Story from Modupe

Facilitator of Ornaments of Grace and Virtue, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) dedicated to promoting the welfare of young girls, Mrs Kehinde Omojola, speaks to OLUWATOYIN ADELEYE on how they can prevent sexual harassment. THE rape scandal rocking the University of Lagos (UNILAG) has, once again, thrown up questions on why undergraduates fail to seek redress through the channels provided by their institutions when sexually harassed by their lecturers. Dr. Akin Baruwa, a part-time lecturer of UNILAG, on Thursday, July 23, this year raped a teenager, one Cecilia (not real name), who was seeking admission into the university in an office in the Faculty of Business Administration. The victim’s father and Baruwa are said to belong to the same landlord association in Abesan, Ipaja area of Lagos. On the fateful day, Cecilia’s father had asked her to follow Baruwa to UNILAG to sort out her admission issue. But the journey ended in jeopardy. Though Baruwa, upon arrest, owned up to the act, he insisted that it was by mutual consent. The university has set up a committee to investigate the scandal and promised to address the press on the outcome soon. The Dean, Faculty of Business Administration, Prof Rasheed Ojikutu claims that Baruwa is not among the about 120 lecturers in his faculty. However, there are indications that he lectures in the Distance Learning Institute. Cecilia’s case is one of the few to get public attention because she reported to her parents. Many more students have been harassed, who for fear, failed to speak up. As a result, the lecturers were not punished. Though the procedure for seeking redress is spelt out, The Nation learnt that students hardly exploit them for fear of being victimised. Most of the female students interviewed about the matter refused to give their names to avoid getting into trouble. Even those who have already graduated pleaded anonymity to avoid the social stigma. A female student of Mass Communication at UNILAG has been harassed. But she did not report the incident which she described as “an abuse of power.” “It was during my days as a postgraduate diploma student in the Department of Mass Communication in UNILAG. During one of my papers, my lecturer – I can’t mention his name, because he would probably know if he reads this story – announced in the exam hall that ‘if you are not writing well or you know you do not know the questions, don’t cheat, just see me after the paper.’ “I was not sure of myself, so I decided to see him, just to confirm if he would use my Continuous Assessments and attendance to give me extra marks or something. So, I went to his office and he told me to write down my name and I did. Then, he asked me a funny question: ‘Cash or kind?’ I was confused at first, but he said I should better stop behaving like a child. “I decided to push my luck, just to see if he meant it. So, I offered N20, 000. He got angry and told me to get out that I am not ready to pass. He said my mates are offering him N100,000 and above. After a lot of begging, he accepted the money. I also bought him some expensive wines and gifts, though. In the end, he still did nothing, because I had a D in the course. I am just grateful he did not decide to fail me.” Explaining why she did not report, she said: “Who would I report to? I was even a bit guilty that I paid in the first place, so my mouth is shut. That is why this must be written as anonymous. Thank you.” Miss Yetunde (surname withheld) recalled a horrid sexual harassment story as a part-time undergraduate of UNILAG. She lacked the courage to report. But another lecturer helped her out. Her account: “I was sexually harassed when I was pursuing a Bachelors programme in Education as a part-time student of University of Lagos. A lecturer was hitting on me, but I refused to answer him. He continued to disturb me to no avail. He failed me in my core course. I, then, went to his office to ask how I failed because I was very sure of what I wrote in the exam. He said I should give him an answer to his proposal if I wanted to pass his course. I later found out that he got other teachers to fail me just because I turned down his advances. “Fortunately, for me, a lecturer who knew I was very intelligent noticed that I was failing some of my major courses. He came to my rescue by investigating the case and found out that the said lecturer had conspired with his other colleagues to fail me. This kind lecturer then reported the case to the Head of Department. The erring lecturer was sanctioned and later lost his job.” Modupe’s experience while seeking admission into the Lagos State University (LASU) was similar to Cecilia’s. Hear her: “It happened in 2008, when I was still seeking admission into LASU. Though I did well in my UTME, yet my father felt a connection from the university had to be involved to make my admission sail through “My father suddenly remembered he had a female colleague whose immediate younger brother was a lecturer in the Department of English in the school. I later called the lecturer who asked me to come on a Saturday, which was the day I was to sit for the post- UTME. “I called him (lecturer) and he directed me to his office. As I made to enter, I noticed the quietness of the one storey, including the offices most of which were locked up. “I was 16 and a virgin, but had known and read a lot about sex. Unfortunately, sex was an abominable subject in our house. I prepared my mind for whatever would happen because I had been taught not to trust any man at all. “I entered the sparsely-furnished office and sat down. He stood up from his seat, made for the door and locked it with a key and my heart skidded. He sat down again and asked me for my credentials. He then became more serious and started asking me personal questions. ‘Are you a virgin?’ ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’ ‘How do you feel about your big breasts?’ (I have very big boobs and my flat tummy made it more obvious)? “I was immediately looking for a way to leave the room before things degenerated, so I dashed for the door. He came after me and pinned me to the door fondling my breasts and moaning loudly. I got very angry and tried to push him away but I could not because he was very strong, despite his frail physique. I removed his spectacles and threatened to pluck out his eyeballs if he did not allow me to leave the room. Reluctantly, he opened the door and I bolted down the stairs. I felt humiliated, used and angry, but I knew I was not going to tell anybody at home because sex has never been spoken of in my family.” Another alumnus of LASU, who simply identified herself as Harriet, recounted how she almost fell into the trap of her project supervisor during her final year. “I was sexually harassed by my lecturer while I was in the first semester of my 400-Level,” Harriet said. “It is an unfortunate scenario that I will not forget in a hurry. It took place in one of the faculties at the Lagos State University. “I was assigned to one of our lecturers who was widely rumoured to have a liking for young girls. “During our first meeting, I noticed that he kept staring at my breasts and I was very uncomfortable. “Anytime I went into his office to seek clarification over my project, he would always engage me in sexual talks. He is either complimenting me about my straight legs which would be easy to spread out on the bed or other things which I would pretend not to pay attention to. “I was at the concluding part of my project on that fateful day. I’d gone to see him. I entered his office and he started rectifying all he needed to do in my project. Then, he started glancing at me in an unusual way and told me point blank that he wanted me to hold the table and him ‘doing it’ from behind. I thought he was joking and stood up immediately to leave, but he blocked the exit and forcefully dragged my hand to hold his already turgid manhood. I started begging him to let me go but he would not yield. I made to shout but he quickly blocked my mouth. He said I could go on only one condition- that I must not report to anybody, otherwise I would never graduate. He reminded me that he was an executive member of ASUU (Academic Staff Union of Universities) and he is well connected. “I never reported to the school authority and he never tried it with me again. I only told my friends I graduated without any issue.” However, contrary to the students’ claims of fear of victimization, authorities in various tertiary institutions insist that the formal procedure for redress works. Ojikutu, for instance, said UNILAG, where he has worked for nearly 30 years, does not joke with allegations by students, especially those relating to sexual harassment. He said the channels provided by the institution for students to seek redress when their rights are being trampled upon function well. “There is a process. You can write to your counsellor or course adviser. If he or she is not attending to your prayer, you approach your Head of Department. If your HOD does not attend to you, you approach the Dean. If the Dean is not attending to you, then you approach the VC. “Students are not idiots. Once they feel short-changed, they should complain. And once we receive a complaint, we will act. If you write to me and say you are being sexually harassed, the first thing I will do is to query the person concerned. And I must get a response within 24 hours and the student will be protected. You people just believe that the only crime in the university is sexual harassment. But there are lots of other issues that we address. Offences are not only committed between lecturers and students, sometimes it is between students. So, you think that the students are orphans and that there is nobody to protect them? No!” The Public Relations Officer of Yaba College of Technology (YABATECH), Mr Charles Oni, also told our reporter that abused students could seek redress. He said: “In a school environment like YABATECH, we have a process for addressing such issue (sexual harassment). We have the Senior Staff Disciplinary Committee, which deals with misconduct from erring lecturers. They listen to complaints by students and the lecturer will be tried based on evidences supplied. If found guilty, he is either demoted or dismissed depending on the gravity of the offence.” Oni added that sexual harassment was not rampant in the institution. “As much as I know, I have not witnessed any case of sexual harassment. It is not common here,” Oni said.