The Problem Statement
Nobody’s daughter should be treated as a FRINGE BENEFIT for anyone in a 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. Vulnerable female students are usually the victims of sex for marks that have become rampant in our higher institution of learning.
The Policy Solution
Therefore, 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 offenses 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. 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 various parts of the world”. Its passage followed the consideration of the report of the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, which was in charge of reviewing the bill and had organized a public hearing on the legislation. The bill seeks to protect the female child from sexual predators in 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.
No doubt that the proposal for this bill is coming at the right time with the rise in sexual harassment cases in the nation’s academic community, which is meant to an environment of refined sensitivities and values. Sexual Harassment in our campuses is a minus to our value and culture in Nigeria, therefore the importance of this bill to end the parading of sexual predators who disguise as educators in our institutions.
However, on suggestions of inadequate sanctions for students who falsely accuse educators of sexual harassment, the reality is that this bill prescribes expulsion for those students. In addition, 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. The strongest and most effective way to deal with the offense of sexual harassment in tertiary institutions is to penalize the very impropriety of the act, with or without consent, by making consent immaterial once the act is established,” Also, the bill has 27 clauses:
Clause 1 is on the Objective of the bill; Clauses 2 and 3 are the Relationship of Authority, Dependency, and Trust between an educator and a student; Offences constituting sexual harassment under the Bill are articulated in Clauses 4 and Marriage is a defense under Clause 5.
Under Clause 6, it is not a defense that a student consented to any offense in Clause 4. Clauses 8 to 10, 11/12, and 13/14 are respectively on commencement of criminal proceedings, penalty, and civil action for an educator’s breach of fiduciary duty. Clauses 15, 16, and 17 are on Institutional Disciplinary Measures, Independent Sexual Harassment Prohibition Committee, and Institutional Disciplinary Procedure respectively, thus providing a uniform statutory framework for all institutions to follow on sexual harassment. Clause 18 is on judicial review of decisions taken by an institution; Clauses 19 and 20 spells out the criminal liability of administrative heads as defined under the Bill where there is a failure to address sexual harassment complaints as contemplated under the Bill. Clauses 21 and 22 and 18 are concerned with liability on a student for false complaint; Clauses 23 to 25 make provisions for the protection of students from victimization under any guise; Clauses 26 and 27 are on Definition of Terms and Citation respectively.
NIGAC Constructive Take/ Position
In amending this bill, which will definitely bring a drastic reduction in the number of sexual harassment cases on campuses, there should be Speedy criminal trial and prosecution of educators who are found guilty of sexual harassment and there should be no No victimization of students who report guilty educators to the appropriate authority.
Most importantly, all hands should be on deck to ensure that sexual harassment in our institutions of learning becomes a thing of the past.