Nigerians will for a long time to come remember the 8th National Assembly for different reasons; some for the good reasons and some for not the so good reasons.
I find it hard to place for which reason Nigerians will appreciate the NASS’s effort at criminalising lecturers, students sexual relations that already passed first reading at the Senate.
The Bill, authored by Ovie Omo-Agege (Labour-Delta Central) and reportedly co-sponsored by 46 other senators, seeks to completely prohibit any form of sexual relationship between lecturers and their students.
When the bill is finally passed and signed into law, any lecturer found guilty will be liable to a jail term of up to five years but not less than two years with no option of fine. Also, under the bill, chiefs executives of institutions of higher learning (VCs, Rectors, Provosts e.t.c) will go to jail for two years if they fail to act within a week on complaints of sexual harassment made by students.
The Bill reads in part: “He or she (lecturer) shall be guilty if he grabs, hugs, rubs or strokes or touches or pinches the breasts or hair or lips or hips or buttocks or any other sensual part of the body of a student.
“He or she shall be guilty if he displays, gives or sends by hand or courier or electronic or any other means naked or sexually explicit pictures or videos or sex related objects to a student.
“He or she shall be guilty if he whistles or winks at a student or screams or exclaims or jokes or makes sexually complimentary or uncomplimentary remarks about a student’s physique,” he said. Interesting law it will be if eventually passed.
For me, our distinguished senators should be commended for their bold step to rid our institutions of higher learning of amoral and despicable practices of which sexual assault of students is commonplace. Such is what this bill is meant to correct.
In their wisdom, the sponsors of the bill, apparently aware of possible pranks from students to score cheap points against perceived ‘enemy’ lecturers, also provide to sanction any students who falsely accuse lecturers of sexual harassment. How to prove falsity of the student in this circumstance, is a debate for another day.
Well-intended as the bill may appear, there are obvious anomalies in it that, if not considered and corrected before its passage, it could be counter-productive and bring unforeseen commotion to campuses.
From the outset, it is necessary to say that the bill is essentially made to protect female students from so-called randy lecturers. There is no problem there anyway, after all our children deserve any protection they can get from the hands of the randy teachers.
But wait a minute! Grated that it is abnormal for a lecturer to “grab, hug, rub or stroke or touch or pinch the breasts or hair or lips or hips or buttocks or any other sensual part of the body of a student,” yet I am a little worried about a section of the bill which makes a lecturer guilty “if he whistles or winks at a student or screams or exclaims or jokes or makes sexually complimentary or uncomplimentary remarks about a student’s physique.”
I am also piqued at the punishment awaiting chiefs executives of institutions “if they fail to act within a week on complaints of sexual harassment made by students.”
Senator Omo-Agege and his co-travelers may be hitting below the belt with the suggestion that “the consent of the student shall not serve, in anyway, as a defence as the bill seeks to completely ban lecturer-student relationships,” as stated in the Bill.
The sponsors of the bill, while conceiving lecturers as the guilty of ALL sexual assaults in institutions, albeit erroneously, fail to appreciate that most students in these institutions are NOT toddlers as the bill seems to conceive.
There are many adult/matured students in tertiary institutions who are capable of determining their future and understand their wants. 1999 Constitutions as amended sees an 18-year-old as capable enough to determine his or her future and make appropriate choices. By my understanding, the minimum age requirement into a tertiary institution in Nigeria is 16. That is two years short of the constitutional age limit for adulthood in Nigeria.
When you criminalise grabbing, rubbing, stroking, touching and pinching hair, hips or any other sensual part of the body of the student, some people in the institution would run afoul of the law easily. I know assuredly that teachers and students of some disciplines, by the nature of their courses do come in bodily contact in the line of duty. At what point would the teacher be deemed to be guilty of this offence?
What about the section that forbids lecturers from whistling, winking, screaming, exclaiming or joking with a female student? It’s as if these people have not passed through the four walls of a tertiary institution before.
Again, if a human palm is considered sensual as some people claim, then lecturers are forbidden from shaking their students, male and female (considering this age of homosexuality) in the impending law. There could be a big trouble on the way in our tertiary institutions.
That said, one wonders why our distinguished senators did not deem it fit to expand the bill to cover other spheres of endeavours, both in private and government establishments, where sexual assaults are undoubtedly also the order of the day. Some argue that even inside legislative chambers, it is hard to rule out such unwholesome practices.
This school of thought reasons that tertiary institutions are not the only place where females are sexually intimidated by those supposed to be their guardians. Some argue that sexual harassment abound also in houses of worships, places of work, legislative chambers, government houses, in public transportation systems, political rallies, between leaders and the led, rulers and the ruled as well as political office holders and the electorate.
By limiting this crusade to tertiary institutions, some believe the Omo-Agege-led senators are only scratching the surface of a major social malaise. In the end, it turns out to be a case of everyone being a thief, but only the one caught is an ‘ole’, a ‘barawo’ or an ‘onye ohi.’ Some say it is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
A question nags here: which is more grievous: The case of someone old enough to be a girl’s grandpa marrying her (as is seen among many Nigerians elite today), and a relationship between a teacher and student whose age deference sometimes may be less than 10 years?
I sincerely believe that there are far more pressing matters of worry to legislate upon than trying to bring confusion and disharmony into the tertiary institutions.
Nigerians would appreciate better if same energy is extended to passing the PIB bill, bills seeking stiffer penalty for electoral malpractices, corruption, terrorism, docility of elected officers especially lawmakers and so forth.
It may interest our senators to know that there are many eminent Nigerian lecturers, dead and alive, who had married their students without reasons to doubt their sincerity.
Most disturbing is the proposal that the consent of the student now cannot stand as defence for his/her relationship with his/her lecturer. In a way, the bill is seeking to place age and status barrier in love lives especially on campuses.
If you ask me, I would want the bill amended to say any lecturer that seeks a relationship with his student, should not only get hers and her parents’ consent, but notify the school authority of his intention and see it through.
I support anything that will limit, if not eradicate, sexual assault in the country, any day.