The President of the American University of Nigeria (AUN), Yola, Adamawa State, Margee Ensign, has called on vice chancellors of Nigerian universities to support the bill banning sexual harassment in tertiary institutions.
Dr. Ensign made the call in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES on Friday, a day before the university began activities marking its 8th Commencement (2016 Class).
She was speaking against the backdrop of a bill currently being considered at the National Assembly to check sexual harassment and abuses in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions.
When passed into law, offenders would be liable on conviction to a maximum of five-year jail term without an option of fine.
The proposed law, which is sponsored by Ovie Omo-Agege (Labour Party -Delta Central) and co-sponsored by 46 other senators, seeks to completely prohibit any form of sexual relationship between lecturers and students.
Briefing journalists on the bill, Mr. Omo-Agege had said the nation’s institutions of higher learning must be sanitised to rid them of lecturers who see female students as “prize.”
According to him, when the bill is 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 without an option of fine.
Speaking on the matter, the AUN president said the proposed law was a step in the right direction, saying it would bring sanity to tertiary education in the country.
Although she said she hadn’t read the specifics of the planed law, Ms. Ensign expressed the hope that it would address the growing cases of sexual abuse and harassment in the country’s universities.
“I hope it (new law) focuses on sexual harassment. In my six years here as president, I have seen that there is a culture in some places where girls are considered as free game,” she said.
“I have found situations where some male faculty feel they have the power to sexually harass and abuse females students in their classes. To me, that is completely unacceptable and I hope it is criminalized.”
She argued that vice chancellors and heads of tertiary institutions in the country have enormous responsibility to make the learning environment conducive for students irrespective of gender.
Dr. Ensign argued that it was criminal for faculty members to frighten students and cause them to believe they had to give something in return for grades.
She, therefore, called on vice chancellors and heads of tertiary institutions in the country to come together and lobby the National Assembly to pass the bill into law.
“I am glad this is finally happening in Nigeria and I can’t imagine anyone would be opposed to this legislation,” she said.
On how AUN has tackled sexual abuse and harassment, Dr. Ensign said the university had developed a code of conduct right from inception for its faculty, students and staff.
Continuing, she said, “AUN has always had a code of conduct for faculty from its beginning 12 years ago and it forbids any sexual contact or harassment of females whether they are students or security guards.
“We have done training for our male and female students so that they really understand what sexual harassment means, what their rights are and what to do if they are confronted.
“I tell our female students, if you have a concern and you are meeting with someone, turn your phone on and record your conversation.
“I hate to admit it, but we have had that happen in the AUN, and as soon as the student presents the recording to me, the faculty member or the person involved gets a query and then a hearing and usually goes very quickly.”
She deplored cultures and practices that debase and dehumanise women and drew attention to the situation in Pakistan, where women are made to go through what is called “honour killing.”
“Pakistan is an example of how gruesome women are treated in a culture that encourages honor killing. A young girl was burnt to death. While that’s not happening in Nigeria, young girls are being married off at very young age and it ruins them forever physically and emotionally,” she argued.
“I think it is a defining moment for Nigerians and I am proud of the many senators who co-sponsor the new legislation. I call on all vice chancellors to join us at the AUN and lobby for the passage of this bill.”