The Nigerian Senate responded to the exposè carried out by BBC Africa and Kiki Mordi by re-introducing the anti-sexual harassment bill on Wednesday, 9th October 2019. The move was sponsored by the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege and 106 senators.
Tales of lecturers who sexually harass university students in exchange for grades have long been a fixture of Nigerian tertiary institutions so, in 2016, the 8th Senate under the leadership of Bukola Saraki proposed the “Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Education Institution Prohibition Bill” which was also sponsored then by Omo-Agege and 57 other senators.
However, the anti-sexual harassment bill was rejected by the two houses of parliament because it reportedly did not cover sexual harassment in the workplace and religious institutions amongst others and also included an argument for consent with the President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, claiming that the bill specifically targeted men. The bill was stepped down pending consultations with both chambers of the National Assembly.
After BBC Africa’s team, led by investigative journalist Kiki Mordi who was also a victim of this sexual harassment, took it upon themselves to expose most of the defaulters, the reactions the documentary got triggered the re-introduction of the bill.
The first reading has been done and the Senate will debate the provisions of the anti-sexual harassment bill during the second reading on another legislative day.
What You Need To Know!
The title of the bill is a mouthful: The bill is 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.”
The bill seeks to promote and protect ethical standards in tertiary institutions. It also wants to protect students against sexual harassment as well as prevent sexual harassment of students by educators in tertiary institutions.
The anti-sexual harassment bill is stringent: The offences listed in the bill are what make it constricted. A lecturer is guilty if he/she –
- Directs or induces another person to commit any act of sexual harassment or cooperates in the commission of sexual harassment by another person.
- Grabs, hugs, kisses, rubs, strokes, touch or pinches the breasts, hair, lips, hips, buttocks or any other sensual part of the body of a student.
- Has sexual intercourse with a student or demands for sex from a student or a prospective student.
- Intimidates or creates a hostile or offensive environment for the student by soliciting for sex from the student or making sexual advances towards the student.
- Displays, gives or sends naked/sexually explicit pictures/ videos or sex-related objects to a student by hand or courier or electronic or any other means.
- Whistles or winks at a student or screams or exclaims or jokes or makes sexually complimentary or uncomplimentary remarks about a student’s physique or stalks a student.
- An educator shall not exploit a student or his/her relationship with a student for personal gains, sexual pleasure or immoral satisfaction.
A defence was included: The bill mentions a condition that would make the actions stated above not become crimes. It also lists conditions that would not be tenable as justifications of a lecturer’s actions.
The bill states that –
- It shall be a defence that the educator and the student are legally married.
- It shall not be a defence to any offence created in Clause 4 of this Bill that a student consented to any offence.
- It shall not be necessary for the prosecution to prove the intention of the accused person or the condition under which the act of sexual harassment was carried out.
The bill recommends possible jail terms for offenders:
Any person who commits any of the offences, or acts of demanding sex, intimidating a student or inducing another person to commit any act of sexual harassment, is guilty of an offence of felony and shall on conviction be sentenced to an imprisonment term of up to 14 years but not less than five years without an option of a fine.
Any person who commits any of the offences or acts of touching a student, sending sexual pictures or videos to a student, or make sexual advances or passes towards a student, is guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment term of up to five years but not less than two years, without an option of a fine.
Disciplinary Measures And Penalties were included:
The bill allows a student to apply to a High Court for a judicial review if dissatisfied with the decision of the committee. It also states that the administrative head of an institution shall establish an Independent Sexual Harassment Prohibition Committee (ISHPC) in consultation with the highest management body of the institution.
The committee will consist of seven staff members of the institution, including a chairman who shall not be less than the rank of a senior lecturer or a deputy director in the federal civil service – and a secretary who shall not be less than the rank of a lecturer or an assistant deputy director in the federal civil service. Failure to comply with the above makes the administrative head guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a minimum fine of N5,000,000 or imprisonment for five years, or both.
The chairman of every Independent Sexual Harassment Committee shall make and submit an annual report on sexual harassment complaints received and actions taken on them to the highest management body of the institution. Failure to comply shall make him/her liable on conviction to a maximum fine of N2,000,000 or imprisonment for 12 months or both.
Where a student has complained of sexual harassment and filed a petition, the administrative head transmits the complaint to the Independent Sexual Harassment Committee through its chairman within 14 working days of receipt. Upon receipt, the committee shall investigate, determine and reach a final written decision on the complaint within 45 working days from the date of receipt of the complaint from the administrative head.
Where an educator is found guilty, the committee shall recommend dismissal or reduction in the rank of the educator.
The bill states the processes victims are to follow: The bill also stipulates who can complain of sexual harassment and how it can be done.
A student or a representative who may be a relative, a guardian, lawyer of the student, or any person who has interest in the well-being of the student is to write a sexual harassment petition complaining of the offence of sexual harassment against him/her to the Nigerian Police Force, or the Attorney-General who shall take necessary measures to prosecute the educator in accordance with the provisions of this bill.
A copy of the written sexual harassment petition be delivered by the student or the student’s representative to both the administrative head and secretary of the Independent Sexual Harassment Committee of the affected institution for record purposes.
Criminal proceedings shall commence or be deemed to have commenced when a charge has been filed in court and the processes served on an educator who is alleged to have committed a sexual harassment offence.
The bill preserves the right of a student who complains or alleges sexual harassment by an educator – to commence and maintain a civil action in court.
The anti-sexual harassment bill makes provision for punishment of false claims:
The bill also makes provision for any student who makes a false sexual harassment complaint.
It states that: where the committee finds that a complaint is false and malicious, it may recommend suspension of the student (provided that failure to prove an allegation of sexual harassment) which will be implemented after 21 working days if the student does not seek judicial review.
The bill also makes provision for protection of students who are victims:
The bill also makes provision to protect victims of sexual harassment from the perpetrator or other lecturers within and outside the institution. It puts the burden of such protection on the university administrator.
The administrative head of an institution shall ensure that a student who makes a sexual harassment complaint under this Bill is adequately protected and not subjected to any form of victimisation by the educator who is complained against or any other educator or person within the institution or in another institution.