The Minister of Women Affairs, Uju Kennedy-Ohaneye, has tendered an apology to women groups over a series of statements on the alleged sex scandal at the University of Calabar.
Her action followed an open letter from a Woman’s Rights Movement of over 500 activists, practitioners, professionals, and NGOs known as Womanifesto.
They condemned her statements on the matter and demanded a public apology and retraction, else they “will spare no efforts in taking further action that may affect your (Minister’s) position”.
Responding to this letter, the Minister in a press statement on Sunday said “I wish to express my sincere apologies to those who were offended by my comments and actions regarding the sexual harassment scandal at the University of Calabar. This is extremely regrettable as my intentions were sincere and aligned with my consistent advocacy for the welfare of Nigerian women and the pursuit of justice.
“I stand for all Nigerian women and I stand for justice; and it is my hope that we can work together to actualise the dream of a country where women’s rights are respected and protected, and where our daughters feel safe in institutions of learning.”
One of the grouses of the women groups was over the minister’s statement that since a female student admitted in a leaked phone conversation with the Minister that she was not raped, it means she was not sexually harassed.
This for them meant that only rape (penetrative sexual intercourse) is the only form of sexual harassment recognised by the Minister.
Whereas the United Nations’ definition of sexual harassment is ‘sexual advances, requests for sexual favours and verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, whether implicitly or explicitly’.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported how on 14 August, female students of the law faculty held a peaceful rally against the varsity’s Dean, Faculty of Law, Cyril Ndifon, whom they accused of harassing them, an allegation he denied when he told this newspaper that the protest was sponsored by lecturers in the faculty who did not like his style of leadership, although the varsity suspended him.
The Vice Chancellor of the University of Calabar, Florence Obi, told PREMIUM TIMES that the university management would investigate the allegations but that the students would be required to provide evidence to back up their complaints.
Reacting to this, the Minister in a video seen by PREMIUM TIMES on Thursday, threatened to prosecute parties who lie during the ongoing investigation of the alleged sexual assault at the University of Calabar.
Was the minister right to interfere in the matter?
Although the investigation panel is conducted by the University, the Minister through her statements on the matter has shown interest.
What is the mandate of the ministry in this regard?
As indicated on its website, the mandate of the Ministry is to “advise the government on Gender and Children issues”.
On the other hand, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) in line with the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act, 2015 is responsible for investigations of this nature.
“The VAPP department shall be responsible for the investigation of all cases of violence against persons and related offences (Rape, Infliction of injury, intimidation, forceful ejection from home, spousal battery, emotional, verbal and psychological abuse, Abandonment of spouse and dependants, Incest, Indecent Exposure, stalking, offensive Conduct, harmful traditional practices, other forms of sexual and gender-based violence)”, as indicated on its website.
Also, the Minister threatened to prosecute and jail liars in the ongoing probe.
But it is within the jurisdiction of NAPTIP as stated on its website, in accordance with the VAPP Act to “conduct rescue, arrest, and detention through the NRRS in collaboration with the investigation and operations departments”.
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