(In this concluding article on sexual harassment in Nigerian tertiary institutions, a review shows many institutions lack clear policies on sexual harassment. Read the first three parts of the article here, here and here.)
Madinat Balogun, a student of Ibadan Polytechnic, was recently harassed sexually by Kelani Ajadi, a lecturer at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Faculty of Environmental Studies. The 31-year-old told PREMIUM TIMES how her trouble started as soon as Mr Ajadi was appointed her project supervisor during the 2015 and 2016 academic session.
She said after consenting to his “persistent sexual demand,” the lecturer continued to frustrate her so that the amorous relationship could continue unending.
Having failed to complete her project for about two sessions, Ms Balogun disclosed that the lecturer, again, in 2018 agreed to let her go, “as long as I cooperated.” The randy lecturer was later investigated, found guilty of the act and dismissed by the school management.
Sexual harassment is not a new phenomenon in Nigerian tertiary institutions. It involves unwelcome sexual behaviours and advances towards female students especially.
The Nigerian Senate 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.”
Several factors are considered the causes of sexual harassment, especially in Nigerian tertiary institutions.
These may include lack of amenities like hostels located on campuses, lack of constant electricity that would make them move about in the dark with abusers taking advantage of such situations, and so on. It might also include a lack of proper reporting processes, absence of supporting systems for victims, lack of sensitization of students and employees by the school management.
No proper sexual harassment policy
PREMIUM TIMES’ findings have revealed that many Nigerian higher institutions only have scanty policy documents which make provisions to fight against sexual offences on their campuses. Policy documents on sexual harassment define the rules of engagement between lecturers, university administrators and students of the university.
In 2018, a survey by the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and Law, revealed that 70 per cent of female graduates from Nigerian tertiary institutions have been sexually harassed in school, with the main perpetrators being classmates and lecturers.
“The effects experienced by victims were depression and perceived insecurity on campus.”
The report said: “There are no laws on sexual harassment in the workplace. In 123 countries, there are no laws on sexual harassment in education. In Africa, 36 of the 47 countries with data do not have laws penalizing sexual harassment in this area.”
However, in July 2020, the Senate passed the bill on sexual harassment in tertiary institutions after scaling third reading. 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, with 25 clauses, seeks to promote and protect ethical standards in tertiary institutions. It also seeks to protect students against sexual harassment as well as prevent sexual harassment of students by educators in tertiary institutions. The bill is, however, yet to become law as it is yet to be passed by the House of Representatives or signed by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Our findings across over 20 Nigerian universities, polytechnics and colleges of education revealed that many of the higher institutions in the country have either scanty or no policy documents on sexual harassment. Although few of them have such but hardly implement the policies, PREMIUM TIMES can report.
Although institutions such as the University of Ibadan, University of PortHarcourt, Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta, University of Calabar, Federal University of Technology, University of Ilorin, Federal University of Technology, Minna, National Open University of Nigeria, University of Lagos and Bayero University of Kano have detailed sexual harassment policies, students say there are no proper implementation of the policies.
Students across the aforementioned universities told our correspondent that the sexual harassment policies are only written on papers, they are hardly implemented.
Meanwhile, among others, the University of Uyo, University of Benin, Uthman Dan Fodio University and Federal University Lokoja do not even have a documented policy to fight sexual harassment on their campuses.
PREMIUM TIMES also surveyed five state universities in Nigeria to find out if they have such policies on their campuses.
Our findings at Lagos State University, Ladoke Akintola University of Technology and Osun State University revealed that the three institutions have a detailed policy document on sexual harassment. But Adamawa State University and Ekiti State University do not have such policy documents.
Other institutions checked include Lagos State Polytechnic, The Polytechnic Ibadan and Polytechnic Ede and Gateway Polytechnic — but they all do not have provisions for policies on how to combat sexual harassment on their campuses.
Comparatively, foreign higher institutions have well-detailed policies that clearly express concerns for sexual harassment and address them accordingly.
For instance, a Columbia University’s document on sexual harassment “recognizes its responsibility to increase awareness of such misconduct, prevent its occurrence, diligently investigate reports of misconduct, support students and others who experience gender-based misconduct, and respond fairly and firmly when students violate University policy.”
“The Policies set out reflect the University’s commitment to a safe and nondiscriminatory educational environment, consistent with Title IX, the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”), and New York State Education Law 129-B.
“They define gender-In May of 2020, the U.S. Department of Education issued new regulations for colleges and universities that address sexual assault and other gender-based misconduct,” the document states.
Why sexual harassment persists
Kiki Mordi, a journalist with BBC Africa Eye, lamented the unfavourable condition on campuses which exposes students to sexual harassment.
Known for her sex-for-grade investigative documentary, she said that the living conditions in Nigerian institutions, especially federal universities are so poor and terrible.
“For the female hostel, it’s bad, so they have bad toilet habits so if you went to a school like I did, UNIBEN, you will have things like shot put when you have to come with your own bucket; with crowding, lack of ventilation, poor toilet,” Ms Mordi said.
“Women can’t use the bathroom; they have to wake up very early and bathe outside exposing them to peeping turns. This is a student starting her day by pooping in a bucket and throwing it out, bathing outside. Indignity conditions can really just mess up the day in the first place.
“They have to do all these things to go to school exhausted and there is a saying that if you want to break someone bend them to your rule, you first break them and all these things break student both male and female but it is really different for each gender and it is also very important for young students to have hostel accommodation and most times access to this accommodation lay in the hand of one person.”
She also explained how authorities take advantage of the terrible conditions of schools to extort and harass students sexually.
She said: “So, we have someone who is a Dean or Sub-dean who has access to whether you get accommodation or not, he has access to your exam script and result and basically everything that has to do with you in school and that really puts female students at a terribly disadvantaged position. That also means they are your mercy and that power often is abused.
“So when that power is abused we have sex for grade culture, sex for hostel, sexual harassment and sometimes even rape. These are the things that put female students at a huge disadvantage. Even in reporting, these lecturers have control over that in schools like UNILAG they have senate where they go to table matters of sexual harassment.
“Some of the people who table the matter are also lecturers themselves so there’s really no safe space in the school structure. The institution was not designed to create any safe space or whatsoever for female students and these things work together to make life really hard for female students.”
Funmi Ayeni, the Director of Research, M&E and Learning at Stand To End Rape Initiative (STER), blamed school authorities for not having potent policies on how to combat sexual harassments on their campuses.
She said: “lack of comprehensive knowledge on the nature and impact of sexual harassment, the lack of clearly defined policies that prohibit sexual harassment and procedures that outline reporting practices and disciplinary measures, the power differential between students and faculty members/staff and the absence of adequate resources to support the implementation of effective policy processes are factors responsible for the prevalence of sexual harassment in tertiary institutions.”
Ms Ayeni also said, “The adoption of national policies that specify the nature of sexual harassment, include provisions for survivors to obtain justice, and outline consequences for perpetrators are necessary to address sexual harassment. An example of such policies is the Sexual Harassment Bill passed by the Nigerian Senate in July 2020.
“Tertiary institutions should also develop clear policies and procedures that define and prohibit sexual harassment in educational environments and specify the process through which students can seek remedial actions when such incidents occur. Schools should also develop and widely disseminate comprehensive information on students’ rights and resources.”
When contacted, the Chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities at the University of Ibadan, Ayo Akinwole, claimed that all Nigerian universities have policies to protect staff and students.
“I don’t think we have been devoid of policies to stop anybody from being harassed. It is a matter of digging deep enough to know they are policies though there is no Nigerian university that doesn’t have policies and guidelines to protect all members of the university community.
“There is no school in Nigeria that doesn’t have guidelines and handbooks to guide the conduct of all people on campus and also there are provisions to discipline erring members of the community that I am sure,” he added.
The national chairman of the union, Biodun Ogunyemi, did not respond to multiple calls and text messages.
But during the public hearing for the sexual harassment bill earlier in the year, Mr Ogunyemi said the proposed legislation was biased against Nigerian lecturers.
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