The Nigerian Senate, on Tuesday, passed an anti-sexual harassment bill that has been in the upper-chamber since last year after it scaled through third reading.
The bill is aimed at protecting and preventing students against sexual harassment in tertiary institutions. The bill, which will also serve as a redressal of complaints of sexual harassment in institutions, has 25 clauses.
A large part of the bill is clear enough not to be specifically eyeballed, but there are other parts of the bill that appear quite bewildering and in some cases insufficient. Such parts could be seen early enough in the second clause of the bill.
In the early part of bill, subclause 2 of clause 2 states that “a relationship of authority, dependency and trust shall be construed to exist between an educator and a student in an institution if: the educator has direct or indirect academic or non-academic authority over the student.” Latter part of the bill also defined an Educator as someone who is an employee of the university – irrespective of their position, sector and academic relation to a student. These parts of the bill established that every clause of the bill is binding on every employee of the university. For contextual purpose, a security officer at Obafemi Awolowo university who secures the gate to the university teaching hospital can’t justify his sexual relationship with an accounting student with the ‘no academic relation whatsoever’ point.
Clause 4 of the bill established hugging, whistling, winking, screaming at a student as a commitment of sexual harassment. This is probably the most controversial part of the bill but also the part that really communicates one of the purposes of the bill as outlined by the senate. The bill, if strictly followed, could make the educator/student relationship simply academical – or in the sake of non-academic staff, simply dutiful. The effect of this in Nigerian institutions can only be revealed by time.
Clause 6 and 7 states that all the offences in clause 4 can’t be defended with consent and intention. Clause 7 specifically states that, “For the purpose of proving the commission of any of the offences in Clause 4 of this Bill, 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.” Clause 5 states that, “For the purposes of the offences created in Clause 4 of this Bill, it shall be a defence that the educator and the student are legally married.”
Clause 6 more or less is saying an educator can’t defend what constitutes a sexual harassment in this bill with consent. The relationship between an educator and a student in Nigeria has always shown to be one between a powerful and a powerless, which makes defending sexual harassment, relationship between the two with ‘consent’ a killer of justice. Clause 6 is a rectifier of that.
The bill maintained that an institution must create an Independent Sexual Harassment Prohibition Committee, which must be independent and impartial in its dealings.
Clause 16 subclause 2 states that, “the membership of the Sexual Harassment Prohibition Committee shall be seven (7) 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. The membership of an Independent Sexual Harassment Prohibition Committee shall at any material time consist of at least two students, two non-academic staff members and two academic staff members of the institution and shall include at least three (3) women or females.
The clause 16 subclause 2 is also a sensitive part of the bill. This clause gives institutions the power to select members of this committee. For a body that has proven time after time to be unreliable and unfair to students, that level of power seems quite ridiculous. In fact, that could be the undoing of the purposes of the bill.
Clause 17 is another clause that needs to be seriously eyeballed. The first subclause states that a student shall submit a written sexual harassment complaint to the administrative head of the institution (a part of the university’s administration that deals with related issues) when complaining. Subclause 3 states that, “an administrative head shall refer or transmit every Sexual Harassment Complaint received from students to an Independent Sexual Harassment Committee through its Chairman within fourteen (14) working days of the receipt of such a complaint for purpose of investigation, determination and a final decision.” seriously, why? A lot of subtle and clear manipulations can be done within 14 days. The administrative head is not obligated to investigate or do any scrutiny so why give about 14 days just to transmit/refer to the independent sexual harassment committee?
Meanwhile, as much as the independent sexual harassment committee of an institution is independent and can make their own decision without being leaned on by other body, the provision of the bill supersedes any other provisions. Also, the independent sexual harassment committee can’t commence or continue any hearing where one has already been started by the police force or by the federal ministry of justice.
Generally, the bill addresses pertinent issues as regards sexual harassment in Nigerian tertiatry institutions. If the delivery is as good as the content, there would be a real change in Nigerian institutions regarding sexual harassment. However, the bill puts a major level of trust on the management of institutions to carry out specific duties honestly and accurately. A level of trust that’s completely undeserving based on the records of universities management
The bill still has to go through the House of representative and the presidency, routes that shouldn’t be a problem.
Download the bill here