Nigeria’s Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo has condemned the notion that victims of sexual harassment are the architects of their misfortune either by their attitude, dressing or willingness to be in a compromising place with their violators.
Osinbajo was speaking on Wednesday during a webinar on Anti-Sexual Harassment with the theme, “Finding Safe Spaces for Female Students in Nigerian Universities”, organized by the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife.
The event focused on a book authored by notable journalist and former presidential spokesman, Mr Olusegun Adeniyi, titled “NAKED ABUSE: SEX FOR GRADES IN AFRICAN UNIVERSITIES”.
A statement by a Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media & Publicity, Laolu Akande quotes Osinbajo as saying that the victim must always be seen as the victim, adding that there cannot be an excuse, especially given the power difference between students and lecturers, that the victim could have somehow invited the abuse upon themselves.
Advocating stricter punishments for rape offenders especially in situations involving lecturers and their female students, Prof. Osinbajo observed that there is also the comparison sometimes made between demanding bribes for service and sex for grades, noting that sometimes people will argue that a bribe is a bribe and there is no reason why the punishment for sex as the currency of the bribe, should be stricter than an ordinary bribe.
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.
In his words, “to ensure that both faculty and students are sufficiently clear about the issues and rules, there is a need for a code of conduct or ethical guidelines based on best practices in appropriate student/lecturer interactions.
“It is important that these are clearly defined in ethical guidelines that are contained in some documents that people can refer to and see. It is important both for the lecturer and the student that there is some reference to some code of conduct.”
On how to resolve issues around sexual harassment in Nigerian universities, the VP 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?
“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 reportability 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 was 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 observed.
Osinbajo maintained that to create safe spaces, the system must provide the support and resources victims need to report abusers.
He also advocated that every institution makes 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.
“There is also the need for the adoption of a mandatory well-thought-out whistleblower process, emphasizing confidentiality, professional legal and medical help for victims or potential victims,” he further suggested.
Other renowned speakers at the webinar besides Adeniyi, the Guest Speaker, included the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, the Kwara State Governor, Alhaji Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, the First Lady of Ekiti State, Mrs Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi and the Vice Chancellor of OAU, Prof. Eyitope Ogunbode.