A preponderance of the reactions I received to my column on the epidemic of sexual harassment in Nigerian universities suggested that by failing to highlight that female students do sometimes initiate sexual advances to lecturers to curry favors, I didn’t capture the complexity of the problem. Others asked that I examine the role scantily clad girls on university campuses play in encouraging sexual harassment.
There is no denying that many female students sometimes tempt their lecturers into having sex with them in exchange for better grades. It is also true that many lecturers are seduced by the temptations of provocative female dressing on campuses.
However, none of these circumstances justify the prevalent sexual predation of female students on our campuses. If a lecturer succumbs to the seduction of his female students in exchange for better grades, it is still sexual exploitation because of the unequal power dynamics in the relationship. Lecturers should—and can—spurn the temptations of their students. For instance, in a May 29, 2010 article I wrote titled “Tributesto Little-Known Heroes,” I narrated how Professor Attahiru Jega repelled the sexual overtures of a female student. He was famous for that. This is what I wrote:
“One day, two of my friends at [Bayero University Kano] brought a strikingly beautiful girl to me. She was distraught with grief. Her eyes were bloodshot from excessive crying. She was in danger of not graduating because she failed a course Jega taught. My friends brought her to me because they said I was ‘Jega’s boy’ and could help her. By her own admission, she didn’t deserve to pass the course.
“She said she was sure that she could use her beauty and incredibly tempting bodily endowments to compel any lecturer to give her whatever grade she wanted. She told me she’d actually ‘passed’ other courses that way. But she said when she went to Jega’s office in her most provocative dress—one that, according to her, could rouse a dead man to life— Jega didn’t even look at her twice. He firmly said there was nothing he could do to help her. She wondered if he was sexually impotent. Well, I told her Jega had beautiful children who were, in fact, his spitting image.
“She promised to give me ‘anything’ if I could help talk to Jega to change his mind. Of course, I told her the moment I even dared to bring that kind of issue up would be the moment Jega would stop relating to me. The young grieving lady left and said ‘his [i.e., Jega’s] wife must be very lucky.’”
Note that I wrote this more than three years ago when Jega wasn’t appointed INEC chairman. Like Jega, many lecturers have a reputation for being honorable in their dealings with their female students. So it’s not as if male lecturers are passive, helpless victims of the sexual enticements of their students. Because the power dynamics are in their favor, lecturers can resist the sexual baits of their students without any consequence.
Another issue that the Jega example illustrates is that scanty clothing in and of itself is not sufficient to cause a lecturer to sexually exploit his female students. If you think Nigerian female undergraduates are scantily clothed, come to America, especially during summers. The dressing on Nigerian university campuses is tame and modest.
Now, I have no problem with Nigerian universities that choose to impose dress codes on their students (both male and female), but I have a problem with people who justify the rape of female students on account of their dressing. Female nudity is not like a syringe that injects men with a dramatic and irresistible urge to have sexual liaisons.
When I started teaching here in the United States about 10 years ago, I faced a sticky situation. A female student of mine became unusually drawn to me. She would always sit on the front seat without fail and would stare at me in ways that struck me as unusual. My suspicions were confirmed when, in the middle of the semester, she invited me for dinner. I politely turned it down. She invited me two more times. I politely declined both. Then came the bombshell: she called me one day and said she was sexually attracted to me; that she didn’t care that I was married, and that she didn’t want any favors from me because she was a straight “A” student.
At that point, I told my colleagues what was going on. They advised that I report the case to a superior. The summary of the story is that I made it clear to the student I couldn’t have any intimate relationship with her whatsoever. And that ended the matter.
I froze off my student’s temptations not necessarily because my morality is superior to the Nigerian university lecturers who habitually take advantage of the desperation of their female students to sexually exploit them. I did it because I knew there could be grave consequences for any indiscretion on my part. Having sex with a student in America constitutes grounds for outright termination of appointment. Every person employed here learns this during orientations, and the laws guiding teacher-student relation are clearly spelled out in staff/faculty handbooks.
This is what Nigerian universities need: a clearly defined structural mechanism to regulate the intimate relational dynamics between students and their teachers and an effective mechanism for redress for students who are violated by their lecturers. At the moment, the many Nigerian university lecturers who refuse to sexually exploit their students and who spurn the seduction of their students do so out of their personal and religious morality. That’s not sustainable in the long run. You can’t run institutions on the basis of people’s personal moral codes.