SENATE, yesterday, passed its Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Education Institution Bill.
The bill which was sponsored by Senator Ovie Omo-Agege prescribed a five-year jail term for lecturers and educators convicted of sexual harassment of their male or female students.
In the alternative, the bill also proposed a fine of N5 million in the event that the accused person is convicted by a competent court of law. The bill also made provisions for lecturers and
educators who may be falsely accused by their students. In such instances, an accused lecturer or educator who is acquitted by a court can turn the heat on the student who shall be expelled or suspended as the university deems fit.
Addressing Senate correspondents after the passage of the bill, Omo-Agege explained the rationale behind the sponsorship of the bill. He said the menace of sexual harassment has been there for a long time and has gone unchecked.
“Today is a landmark. It is a landmark for our wives and a landmark for our daughters. You recall immediately I got into the Senate, the first and major bill I posted was a bill to prohibit sexual harassment of students in our tertiary institutions. We had a reason for doing that. “We did that because we felt that this menace has been there for so long and it had gone unchecked, but we have had our daughters, our sisters, our nieces, wives and students who have been harassed and nothing was done. We had instances where students who ought to have graduated in threefour years, stayed for five-six years just because they said no to unwanted sexual advances from educators.
“It took a lot of political will to bring together the coalition that we brought on board to see to the successful conclusion of this bill. Today, the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has made it clear that enough is enough and never again will sexual harassment be the norm or the order of the day in our tertiary institutions.” Explaining how the Senate arrived at the five-year jail term, the Delta State born lawmaker said: “As you will recall, when we pushed this bill, we actually proposed a punishment of three years and a fine of N1 million, but the Senate in its wisdom felt that it was not enough, they wanted to send a stronger message and as a result it increased the punishment and the fine from N1 million to N5 million or both. “We have now removed the element of consent as a defence.
As you know, most of you are familiar with the law. Consent is always a defence to a charge of rape. The way we made it statutory rape whether or not consent was given becomes immaterial and the prosecution will no longer have to prove whether or not the consent of the female was obtained. “That is the case with minors and that is what we have achieved today with our female students in higher institutions. Now it is touch and go. You stay away from these girls. You touch them as a lecturer, you know that there is a price to pay. Somebody described it as a zip up legislation.”