephone interview with this newspaper, Mr Opefeyitimi confirmed the harassment allegation but insisted that Miss Bababunmi only set her up.
The lecturer, who said his lawyer warned him against speaking on the matter, however, said when the time to reveal the truth comes, he would spill the beans.
He said he had promised to marry Miss Bababunmi and that based on the university’s code of conduct, it would have been improper to marry his student while still in school.
Mr Opefeyitimi with another lecturer in 2018 jointly taught Miss Bababunmi YOR 101 (Introduction to Yoruba People and Language) and taught her YOR 307 (Stylistics 1) in the first semester 300 level and YOR 308 (Thoughts and Beliefs of Yoruba People) during the the second semester.
In the ongoing 400 level first semester, Mr Opefeyitimi is teaching the student YOR 405 with the course title “Stylistics.”
Meanwhile, in his response to the query he was issued by his department over the matter, the lecturer said his unnamed lawyer should be allowed to witness the probe panel sittings.
The response read in part: “In summary, Boluwatife is my wife-to-be. She was responsible for all that happened in my office on that day. If, after four years of dating, waiting to consummate our union, she suddenly turned around to cleverly take pictures of my body parts as evidence to indict me.
“I must not handle the case alone since my wife at home is privy to our relationship. Since our relationship was being planned towards marriage after her graduation, I already took my wife into confidence, even though the lady wants the relationship to be kept secret. It is now I can understand why she wanted the relationship to be kept secret and that she had never been sincere.”
However, instead of the four years of relationship with the student claimed by the professor in his response, he told our reporter that the relationship already spanned six years.
Asked if he knew where Miss Bababunmi was staying and if he knew anyone among the family members of his supposed fiancee, the lecturer was mum for a few seconds, before responding that he would not speak on the matter further.
The lecturer’s wife intervenes
A day after the student petitioned her husband, Mary Opefeyitimi, a deaconess at the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Olopomeji area, Ile-Ife, told our reporter that she visited Aba Iya Gani, a suburb of the town, where Miss Bababunmi reportedly lives but she said she could not locate her particular house.
Speaking on the phone with our reporter, and asked if she knew Miss Bababunmi before the incident, Mrs Opefeyitimi said she never met her, and that she only saw her picture on her husband’s phone recently.
She said: “My husband had been saying for years that he would marry another wife, but as a grandma, I could not discourage him. But he never introduced anyone to me until this happened.
“And when I heard, and I was given the description of the area she stays, I went there and called her line but she said she was not around.”
The wife said she had attempted to visit the girl to plead with her.
But speaking earlier, Miss Bababunmi said she recognised the identity of the wife through a software application on her phone, and that she lied to her that she was not in Ife at the time.
“Her (Mrs Opefeyitimi) call only got me further devastated. I couldn’t believe it,” Miss Bababunmi added.
The university said it is committed to addressing issues of harassment against anyone and its female students in particular.
Speaking on the phone with our reporter, the university’s public relations officer, Abiodun Olarewaju, said the investigative panel set up on the matter has submitted its report, and that a committee to review the report would soon be constituted.
He said: “You should trust the university that we don’t joke with any issue of harassment, molestation and any form of abuse. We have a history of zero tolerance for such and we can count how many staffers have been sanctioned when found guilty.
“So the public should know that this matter cannot be different, and I can assure you that it will be treated simply based on its merit.”
Mr Olarewaju said as soon as the review committee submits its report, the senate would sit over it before making a recommendation to the governing council for a final decision.