Long before the BBC documentary that roused our university administrators from their lethargic disposition in handling sexual harassment cases in our campuses, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege had been advocating a more serious and collaborative effort to tackle the menace. The Senator, who is now the Deputy Senator President, had reasoned that unless the matter was addressed through a piece of legislation, many of our vulnerable young girls would continue to suffer under the groping hands of randy lecturers. That is why the former Secretary to Delta State Government and others who have spoken out vehemently against this social malaise should be happy over the news seeping out of our campuses since he introduced the Anti-sexual Harassment Bill.
From the University of Abuja came salutary news that two professors have been indicted and fired by the University’s management for engaging in the harassment of female students sexually. Two others were demoted for offences bordering on the same act. The Universities of Maiduguri and that of Kano had similarly acted proactively in dealing decisively with lecturers who see female students as part of their allowances. It does seem that the fear of the Anti-sexual Harassment Bill introduced by Omo-Agege has woken the administrators from their slumber.
In introducing the bill, Senator Omo-Agege who represents Delta Senatorial District explained that he was moved to act because the actions of those lecturers were offensive to human conscience. “As a father, it is an issue that I cannot just accept. It is a shame on our conscience as a people. It must be extremely offensive to a reasonable mind where an educator treats students as a “booty” of their office”. Senator Omo-Agege lamented.
It is heart-warming that even those who initially opposed the bill in 2016 are now its ardent supporters. Although ASUU through its national president, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi then described the bill as discriminatory as it allegedly targeted only male lecturers without addressing similar situations in various work places, events have shown that Omo-Agege was indeed right in pushing the bill. Reactions to the bill have confirmed that Nigeria needs to be bold and courageous in confronting the lecturers who have been aborting the dreams of female students through inappropriate relationships.
If passed into law, those indicted in engaging in sexual harassment will spend 14 years behind bars to serve as a deterrent to others. Anybody who has a clear conscience will have no reason to oppose the bill. Contrary to the fears of some people, the bill is not against consensual relationships between lecturers and students. It is an accepted fact that some lecturers have ended up marrying their students. But it is offensive when a lecturer employs the reprehensive sex-for-grades tactics to stifle the future of female students.
Many prominent Nigerians including the First Lady, Aisha Buhari are in support of the bill. Ekiti State First Lady, Erelu Bisi Fayemi has been mobilizing women to not only support the bill but condemn the actions of the randy lecturers. Such support no doubt will encourage Senator Omo-Agege whose dogged fight for an egalitarian society has earned him respect and recognition.
Also supporting the introduction of the bill by Omo-Agege, former Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki disclosed that he was appalled by the action of some of the lecturers. According to him, any move to curb their huge appetite in devouring the students kept under their care must be encouraged and supported.
Apparently sensing that the ground swell of opposition against the acts of the lecturers would soon threaten their own positions, Vice Chancellors across the nation have now moved out of their comfort zones to frontally confront their colleagues who hitherto operated as if they are untouchables. These days, no convocation address by Vice Chancellors is complete without strident warnings to lecturers to refrain from sexually harassing female students. They have also gone beyond platitudes to ensure that the evil is uprooted from our campuses.
But it is a known fact that the Vice Chancellors are taking action because more and more victims of sexual harassment are speaking out. They have found their voices to now report their erring lecturers. They have been empowered by the new bill to confront their tormentors. They now know that they will get justice when they speak out as against the practice of cover-up which was the norm in the past.
What it means is that this piece of legislation introduced by Senator Omo-Agege is not only timely but urgently needed to sanitize the campuses. Even those who thought they were immune from being called to account for their actions have realized their folly. They are now falling in line. That is what we actually need to make our universities safe for our young and vulnerable daughters.
To show that Senator Omo-Agege is once again on the right path, President Muhammadu Buhari has indicated his readiness to assent to the bill as soon as it passed by the National Assembly. That is why the lawmakers should expedite action on the passage of the anti-sexual harassment bill, a brainchild of the ever cerebral lawyer and lawmaker, who appears to be in a hurry to ensure that the Nigerian people receive value for their votes.