How Unilorin lecturer raped 17-year-old student; varsity yet to act — Investigation

UNILORIN gate used to illustrate the story.
UNILORIN gate used to illustrate the story.

The 17-year-old student of the University of Ilorin said she had asked her lecturer for help on two occasions.

The first time, she requested assistance with signing her course form after she became frustrated with the official responsible for authenticating the document. Later, she spoke to him about her inability to pay for a matriculation gown at a crowded campus bank.

The Arts Education teacher, introduced by a graduate friend to help keep an eye on her academic progress, never asked for a romantic relationship nor propositioned her, the 200 level student said.

Then, one day in February this year, the man locked his office while she was still inside, pushed her to a table and raped her. The man covered her mouth to stifle screams and later left her alone in the office after the encounter.

The accused staff, Solomon Olowookere, a senior lecturer, denied the allegations. He said he had helped the student multiple times but denied there was any possibility of a sexual incident between them. Mr Olowookere said the story was made-up.

But multiple interviews with senior university officials, including the head of Department of Arts Education, the dean of Faculty of Education and the dean of Students’ Affairs, confirmed the attack occurred.

The officials said Mr Olowookere had admitted to them he assaulted the girl and had pleaded for help, but later changed his testimony. They said in committing the act, the lecturer abused his position further by increasing the student’s test score as compensation.

The interviews, conducted by a panel set up by the university to review the case, formed the basis for a recommendation the lecturer be dismissed. Two months after the report, seen by PREMIUM TIMES, was submitted to the authorities, the university is yet to act, either by adopting or rejecting it. The lecturer has also remained in the employment of the institution.

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The vice chancellor of the university, Sulyman Abdulkareem, told PREMIUM TIMES he would prefer not to comment on the matter because it “was in court” already. He said the school would make its decision known later.

A spokesperson for the university, Tunde Akogun, also declined comment, saying he had not been briefed on the case.

Together, the report provides a rich coverage of a case that has shocked staff and students of the university, one of Nigeria’s oldest and best known tertiary institutions. In the age of #MeToo, it sheds light on the challenge of rampant sexual harassment in Nigerian schools and how institutions struggle to check its occurrence or manage the fallouts.

With no reliable statistics, little is known about the exact scale of the problem, particularly as few cases go to court. But many universities have in the last year been enmeshed in sexual harassment scandals as reported in the media, especially those involving lecturers trading marks for sex.

In June, the Ekiti State University said it questioned a lecturer after a video circulated on the Internet showing the official trying to sleep with his student in return for high scores.

Between April and June 2018, three Nigerian universities – Obafemi Awolowo University, University of Lagos, and Lagos State University – faced similar scandals. In the most widely reported case, the Obafemi Awolowo University sacked a professor, Richard Akindele, for demanding sex from a student, Monica Osagie, in exchange for marks.

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Ms. Osagie released a secretly-recorded conversation with the lecturer that was widely circulated on social media. Mr Akindele was sentenced in December 2018 to two years in prison, a rare prosecution success for a matter whose judicial prospect experts say is usually undermined by the inability to gather formidable evidence.

In building its case, the University of Ilorin panel said it relied on a surfeit of interviews and a recording of Mr Olowookere’s admission of guilt.

The panel repeatedly interviewed Mr Olowookere and his accuser – whose name PREMIUM TIMES has decided to withhold since she might be stigmatised. The panel also interrogated two deans, the head of department, two faculty professors, and the lecturer responsible for signing course forms.

Denying rape

In his first testimony, Mr Olowookere said his accuser was introduced to him by a former student he supervised, and that the girl later sought his help to sign her course form after the staff who should have done so, called the level adviser, seemed difficult to track. She also complained about not being able to pay for her matriculation gown because the bank was congested.

He said he introduced the student to the level adviser who later signed the form and nothing happened beyond that. He said the next day he was summoned to the dean’s office, accused of raping the student.

Mr Olowookere hinged his rejection of the probability of rape on the fact that the corridor to his office was always busy and if anyone had screamed, students would have been attracted. That is more so since the level adviser, a photocopy vendor and another lecturer were around that day.

Second, he said the air-conditioner in his office never worked since he took up the space, as a result his windows were always open. He also said if indeed the girl was raped, she would have cried out of his office and her clothes would not have been intact.

Mr Olowookere said at a second meeting with faculty professors and the girl, her guardian and a lawyer, that the guardian told him he did not rape the girl and that “she was not a virgin as she claimed”. He said the guardian said tests conducted on the girl turned negative and that it was a “set-up”.

At a third meeting, he said he was informed by the head of department, Folakemi Adeniyi-Egbeola, that the faculty was trying to prevail on the student to drop the matter, and that he should pay N5 million as damages for the case to be resolved. When he said he had no such money, he was asked to pay N1 million instead. He declined still, and was later made to face a faculty panel and was queried by the registrar of the school about two weeks after the controversy started.

When asked why he offered to resign if he was not guilty, the lecturer who has worked with the school for five years, said he was advised by friends that men stood little chance of being believed in rape charges.

“They said some things that are almost true; that when an allegation of this nature is raised against a man, people would listen to the female; that I would be ridiculed and put to shame and honestly, the girl was given more attention than me,” he was quoted as saying.

Mr Olowookere said he later withdrew the resignation after being so advised. Asked why the girl would have chosen him for a frame-up from amongst all other lecturers, he said he did not know.

Asking for justice

The victim contradicted most of Mr Olowookere’s claims.

The student said she first met the lecturer few weeks after she was transferred from the Faculty of Social Sciences to Education. She said she was at the level adviser’s office when Mr Olowookere asked her to get him water from one of the shops. She delivered.

She said on another day, she met the man when she had issues with signing her course form. She said Mr Olowookere assured he could sign the form personally since his signature was recognised in the faculty and could be honoured. The level adviser later signed the form, and she returned to the lecturer’s office to inform him not to bother. She also paid for her matriculation gown after initial difficulty.

The student said as she was leaving the faculty, Mr Olowookere drove in and asked her to see him in his office. There, the lecturer showed her her script for a course test he was only asked by the head of department to help invigilate.

She scored 24 over 40, but he offered to raise to 30. The student said she declined the offer. He said the lecturer continued and said the course was tedious, and she did not argue with him again.

She said the lecturer started asking about her state and church and finally allowed her leave. But as she stood up and took her bag, the man locked the door. She said she tried to open the door but he would not allow her. The duo struggled before he pushed her to a table.

She said she tried to scream but the man covered her mouth with his hand. The attacker pulled down her underwear and forcefully penetrated her. After the incident, he left her in the office.

“I wore my cloth and walked out of his office to one corner as I did not want anybody to see me,” she said.

It was her first sexual experience, she said. Asked by the committee what signs she felt, she described swelling in her genitals. She said she reported to the hospital hours later, and was told she was late in coming.

“They said whatever test they would have done then there would have been a lot of evidence. I went a day after the incident and they did not find much of him in me. I had swelling but no bruises at all,” she said.

There was no blood stain on her clothe after the alleged attack, the student said.

“Semen, I don’t know about that. But as for blood stain, there was no blood stain on my underwear. I did not do proper scrutiny of my underwear I just soaked it in water because it was not something I want to be talking about.”

The committee pressed further: “Or maybe he did not penetrate? He only attempted to?” She affirmed: “He did. In the medical report it was stated there.”

Asked why she did not struggle or shout, especially since the man covered her mouth with one hand, meaning he used only one to attack her, she answered, “I want to believe that I have some level of strength, but not enough to overpower him to make my way out of his office.”

On why she turned down the favour of a score upgrade, she answered: “First of all, I am Christian and it is against my religion to have aid to enable me pass a course. In my family they won’t encourage failure.”

The panel pressed further:

Q: From what you have said, this thing definitely happened, but the other party said that it did not happen at all; are you sure you are not lying?

A: “I am not lying sir.”

Q: Are you trying to implicate him for some reasons? You are a good Christian, you should know that God is watching you and God is always with the righteous. You know the implication of getting him involved in this?”

A: “Yes, I do sir. For a case as delicate as this one, I don’t think anybody in his right frame of mind would want to punish somebody for what he did not do. He has wronged me in any way. I have never met him before. I can’t just wake up and say I don’t not like this man. All of these things have been a lot for me. I was supposed to be in Abuja now by my father had to cancel all his appointments to enable me honour the invitation to appear before this committee. My family is under a lot of pressure.”

The committee said it consoled the student not to cry and commended her courage. It also asked her about the N5 million or N1 million demand. She said proceedings and charges were all done by the lawyer and only the lawyer could answer the question. PREMIUM TIMES could not reach the lawyer for comments.

Asked what she wanted from the Mr Olowookere, she responded:

“In as much as people committed offence or crime, rape cases are very rampant in Nigeria and people don’t want to hear about it because it is stigma. If at all I should be an example to the coming generation, there have to be processes and procedures. Dr. S.K. Olowookere to the legal people is a criminal. Right now, a criminal is let loose walking around the street. Who knows whether he has been doing this before or this is the first time. The law should be allowed to take its just course. He should be jailed if tried and found guilty.”

Contacted, Mr Olowookere told PREMIUM TIMES, “That’s a lie. I have never done such.” Asked whether it was consensual sex, he insisted without clarifying that “I have never done such, never. And I will never do it.”

Told that his senior colleagues involved in the case said he admitted he raped the student, he said “That is a misguided information. It is not true.”

He said the newspaper can carry out its investigation since the lady has gone to court.

More testimonies

While Mr Olowookere told the panel he did no wrong, his senior colleagues said he had earlier admitted assaulting the student. To some, he said the sex was consensual, and to another he blamed the devil.

The dean of the faculty, Medinat Salman, a professor, said when the matter first came to her, she invited senior professors and Mr Olowookere to meet with the student and her family. There, the lecturer said the intercourse was consensual, but the student insisted it was forceful.

She said at that instance, the lecturer confessed before all present that the allegation was true. She said they tried to pacify the family and pleaded that the school would handle the matter administratively.

At a second meeting, Mr Olowookere came with his wife and prostrated while his wife knelt as they apologised to the student’s family. She said the matter was reported to the deputy vice chancellor and the registrar.

Professor D. O. Durosaro, who headed a faculty panel to probe the matter, also said the lecturer confessed but later denied.

The dean of student’s affairs, L.T. Ajibade, a professor, said the lecturer admitted during a meeting with him that he raped the girl but said it was the work of the devil. It was Mr Ajibade who first confronted Mr Olowookere with a list of his four alleged offences.

First, he showed the student her test score; second, he altered the score; third he raped the girl and fourth the sexual assault took place in his office.

Mr Ajibade said when the gravity of the offences dawned on Mr Olowookere, he broke down and wept. He said there was solid evidence of the confession as the interaction with the lecturer was recorded.

Still denying rape

Confronted with the counter testimonies, Mr Olowookere stood his ground.

But asked this time whether he changed the girl’s test score, he said, “I wouldn’t know.”

Told that the dean of his faculty said he had confessed to the offence, he said he only cried and that he cried because the allegation was “false”.

At the final meeting, the committee finally invited the student into the venue of the meeting to meet Mr Olowookere face to face.

She insisted the man raped her and reaffirmed her claim that he adjusted her score from 24 to 30. Asked to respond to the allegations, Mr Olowookere said he could not remember.

The committee in its report said Mr Olowookere “lied and was not truthful” in his submission before the Staff Disciplinary and Appeals Committee.

“Based on the totality of evidence before the committee, Dr. Solomon Kehinde Olowookere was found culpable of: wrongly, deliberately and forcefully sexually assaulting” the student in his office on February 27. The committee recommended his dismissal.

It cautioned the level adviser, Mr Badru, that the controversy might have been averted if he had attended to students as expected, and signed their course forms without duress.

It advised the head of department, Mrs Adeniyi-Egbeola, to be on the lookout whenever students flock around a particular lecturer.

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