A group, the Gender Mobile Initiative (GMI), has called on President Bola Tinubu to assent to the Sexual Harassment Prohibition in Tertiary Education Institutions Bill that is currently before him.
The Lead Director of the group, Omowumi Ogunrotimi, made the call at a press conference in Abuja on Monday, as part of the activities marking this year’s edition of ’16 Days of Activism’ annual programme.
The programme runs from the 25 November to 10 December every year to call for an end to violence against women. The theme for this year is: ‘Unite to End Violence against Women Campaign’.
Ms Ogunrotimi said sexual harassment has in the recent time assumed a critical dimension in Nigerian tertiary institutions, “thereby making the need for a legal framework to tackle the menace more urgent.”
She said addressing sexual harassment in tertiary institutions is a national emergency that demands swift and decisive action.
“In Nigeria today, we have over 350 institutions of higher learning; that’s to tell you that addressing the issue in one institution at a time, would probably take a long time,” she said.
“But when we have a comprehensive legal framework – it’s not that there are no frameworks, there are frameworks but they are inadequate.”
In 2016 Ovie Omo-Agege, as then a member of Nigerian senate, introduced the bill to prevent sexual harassment in tertiary institutions.
Debates on the bill were not concluded as of the end of the 8th National Assembly in 2019. But Mr Omo-Agege, when he later became the the Deputy Senate President in the subsequent 9th National Assembly, alongside 106 other senators, reintroduced the bill in 2019.
The bill titled: ‘A Bill for an Act to Prevent, Prohibit and Redress Sexual Harassment of Students in Tertiary Educational Institutions and for Matters Concerned therewith, 2019’, was reintroduced in the Senate on 9 October 2019 and scaled second reading on 6 November 2019.
he bill, which seeks to promote and protect ethical standards in tertiary institutions, proposes up to 14 years jail term for offenders.
It also seeks to protect students against sexual harassment as well as prevent sexual harassment of students by educators in tertiary institutions.
But the leadership of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) opposed the bill when it was introduced.
The then President of the Union, Abiodun Ogunyemi, a professor, said the bill was targeted at stigmatising lecturers of higher institutions.
Mr Ogunyemi made his position known during a public hearing on the bill in February, 2020.
Both houses of the National Assembly, however, passed the bill in June and transmitted it to the president for assent. But the president has yet to assent to the bill.
Harassment as epidemic
Ms Ogunrotimi noted that the recent protest against the Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Calabar (UNICAL) by some “brave students” underscores the urgency to confront the gravity of the issue and demand immediate action to protect the rights and well-being of students across the nation.
“The epidemic proportion of this issue serves as a poignant reminder that we must address the root causes and implement robust measures to dismantle the culture of sexual harassment that pervades our institutions of higher learning,” she said.
She said there are various initiatives to combat the scourge of sexual harassment including a sexual harassment prohibition policy co-designed and validated by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), the GMI, and higher education institutions, and endorsed by the Federal Ministry of Education.
“However, a critical void persists as an urgent need for a comprehensive legal framework that provides statutory backing to criminalise sexual harassment in higher education institutions is necessry,” she said.
She added that the absence of a dedicated legal framework leaves a critical gap that must be filled “to ensure the effectiveness and sustainability of efforts against sexual harassment.”
The GMI Lead Director noted that the passing of the Sexual Harassment bill to become a law remains the promising solution.
She said the legislation is crafted to address the nuances of sexual harassment, providing a clear definition of offenses, establishing stringent penalties for perpetrators, and outlining mechanisms for the prevention and redress of sexual harassment.
She added that the president’s action will send a powerful message about the nation’s values and its dedication to fostering an environment where every student, particularly female students, can thrive.
Ms Ogunrotimi noted that the need for statutory backing is not just a formality, but a fundamental requirement to ensure that the provisions of the bill are legally enforceable to effect real change.
Qosim Suleiman is a reporter at Premium Times in partnership with Report for the World, which matches local newsrooms with talented emerging journalists to report on under-covered issues around the globe
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.Donate
TEXT AD: Call Willie - +2348098788999