The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has warned that Nigerians will pay dearly if they discredit the nation’s academics because of alleged sexual harassment in universities.
ASUU National Chairman, Dr Biodun Ogunyemi, stated this in Abuja during Senate public hearing on ‘Sexual Harassment of Students in Tertiary Institutions (Prohibition) Bill 2019’.
He said this period was not a good time to be lecturers because they are stigmatized due to cases of sexual harassment in academic institutions.
“The bias is too much. It is as if we are stigmatizing those who should be the custodians of our innovations and progress.
“Universities are currently handling problems like this and we should not discredit the custodians of our knowledge, because if we do so and cause them to lose confidence in what they are doing, we will pay dearly to recover,” he said.
Ogunyemi said Nigerians need to recognize the autonomy of universities, where there were institutional procedures through which disciplinary issues are handled.
The bill, he said, failed to take cognizance of the various extant legislations that deal with issue of sexual harassment.
“If we have a law that addresses issue of sexual harassment, why are we wasting time talking about another law. Are we also going to formulate separate laws to address problem of corruption in the universities, to address sexual harassment in the police, in the National Assembly?” he queried.
Ogunyemi noted that laws should not be made ad-hoc.
He said in other climes where issues of sexual harassment were reported, no new laws were formulated to address them.
He said instead of formulating new law, the National Assembly should review the existing laws.
Responding, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, said the bill was never intended to vilify the teaching professions.
He also dismissed ASUU’s stance on the need for the bill, saying if there were lacunas in the existing laws, they would be reviewed and new ones would be made.
“The bill is aimed at addressing this issue in a particular sector. It doesn’t stop anybody from bringing new bill that will address the same issue in another sector. Laws will always be made to address issues. This is to address sexual harassment in our tertiary institutions,” he said.
Earlier while declaring the public hearing open, President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, said there was need for stakeholders to think upon new resolutions and sanctions to check sexual harassment if the extant laws were not tight enough.
Anti Sexual Harassment Bill
The legislation, tagged Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill, is sponsored by the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege.
This followed an investigation by BBC which uncovered sexual misconduct by some university lecturers in Nigeria and Ghana.
Presenting the bill to his colleagues during a plenary in the Senate, Omo-Agege had said, “Sexual harassment in our campuses is a repugnant challenge to our values as a people.
“For far too long, sexual predators masquerading as educators have plied the corridors of our nation’s higher institutions unchecked. It will continue in the absence of an appropriate leadership response.”
If the bill becomes a law it would be illegal for lecturers to make any sexual advances towards students