The Senate yesterday passed into law a bill for an Act to prevent, prohibit and redress sexual harassment of students in tertiary educational institutions.
The passage of the bill which was sponsored by the deputy president of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege (APC, Delta Central), followed the consideration of the report of the Senate committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters.
While presenting the report, chairman of the committee, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele (APC, Ekiti Central) said the legislation attracted “unprecedented support” from the 106 Senators that co-sponsored it, as well as overwhelming number of Nigerians who see the bill as a necessary legislative intervention that will bring sanity and good order to the educator-student relationship in the nation’s tertiary institutions.
According to Bamidele, “the Bill is not targeted at a particular community – the educators and that it does not interfere with the autonomy of the universities – rather, it is intended to reposition and strengthen our tertiary educational institutions to maintain the core values of etiquette and excellence.”
He added that the bill, if eventually signed into law, would give legal backing to any internal rule by educational institutions to check incidences of sexual harassment.
Bamidele stated that contrary to ASUU’s claim that there are extant laws that can sufficiently address sexual harassment in tertiary institutions; the committee found that there are no such laws.
“This legislation is meant to address incidence of sexual harassment in tertiary institutions only, as there are other laws that address sexual offences in respect of persons under the age of 18 years such as the Child Rights Act 2003,” he stated.
He further said, “By enacting this bill into law, the Nigerian government would be fulfilling part of its obligations undertaken through the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa, and the African
Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, amongst others.”
On his part, president of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, said that the passage of the sexual harassment bill would ensure the safety of students of tertiary institutions in the country.
Earlier, Omo-Agege, who proposed an amendment to clause 7 of the bill, argued that it was unnecessary for the prosecution to prove the intention of the accused person or the condition under which the act of sexual harassment was carried out.
According to him, the commission of sexual harassment was sufficient to try any educator accused of a sexual offence.
Lawmakers, including Senate leader, Yahaya Abdullahi (APC – Kebbi
North) and Senator Abdullahi Adamu (APC – Nasarawa West), however, argued on the contrary.
They noted that should the bill make it unnecessary for the prosecutor to prove the intention of any accused person in a sexual harassment trial, same would lower the requisite standards obtainable in criminal proceedings.
According to Senator James Manager (PDP – Delta South), going ahead to pass the bill without making it compulsory for prosecutors to prove the intention of the accused person in a sexual harassment case, may expose educators to blackmail.
“Mr President, we have to be very careful, as we are trying to protect the female students, we must be seen to be protecting some innocent lecturers.
“In this day of the Internet, a lecturer can easily be set-up. We have to be very careful. For us to isolate by removing the intention, that will not be good enough,” Manager said.
The lawmakers while voting on clause 7 of the Bill voted for its retention as contained in the bill and as recommended by the committee.