Report on the Anti-Sexual Harassment BILL National Virtual Policy Dialogue, held on August 1st, 2020

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Nobody’s daughter should be treated as a FRINGE BENEFIT for anyone in position of trust and responsibility but yet, incessant sexual assault cases in our higher institution of learning has led to poor academic performance, stigmatization, depression, psychological trauma and even suicide in most cases both by the students and the educator as the case may be. Vulnerable female students are usually the victims of sex for marks which has become rampant in our higher institution of learning, though there is no exclusion to male students who fall victims too.

This societal challenge led the Nigerian Global Affairs Council (NIGAC) to organize a National Virtual Policy Dialogue which had two panelist in the person of Ms. Abiodun Essiet, a NIGAC Non-Resident Policy Fellow and Dr. Osama Iyawe, a Core Researcher and Academic in a Federal University in Nigeria. Mr. Itohowo Robinson, a Legislative Aide and Policy Assistant at the National Assembly works with the Honourable Unyime Idem shared his perspective from a Legislative perspective and what changes the Honourable Member is proposing in respect of the Bill, the Public Relations Officer and a Non-Resident Policy Fellow of the Council in the person of Abraham Onoja moderated today’s session.  

The dialogue centered on the bill titled: ‘A Bill for an Act to Prevent, Prohibit and Redress Sexual Harassment of Students in Tertiary Educational Institutions, and for Matters Concerned therewith, 2019’, was sponsored by the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege and 106 other senators.

The bill defines Sexual Harassment as including sexual intercourse with a student which includes forced or consensual sex from a student or a prospective student or intimidating or creating a hostile or offensive environment for the student thereby soliciting for sex or making sexual advances. The bill will serve as an effective check on the ugly incidence of sexual harassment, which has caused “academic injustice, depression and countless other negative effects on individuals and the society in all parts of Nigeria”.

Its passage followed the consideration of the report of the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, which oversaw reviewing the bill and had organized a public hearing on the legislation. The bill seeks to protect the female child from sexual predators in the society and make our tertiary institutions of learning safe and peaceful for all. The bill prescribes a 14-year jail term for offenders and also addresses the likely exploitation of the excuse of mutual consent, as the basis for defense by an offender. By addressing both offenders and violators of remediation measures, the bill seeks to establish a new threshold for morality and sanity in tertiary institutions across Nigeria.

Dr. Iyawe, one of the panelist, noted that the bill is a 2019 bill and should cater for both parties concerned, by taking a holistic approach to rape to prevent an undue advantage of its grey areas. The bill further sets up a sexual harassment committee with 2 students, 2 Academic staff and 2 non-academic staffs as members of the committee with the presence of 3 women and this should be people of integrity and character.

The legislative aide, Mr. Itohowo emphasized that the bill should create a conducive atmosphere for Educators and Students to relate in the academic environment. The Aide also shared details where the Bill will be improved upon via the engagements his principal, the Honourable Unyime Idem will propose as part of making it holistic, he said his principal raised a prayer on the floor of the house that was adopted in principal about the need to create special tribunals that will speedily attend to cases of SEXUAL Harassment on our campuses. He also sought to explain the legislative processes raised and how the public can attend the public hearings that will be held about the bill when the house begins to deliberate on it.

Dr. Osama also said that the bill should be placed right before pushing for its implementations. Dr. Iyawe was very specific in raising about female students who are prone to taking advantage of being females to manipulate male lecturers by offering sex as a way to get good grades – what happens if the Lecturer refuses such an advance and then a student decides to raise false allegations against such Lecturers? How do we ensure we protect both parties in a manner that no one can be exploited or manipulated? How do we ensure that those who are truly guilty face the full wrath of the law as stipulated in the bill?

Ms. Abiodun on the other hand, stated that the bill though might take 4/7 years for its domestication, it should be pushed to become a law. She also shared this opening statement during the Policy Dialogue, the bill is a welcome development and needs to be embraced by all stakeholders involved. As a gender activist involved in advocating for the bill with other feminist groups, most of our recommendations during the public hearing were adopted. My concerns will be on how the bill will be domesticated, if it will take a similar process like other bills (VIOLENCE AGAINST PERSONS PROHIBITION ACT) then we have a long way to go. What does implementation look like, so it doesn’t become just another bill. At this point, Mr. Robinson said that it behooves on the Executive to implement Laws enacted at the National Assembly and that State Assemblies will need to adopt the bill to ensure it is domesticated at the state level if the issue is on the concurrent list.

Sexual harassment is more than a few bad eggs, it is a culture that is entrenched and can be linked to corruption. I understand ASUU is against the bill, but how do we ensure the bill can be leveraged to create an enabling environment in institutions? How can we ensure that the concerns of ASUU about fairness is totally considered when the final draft is prepared?

NIGAC TAKE ON THE BILL AND A WAY FORWARD BASED ON CONCERNS RAISED ABOUT THE BILL

  1. From an objective point of view, the bill is skewed so much in favour of Female Undergraduates. There should be a balance as Male Undergraduates also suffer victimization and undue pressure from female lecturers.
  2. The clause in the bill that speaks about making consensual sex an OFFENSE between two adults should be removed from the bill – this bill isn’t a religious bill and we shouldn’t pretend like we don’t have single or divorced Lecturers who might meet someone they mutually like on campus and probably get involved with such a person – what happens in the case of more matured female Undergraduate who are on part-time programs? So long the sex gotten does not bring issues of conflict of interest particularly if the lecturer in this case and the student are not in the same department or faculty, we do not see how that should be an OFFENSE. There should be room for consensual sex amongst adults, there are other LAWS in place to prosecute rape or forced sexual intercourse.
  3. The bill focuses so much energy on Female students reporting Male Lecturers who ask for sex but there is no modality or mention of how Male Lecturers can report Female students who sell their bodies for good grades. There is no mention of how a Male Lecturer can safely report incidences of sexual harassment they might face from a female undergraduate who is bent on seducing a male lecturer. A commission on ENSURING THAT FEMALE STUDENTS WHO OFFER SEX TO A LECTURER MUST BE SET-UP TO HANDLE CASES LIKE THIS so that appropriate punishments and warnings is giving to such a student, the same rule on sending explicit images, pictures or videos should also apply here. A stalking female undergrad must also be reprimanded or warned and if she desist, be suspended and in dangerous cases, be expelled and banned access to such a tertiary institution.
  4. To ensure speedy delivery of justice where applicable, a special tribunal should be set up by the Judiciary to fast-track these cases in less than 90 days MAXIMUM, there shouldn’t be statue of LIMITATION on when a female Undergraduate or Male Lecturer should seek JUSTICE so long they have evidence that can fly in court.
  5. The powers to set up a Sexual Harassment Committee in a Tertiary Institution shouldn’t lie in the hands of Tertiary Institutions Administrators, it should be a function of the NUC or the relevant agency of Government that manages our tertiary institutions, this will ensure that this committee is truly independent and can’t be cowered if a high-ranking political exposed Academic is accused. The NUC and relevant overseeing agency of Government should have a special ANTI-SEXUAL HARASSMENT TASKFORCE that collates reports, monitors and evaluates the performance of each tertiary institutions handling of cases, this TASK-FORCE must be made up of Academicians, Non-Academicians, Civil Society groups, the Nigerian Bar Association and Gender based Violence rights and advocacy groups.
  6. The bill should suggest more stringent punishment for female students who go ahead to lay false accusations at a Lecturer if and when the case is properly investigated and it is found to be false, the student should be expelled as such a student isn’t worth A DEGREE as she lacks GOOD CHARACTER, a prerequisite for graduating. An hefty fine should also be ENFORCED to be paid by the Parents or Guardian of the female expelled student and lastly, the female expelled student and her family must PUBLISH in about five national dallies including ONE POPULAR BLOG AN APOLOGY that would ensure the PERCEPTION DAMAGE her slander would have had on the Lecturer can be repaired with those PUBLIC APOLOGY, this steps will ensure that FEMALE Undergrads think very hard about the consequences of false accusations. This doesn’t apply in cases where the female student can’t prove her case due to circumstances beyond her control where it is sufficiently agreed that she might have had a case but it can’t be proved in the spirit of fair-hearing and taking an objective decision.
  7. For a Lecturer who rapes, seduces, or coerce a student into have sex with him or her, once this is proven, outright expulsion and recommendation to be so prosecuted should be the ultimate punishment. That lecturer should be referred to the Special Sexual Harassment Tribunal.
  8. Further to the thoughts above, this BILL needs to cast a SEARCHLIGHT on Secondary Schools. Teachers, Corp Members, and young graduates take advantage of secondary school students, more than 70% of secondary school in rural areas and more in urban areas are sexually exploited every-day. The BILL needs to cast its net to the ongoing plague that happens in our secondary schools including our Non-formal educational Centre’s. The bill needs to be renamed ‘A Bill for an Act to Prevent, Prohibit and Redress Sexual Harassment of Students in Tertiary Educational Institutions, Secondary Schools, Non-Formal Educational Centre’s and for Matters Concerned therewith, 2019’. The necessary descriptions in the educator description should also be updated. The concept of consent can never apply at the level of secondary schools or non-formal educational centers.

 

Thank you.

NIGAC Policy Dialogue Team on Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill 2019

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