ASUU Condemn 5-year Jail Term for Randy Lecturers
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) on Monday, in Abuja said the Sexual Harassment Bill, 2016 before the Senate undermined university autonomy.
The Sexual Harassment Bill which was sponsored by Senator Ovie Omo-Agege (LP- Delta Central) and co-sponsored by 57 other senators aims to criminalize sexual harassment in institutions and it proposes a five-year jail term for lecturers found guilty of sexually harassing students.
The President of the union Professor Biodun Ogunyemi who commented at a public hearing on the bill, organised by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, said that universities were established by law as independent bodies, adding that there were laws that clearly expressed right procedures. This includes misconduct among both staff and students, with clearly articulated appropriate redress mechanism.
“Any law or bill which seeks to replace these laws violates the university self-government in this exact instance, the bill violates the Federal Government of Nigeria and ASUU agreement of 2009 and as such should be rejected,” he said.
He said the bill was discriminatory because it was targeted at educators.
According to Ogunyemi, “it is unfair to come up with such a bill; sexual harassment is a societal problem and not peculiar to tertiary institutions”. He also said that the bill was a violation of Section 42 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, adding that it was embarrassing that the legislative arm could seek to make such law that would violate the Constitution.
Prof. Ogunyemi also pointed out that besides violating the Constitution, the bill failed to take cognizance of various existing legislation that adequately dealt with sexual offences.
While criticizing the bill further, he said that it failed to provide substantial evidence to show that sexual harassment in tertiary institutions had attained a higher level than other spheres of the society. He also said the bill is dangerous as it contains several vague words and terms that could be used to harass and victimize lecturers especially through false accusation.
However, the National Universities Commission (NUC) supported the introduction of the bill “in view of its relevance” and called for its passage.
The Executive Secretary of the commission, Professor Julius Okojie, said that while federal and state universities had administrative structures for handling grievances, there was nothing wrong in having a legislation to help with that. He therefore called on the senate to extend the possibility of the bill to cover primary and secondary schools.
He advised that beyond presentation of laws, Code of Conduct should be given to workers in schools, restating the need to be morally sound. He called for more awareness on the matter as well as the need to have dress codes in schools to prevent any form of harassment saying that the issue of harassment is linked to suggestive dressing.
According to Director-General of the legal Aid council, Joy Bob-Manuel, the mandate of the council is to defend, and unless laws are made in clear terms, lawyers can take advantage of loopholes to make their case.
“We are aware that when a case goes to court technicalities rubbish it. So, there are provisions in the bill that should be looked at a second time. For instance, 18-year bracket contained in the bill can form technical defeat. We also suggest that a lawyer in the faculty of law should be made a member of the prohibition committee,” she said.