In 2002, Nigerian rapper Eedris Abdulka released the hit single Mr Lecturer. In the video, Eedris plays a lecturer at a university who asks a female student named Bimbo to come and see him in his office after class. There he tells her, ‘You failed my test, you failed exams; if you want to pass, you know what to do.’
The song portrays a common scenario in Nigerian tertiary institutions, where lecturers regularly single out female students and demand that they sleep with them or risk failing their exams, or in order to change their grades in courses they have failed. Students who refuse to compromise may graduate with terrible grades, or be forced to drop out. Lecturers will harass students until they give in to their demands, and in some cases a group of lecturers will gang up against a student to break her resolve.
The sexual harassment of female students by lecturers, non-academic staff and even male students has always been an issue in Nigerian universities. However, after a series of highly public incidents some universities are beginning to wake up to the problem, and a new bill in the Nigerian Senate aims to make it a criminal offence.
Female students are often advised by their parents and guardians not to sit at the front in lecture halls or wear brightly coloured clothes, and not to be cordial or friendly with their lecturers so as not to attract their attention.
No Protection, No Acknowledgement
There is almost no form of institutional protection for female students –laws against sexual harassment are either non-existent or ineffective, leaving young women to try and protect themselves. Female students are often advised by their parents and guardians not to sit at the front in lecture halls or wear brightly coloured clothes, and not to be cordial or friendly with their lecturers so as not to attract their attention.
There are only a handful of Nigerian universities that have even acknowledged the prevalence of the problem.The University of Port Harcourt, the University of Lagos and the University of Ilorin are among the few that have mentioned it in their university handbooks. But even where there are laws, they are not clear cut. Often when a case of sexual harassment is reported to a trusted lecturer, he or she is not sure how to handle the case, or what steps to follow. It is one thing to make a law; it is another to implement it.
In the few cases where student shave been bold enough to report such harassment to authorities, the burden of providing evidence is placed on the victim, or the victim is blamed for dressing provocatively to entice the lecturer. Often the lecturer involved will claim it was a consensual relationship between two adults. Such cases are usually dismissed by the school’s disciplinary committee for lack of evidence. Very rarely is the lecturer involved suspended.
Revenge Served on Social Media
It was only a matter of time before female students took the law into their hands. In 2013, a video of a lecturer at Delta State University, Abraka, who had been caught naked in a female student’s hostel,went viral. According to local news sources, the lecturer had failed the female student in her second year because she refused his sexual advances. When she got to her final year, she approached him to discuss how she could pass his course in order to graduate. The lecturer insisted on having sex with her first, so she lured him to her apartment in one of the private hostels around the school, and when his pants were down, her friends recorded the video and shared it on Facebook.
In another incident, an audio recording of a lecturer in the University of Ilorin surfaced in June 2016 on social media. In it, Dr.Mohamed Sani Idiagbon, the Head of the Department of English, was heard sexually harassing a second year student of the department. He was suspended by the school and removed from his position but he resigned before any further action could be taken. Several female students who spoke to reporters at the time said that if the school could promise to protect them, more victims would feel safe enough to talk about their experiences at the hands of Dr. Idiagbon and some of his colleagues.
Almost every female student at a Nigerian institution has either been sexually harassed by a lecturer or knows someone who has.
Taking Institutional Action
Almost every female student at a Nigerian institution has either been sexually harassed by a lecturer or knows someone who has. Yet, sexual harassment in Nigerian tertiary institutions is something educators are unwilling to talk about publically. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), notorious for embarking on strikes for months at a stretch to bend the will of the federal government in regard to staff payments, has been treating the issue lightly. Despite promises to handle the menace, the union has done nothing more than to informally plead with lecturers during meetings to desist from harassing their female students.
This is what Senator Ovie Omo-Agege,a federal lawmaker, sought to address when he sponsored the Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Educational Institutions Prohibition Bill, 2016 last year.Co-sponsored by 45 other senators, the bill seeks to impose stiff penalties on offenders in order to protect female students in Nigerian tertiary institutions.
This move, combined with the cries of parents and human rights organisations seems to have spurned some universities into action. On 12 August 2016, the University Governing Council of Delta State University(DELSU) dismissed six lecturers for sexual harassment at its 97th regular meeting. A lecturer who spoke to me on the issue said he hoped this would begin to sway lecturers from sexual harassment and that other universities would follow in DELSU’s steps to sanitise Nigerian universities of sexual predators.