CSO seeks presidential assent to sexual harassment bill

A Civil Society Organisation (CSO), Gender Mobile Initiative (GMI), has called on President Bola Tinubu to sign the bill to prevent sexual harassment in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions.

At a briefing commemorating the global observance of 16 days of activism against gender-based violence (GBV) on Monday, November 27, in Abuja, GMI lead director Omowumi Ogunrotimi described sexual harassment in schools as alarming and inadequately addressed.

“As a collective, we stand at the forefront of a pressing national concern that demands immediate attention. Today, we bring forth a call for urgency, accountability, and transformative change in the face of pervasive sexual harassment and abuse of office on our campuses.

“Alarming statistics reveal that 70 per cent of female graduates from Nigerian tertiary institutions have been subjected to sexual harassment – an epidemic proportion indicative of systemic and structural deficits. These distressing figures are not merely statistics; they represent the lived experiences of countless young women whose educational journey has been marred by the insidious spectre of harassment,” Ogunrotimi noted.

She also stated that the absence of a dedicated legal framework criminalising sexual harassment in educational institutions undermined collective efforts being made to address the issue and decried the delay in presidential assent to the sexual harassment bill.

“This delay is disheartening and raises concerns about the commitment to eradicating sexual harassment within our educational institutions. The need for statutory backing is not just a formality; it is a fundamental requirement to ensure that the provisions of the bill are legally enforceable and carry the necessary gravitas to effect real change,” she said.

The bill, titled “A Bill for an Act to Prevent, Prohibit and Redress Sexual Harassment of Students in Tertiary Institutions and for Matters Concerned Therewith 2019,” was sponsored by former Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege and 106 other senators.

The bill seeks to eradicate sexual violence in tertiary institutions and proposes a 14-year jail term for offenders.

The bill was passed by both chambers of the National Assembly in 2022, but former President Muhammadu Buhari did not assent to it before leaving office in 2023.

The ICIR reports that President Tinubu cannot outrightly sign the bill as this NGO – Gender Mobile Initiative – is demanding.

Any bill passed by a previous National Assembly cannot be immediately assented to by the succeeding president. It has to be re-introduced to the president by the new National Assembly.

Referring to the recently signed Students Loan Bill, Ogunrotimi said the initiative would not achieve optimal success if the learning environment was made unconducive by threats of sexual harassment and assault.

“As we commemorate the 16 days of activism, our hope is anchored in the belief that immediate action from President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, specifically the prompt signing of the Sexual Harassment Prohibition in Tertiary Education Institutions Bill, will mark a significant milestone in the fight against sexual harassment.

“The delay in presidential assent has left a void in our collective efforts, and we trust that the President’s commitment to the well-being of Nigerian students will translate into swift and resolute action. We look forward to witnessing a tangible demonstration of the President’s dedication to creating safe and nurturing learning environments for all,” she said.

    IGP directs institution of GBV desks in schools

    Meanwhile, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Kayode Egbetokun, has directed tertiary educational institutions to have a desk dedicated to GBV.

    Represented by Rita Emesim, a chief superintendent of Police (CSP), Egbetokun said at the Gender Mobile Initiative media briefing that the Police had taken bolder steps to address issues of GBV better when reported.

    “As it is now, I think my department is overlooking the aspect of gender cases in campuses, and as it is now, the Inspector-General of Police has made it mandatory for all universities to have a section named Gender-Based section in all universities to assist these girls.

    “We are open when it is gender, it is a very sensitive thing, and it is not what used to be when you reported such cases that actions were not taken. That is no longer the case,” she said.

    Ijeoma Opara is a journalist with The ICIR. Reach her via [email protected] or @ije_le on Twitter.

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