Nigeria’s Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, has called for total resistance on the blame games that demean victims of sexual harassment, saying that victims should not be seen as architects of their fate especially in their dressing, attitude or willingness to be in a compromising place with their violators.
Prof. Osinbajo stated this on Wednesday at a webinar on Anti-Sexual Harassment themed, “Finding Safe Spaces for Female Students in Nigerian Universities”, organised by the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife. The event was based on the book authored by notable journalist and former presidential spokesman, Mr Olusegun Adeniyi, titled, ‘Naked Abuse: Sex for Grades in African Universities’.
Continuing, he said victim must always be seen as the victim as there cannot be an excuse, especially given the power configuration between students and lecturers, that the victim could have somehow invited the abuse upon themselves. He recommends stricter punishment for rape offenders especially in situations involving lecturers and their female students, saying that the notion must not allow be allowed to persist.
Referring to Adeniyi’s book, Prof. Osinbajo said developing and adhering to a set of ethical codes of conduct for conversations and interactions involving lecturers and students in universities would greatly address the problem.
He said there is a need for a code of conduct or ethical guidelines based on best practices in appropriate student/lecturer interactions in order to ensure that both faculty and students are sufficiently clear about the issues and rules.
Speaking further on ways of resolving issues around sexual harassment in Nigerian universities, Prof. Osinbajo said the search for answers to creating safe spaces for female students in universities must begin from the question of why is it that such an evidently rampant crime is so under-reported?
According to him, “there are obviously many cases of people who share their anecdotal experiences without necessarily reporting to the authorities.
“I think the answer is clearly that this low reportage is on account of the fact that many victims do not feel confident that they will get redress, or that they will be treated fairly or that they will not be visited with the same fearful consequences that were the subject of the demand in the first place.
“The fear that they will neither get a sympathetic nor understanding hearing, let alone justice, and that they will end up suffering the same consequences the predator had threatened would occur if they did not submit to their demands. Then there is, of course, the shame and stigma that could attend speaking up.”
He recommended that every institution must make it easy for victims or potential victims to report perpetrators. to trusted formal structures or secure channels created specifically for the purpose of resolving such cases and adopt a mandatory whistleblower process emphasizing confidentiality, professional legal and medical help for victims or potential victims.
Earlier in his welcome address, the Vice Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo, Ile Ife, Professor Eyitope Ogunbodede, said gender dimension of learning must be given critical attention because girls and women are vulnerable to factors which motivate them and discourage qualitative learning such as the toxic environment characterized by victimization, intimidation, sexual harassment and sexual violence.
Professor Ogunmodede added that the education of girls and women have always been of the global interest because it promotes individual and national wellbeing and increases the chances for income generation which is tied to the quality of life of future generations. Learning is enhance through the creation and maintenance of a conducive environment and atmosphere which promotes critical thinking, innovations, skill acquisition.
Ogunmodede commended the 9th National Assembly at the passage of Anti-sexual Harassment Bill sponsored by Senator Ovie Omo Agege. He acknowledge that the Bill will enhance the creation of a safe environment for the delivery of quality education, saying it is a thing of great relief to know that our leaders care about the safety of our learning environment and the physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of the learners.
“The Obafemi Awolowo University, as a matter of policy has zero tolerance for any form of sexual harassment and there are mechanisms in place to ensure strict conformity. OAU has a robust Anti Sexual Harassment policy and there is ASH implementation Committee to ensure proper compliance and monitoring of the policy. Also, the university through its various arms especially the Centre for Gender and Social Policies Studies continuously carries out research to update knowledge on sexual harassment issues in the society”. He added.
Appreciating all the attendees for taken time to attend the webinar which he called a vaccine that universities can use to tackle the menace of sexual violence on university campuses, Ogunmodede said the Webinar will no doubt further illuminate their minds on the best way to ensure that tertiary institutions are safe places for every learner especially women and will also reposition the educational sector and contribute concretely to transforming the lives of students and to nation building.
“It is our hope that this kind of effort will enable universities in Nigeria, Africa and the world benefit maximally from quality education delivered in a highly secured and safe environment devoid of sexual harassment and sexual violence”. He stressed.
Dignitaries who also spoke at the webinar besides Chief Olusegun Adeniyi, the Guest Speaker, included the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege; HRH Sanusi Lamido, the Kwara State Governor, Alhaji Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq; Former Governor Donald Duke, the First Lady of Ekiti State, Mrs Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, Hajiya Saudatu Mahdi, Professor Funmi Soetan, Professor Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, Professor Mrs Yemisi Obilade, moderator; and the Vice Chancellor of OAU, Prof. Eyitope Ogunbode among others.