Recently, the Senate led by Senate President Ahmed Lawan read for the 3rd time the Sexual Amendment Bill (2020 as amended) which is ‘A Bill for an Act to Prevent, Prohibit and Redress Sexual Harassment of students in tertiary educational institutions’.
The bill, sponsored by Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege and 106 other senators, has 25 clauses and seeks to create equal learning opportunities for students of tertiary institutions in an atmosphere devoid of sexual harassment. It is also to promote ethical standards of education and respect for human dignity.
However, while passing the law, the Senate adjusted the law to even mean all schools including secondary and primary schools.
As the bill prohibits lecturers in higher institutions to date, friend or have sexual intercourse with any student, intimidate or create a hostile or offensive environment for the student by soliciting for sex, and grab, hug, kiss, rub or stroke or touch or pinch any part of the body of a student among others, it also noted that students’ consent is not a defence.
It further stipulates that any person who commits any of the offences shall, on conviction, be sentenced to imprisonment for 14 years, or to a fine of N5 million or both.
While any person who commits the offence of displaying or sending sexual pictures or videos to a student, or making sexually complimentary or uncomplimentary remarks shall, on conviction, be sentenced to two years imprisonment or a fine of N1 million or both.
However, lecturers and teachers who spoke to Daily Trust picked holes in the bill, saying it is targeting only the educators instead of all sectors.
Prof. Ben Ugwoke of University of Abuja said: “My overall assessment of the bill is that it is obnoxious, discriminatory, and would create more chaos than any good it is meant to serve. It does not meet the cardinal principle of the universal applicability of the law. It should fail to see the light of the day.
Prof Ugwoke said one problem with the bill is that it is targeted at a particular person or a particular group of people only, the ‘educators’.
“Any law which is targeted at a distinct group is referred to as ad hominem legislation. To that extent, the bill is discriminatory and a law that is discriminatory does not meet the requirements of natural jurisprudence,” he said.
“Can the legislators convince themselves that sexual harassment does not take place at or in the National Assembly, banks, among market-place traders, etc, that they would exclude other sectors from the sexual harassment bill? Their action is malicious against educators. The bill should fail on the ground that it is discriminatory,” he stressed.
While noting that universities and other tertiary institutions have establishment acts passed by the National Assembly, as autonomous bodies and have their own statutes regulating their affairs, including misconducts generally among both staff and students, with appropriate redress mechanisms in place, he said the Sexual Harassment Bill supplants the Establishment Acts of tertiary institutions.
“In the same vein, is the National Assembly unaware of the provisions of the various sections of the Criminal and penal codes, against sex-related offences that they ventured into this white elephant project of lawmaking? Is the National Assembly now a house of commotion?” he asked.
Prof Ugwoke, however, pointed out that the legislators working on hate to make such a discriminatory law should purge themselves, make the law applicable to themselves and then tune their minds to making laws that would make Nigeria safer and cheaper to live in, for the common man.
A lecturer with Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Akwa, Daniel Ugoh, said taking advantage of a student because of marks is evil, however, some lecturers are genuine when it comes to relationships.
“I don’t think it benefits both parties by asking them (lecturers and students) not to marry. I think a number should be provided for anonymous calls with evidence should a lecturer take undue advantage of a student,” he said.
While the bill is not wrong, it may not be all-inclusive yet. However, it can only be easily enforced in educational institutions, a teacher, Olasunkomi Opeifa, said.
“I think we’ve heard more stories of sexual abuse and harassment more in our educational institutions than other sectors due to the level of vulnerability of those who receive services there. There are other laws like Child Rights Act that protect children generally and this is not limited to the schools alone,’ he said.
He, however, opined that certain factors should be considered regarding the relationship of ‘two adults’ in higher institutions. “Except in a situation where a party complains of abuse or harassment, it’s important that the bill looks the other way. Many well-meaning relationships may become victims of whistleblowers for the wrong malicious reasons.”
“Another factor to be considered is ‘romance-induced’ favouritism. The law can be brought to play where it can be established that a lecturer is abusing his position for or against a relationship,” he said.
He noted that the conditions given to a teacher or lecturer who is in a relationship with a student may contradict other laws, human rights and the core purpose of the bill.
“If a teacher is forced to marry a student he’s dating, what if the student is under-aged. The law is tilting to favour only a sector of the country that has a regional law that favours early marriage. Such an action may be contributing to the increase of out-of-school children,” he noted.
He further said: “If you force a teacher or lecturer to resign, you increase unemployment. And suggesting the student to drop out and start a trade is not only an insult to vocational education but encouragement of several opportunistic ills.”
An educationist, Yussuf Oriyomi, said it is a necessary bill but one that should be extended to cover both the private and public sectors, not only schools.
“We have read reports of politicians, highly placed members of the society using undergraduate boys and girls as pimps and for other sexual escapades.
“We have heard of pastors sleeping with female church members, Alfas sleeping with Madras female students among so many other dirty stories. So it’s a necessary bill but one that should be extended to all workplaces,” he said.
Oriyomi maintained that it should be extended to religious places, NGOs, judiciary, legislative, executive etc and cover both genders as boys and men do get sexually harassed as well these days.