Sexual harassment bill stuck in National Assembly 8 years after

DESPITE the prevalence of sexual harassment in schools and other places in Nigeria, a bill seeking to criminalise the act from teachers against students, especially in tertiary institutions, is yet to get past the National Assembly eight years after it was first introduced.

October 2019 was the second time that former Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege would re-introduce a bill seeking to criminalise sexual harassment against students.

The bill, titled “Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Education Institution Prohibition Bill,” was first introduced in 2016, sponsored by Omo-Agege and 57 other senators in Nigeria’s Eighth National Assembly.

It proposed jail terms for educators, especially in tertiary institutions, found guilty of sexually harassing their students.

In 2017, the Senate passed the bill and transmitted it to the House of Representatives for concurrence.

However, it was rejected by lawmakers in the House of Representatives for not being comprehensive enough.

At the time, it was also opposed by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) whose leadership said it would undermine the autonomy of tertiary institutions.

The then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, now Chief of Staff to Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, had said other institutions, such as workplaces and religious organisations, should be captured in the bill. With the support of other lawmakers, the bill was stepped down.

Two years later, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) released a documentary exposing two lecturers of the University of Lagos for sexual harassment, and shortly after, the bill was re-introduced by Ovie-Agege and 106 other senators.

It was passed again by the Senate in 2020 and eventually by the House of Representatives in 2022. By 2023, both chambers of the National Assembly jointly passed the bill.

However, a new Assembly was inaugurated about a week after, and for the current president, Tinubu, to grant assent, it has to be re-introduced and passed, like all other bills not assented to before the dissolution of a previous Assembly.

A prevalent menace in schools

Sexual harassment has remained a recurrent issue in Nigerian universities and other institutions such as workplaces, homes and even worship centres.

In August 2023, a lecturer at the University of Calabar (UNICAL), who was also the Dean of Law Faculty, Cyril Ndifon, was suspended by the institution following a protest by his students, alleging that he had subjected them to various forms of sexual harassment.

He had been suspended for similar reasons in 2015 after a final-year student accused him of raping her in his office.

He is currently being prosecuted by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) before a Federal High Court in Abuja.

Following the protests that led to Ndifon’s arrest and prosecution, lecturers in other institutions have also been indicted for sexually harassing students.

In September 2023, a lecturer at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Kadiri Akeem Babalola, was accused of raping a 20-year-old female student.

Although the Lagos State Police Command confirmed that he would be arraigned in court following the allegations, it has failed to provide an update on the case.

A survey carried out by the World Bank in 2018 showed that classmates and lecturers sexually harassed 70 per cent of Nigerian female graduates as students.

“The effects experienced by victims were depression and perceived insecurity on campus,” the report stated.

There have also been reported cases of sexual harassment in primary and secondary schools.

In 2022, a mother called out a secondary school in Lagos, Chrisland Schools, over the rape of her daughter, a student at the institution. She stated that Chrisland authorities deliberately kept the incident from her knowledge and instilled fear in her daughter to keep her from speaking up.

In 2021, a student of Premier Academy in Lugbe, Abuja, Keren-Happuch Akpagher, died from complications she suffered after a condom and dead spermatozoa were discovered in her vagina.

A diabetic patient since she was nine, the condom left in her vagina resulted in a septic infection that later claimed her life.

While her mother insisted that the deceased was raped while in school custody, authorities of Premier Academy refute the allegations.

According to a report, sexual harassment is forcing many Nigerian girls out of secondary schools, contributing to the already alarming figure of girls out of school.



    CSOs advocate for timely passage of sexual harassment bill

    Several CSOs, including the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) and Gender Mobile Initiative (GMI), have called on the President and National Assembly to facilitate the bill’s timely passage.

    During a press briefing in November 2023, the Executive Director at GMI, Omowunmi Ogunrotimi, said the absence of a dedicated legal framework criminalising the act in educational institutions undermined collective efforts to address it.

    Speaking with The ICIR on Monday, March 25, she stated that the delay in reintroducing the bill to the National Assembly had been a major setback.

    She noted that there had been conversations with legislators in relevant National Assembly committees who assured that the bill would be reintroduced soon.

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

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