A bill on sexual harassment in tertiary institutions across the country was passed by the Senate last Tuesday after its 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.
A statement from his office expressed the hope that 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 organised a public hearing on the legislation.
Endorsing the bill, the President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan, had said that “We have to protect our daughters, sisters, mothers from sexual predators.
We want tertiary institutions to be safe and peaceful learning environment for everyone,” he further stated. With the passage of the bill by the Senate, it now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration on its journey to full enactment as law.
Among the highlights of the bill is the prescription of a 14-year jail term for offenders.
Also prescribed are specific remediation measures in respect of management of instances of established cases of sexual harassment by designated authorities of tertiary institutions, when they fail to take appropriate actions as prescribed by law.
Rather significant also, is that the bill 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.
The bill is coming specifically as a response to the rise in incidence of harassment of vulnerable female students in the country’s academic community, by lecherous lecturers and other officials in authority who may wish to exploit their advantages to exploit unsuspecting victims.
The case for its emergence was heightened by widespread reports of serial exposure of vulnerable female students to a regime of ‘sex for marks’ pressure – a syndrome that was accentuated by a 2019 graphic BBC documentary featuring a revealing, undercover investigation of Nigerian and Ghanaian universities.
Sexual harassment refers to any unwelcome, inappropriate remark or action which is suggestive of sexual intentions and advances, most commonly by a male towards a female.
Although it occurs in virtually all locations of human activity, its incidence in tertiary institutions remains most disturbing for several reasons.
Against the backdrop of tertiary institutions being the highest levels of learning and character development for the youths, they are expected to exude the most refined sensitivities and values.
This factor, more than any other, justifies the need for as stiff a penalty as possible for any offender.
However, on the flip side of the coin is the fact that sexual harassment is not only confined to a male on female assault but can also manifest in a female on male assault.
It is, therefore, for good measure that the bill addresses itself to gender balancing in its provisions, in spite of the criticism that it is confined to a narrow premise of tertiary institutions.
Just as well is also the fact that the incidence of sexual harassment also occurs beyond the walls of the targeted tertiary and even features in both primary and secondary educational establishments, though in a limited sense.
This renders the provisions of the bill short of encompassing the menace, even in the entire educational sector.
Nevertheless, since there exists the exigency of placing a handle on the menace of sexual harassment for the well-being of the country’s progressive youth, the attention of the bill on tertiary institutions remains a valid starting point in redeeming the situation.