By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
This week, two sensational, high-profile stories have helped to push the epidemic of sexual harassment of female students in Nigerian universities to the forefront of public consciousness. As a university teacher myself and the father of two daughters, I am disconcerted that sexual harassment has been left to flourish luxuriantly on Nigerian university campuses.
On June 10, several of my Facebook friends and Twitter followers shared the disquieting story of a Delta State University lecturer by the name of Ifeanyi Ugwu Raphael who was caught red-handed while attempting to have sex with his female student whom he’d promised to give a passing grade in return for sexual favors. Pictures of the lecturer’s scroungy, naked body now litter Nigerian cyber spaces.
The story was that the lecturer, as was his wont, made several sexual advances to the female student, which she serially rebuffed. The lecturer then “got even” with her by failing her. This happened when she was in her second year. Now that she is about to graduate and needs the course to satisfy her graduation requirements, she approached the lecturer to ask what it would take to pass his course. As expected, he asked for a tryst.
The student informed her male friends about this, and her friends encouraged her to invite the lecturer to her apartment. Like sheep to the slaughter, the lecturer visited the student in her apartment, immediately took off his clothes, and was salivating in anticipation of what he thought he was going to do when the student’s male friends barged in and stopped him dead in his tracks. His naked pictures were taken and splashed all over the Internet.
A day later, we read the story of a 66-year-old Professor Festus David Kolo of Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria who was sentenced to two months in prison for sexually harassing a pregnant married woman. After pestering the woman, who is a postgraduate student, with numberless phone calls, sexually explicit text messages, and unrelenting verbal entreaties, he invited her to a guest house for a liaison. Unknown to him, the police and the woman’s husband had been informed and were lying in wait for him. Like Raphel of Delta State University, he was caught pants down—literally—with the pregnant married woman. In an interesting twist, the woman’s husband, Muhammad Isyaku, is also a lecturer at a different institution.
These two cases are only samples of the culture of flagrant sexual harassment of female students that has taken deep roots on Nigerian university campuses. Our university campuses have become malodorous moral cesspools where lewd, degenerate lecturers prey on female students with impunity. There is no parent of girls in Nigeria who is not profoundly concerned about sending their girls to Nigerian universities. It’s almost like sending sheep to a pack of wolves.
And it keeps getting worse every day. Lecturers don’t just sexually harass or rape their students; some now pimp them to rich men. I am familiar with a particularly perturbing case of a lecturer who was found guilty of pimping his pretty female students to top military officers in exchange for handsome financial reward. The military officers would go and “survey” the female students in his class. They would then let him know which girls caught their fancy. The lecturer would call the students and tell them to go have sex with his “clients.” Students who spurned his command were threatened with permanent “carry-over.”
One day, one female student who had had enough of the lecturer’s shenanigans decided to report him to the chair of his department. The case went up to the university senate and scores of students came forward to testify against the pimping lecturer. In the end, he confessed to his transgressions. Shockingly, however, he only received a warning from the university authorities. I hear the man still pimps his female students but does it in more careful ways.
Of course, not all university lecturers take advantage of their female students. Many lecturers, in fact, are conscientious, morally upright people who would never demand sexual favors from their female students or pimp them to rich folks. But this fact does not vitiate the truth that our universities are beset by a disturbing culture of sexual harassment and that female students, especially good-looking female students, are a vulnerable group on Nigerian university campuses.
This is so because there are no clear, unmistakable laws against sexual harassment in the statutes of our universities. And because there are no explicit boundaries for what constitutes sexual harassment or laws against it, there are no consequences for engaging in it. At the very least, lecturers found guilty of sexual harassment should have their appointments terminated outright.
That is the way it is in America where I teach. A teacher cannot be romantically entangled with a student he or she teaches even if the relationship is consensual. Similarly, a lecturer cannot make sexually suggestive comments, jokes, or gestures to a student—any student. Doing so constitutes grounds for termination of appointment if found guilty. That is why on June 11, an appeals court upheld the firing of a professor here who made sexually explicit jokes to his students when he took them on a study-abroad program in Spain in 2010.
The professor, identified as Robert Ammon Jr., had had a little too much beer and, in a moment of intoxication, said one of his female student would be his favorite student "if she sucked my d--k." That was it. His university, the Slippery Rock University in the state of Pennsylvania, fired him for sexual harassment. He appealed against his firing, but an appeals court upheld it on June 11.
That is how it should be. Being put in a position to nurture the minds of young people is a sacred responsibility. There should be grave consequences for betraying this responsibility. I hope the National Universities Commission and the Academic Staff Union of Universities will consider the criminalization of sexual harassment a priority before our universities turn into graveyards for women.