I am a product of the University of Lagos and proudly so too. I feel good when I introduce myself as an ex-Akokite. I naturally align myself with anyone working for the progress of my alma mater and resist anything that could tarnish its image. That was why I joined other great Akokites to resist the unpopular decision of former President Goodluck Jonathan to rename the university. And I’m glad we succeeded.
For me, securing admission to the ‘flagship’ of Nigerian universities was no mean feat. I did not only burn the midnight oil, I tried ‘burning’ some in daylight just to get in. My cousin who was a UNILAG student then had told me that the university was very competitive. He said I needed a minimum of nine points in my Advanced Level result to qualify for admission. God’s grace coupled with my hard work helped. I got 11 points. So I had a smooth cruise to my dream university.
However, whatever fond memories I have of my alma mater now are sometimes marred by the ugly incident of sexual harassment I was forced to endure on campus. Of course it is always good to bury our painful pasts in the ocean of forgetfulness, because that is where they actually belong, I sometimes struggle to do so. I feel a gush of disgust whenever I hear about cases of rape or attempted rape on any campus in the country. So you can imagine how saddened I was when I read reports of a teenager raped while seeking admission to UNILAG.
To think that an innocent teenager could be defiled within the walls of a university community is sickening. And seeing that all that the university could do in this case was to simply disown the lecturer alleged to have perpetrated the heinous act is shocking. Shortly after the university’s denial of any deal with the rape suspect, another lady, now married, accused the same lecturer of attempting to rape her.
It is ridiculous that at a time when universities across the world are thinking of better ways to handle cases of sexual harassment, the best UNILAG could do to protect its own students is to engage in unnecessary defence almost to the point of stupidity.
In my time, there were no official channels of reporting erring lecturers. All I could do was to ask some people to appeal to my lecturer to leave me alone. Unfortunately, some of the people I asked to help me told me to give my lecturer what he wanted. It was that bad.
Though I was not raped, I was seriously harassed if you consider what constitutes sexual harassment in universities in other climes. For example, in Harvard, any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that is sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive, that it interferes with or limits a person’s ability to participate in or benefit from the university’s education or work programme or activities is defined as sexual harassment. My supervisor refused to guide me through writing my final year project because I did not allow him to sleep with me. Imagine that.
UNILAG was setting up a panel to investigate a case that it had technically denied existed. To help the university in facing reality for the sake of others who are probably suffering in silence, I would like the authorities to know that I was a regular student when I was sexually harassed on its campus. My lecturer then was a full-time lecturer. And despite being desperate for help, I couldn’t get any.
There is no point playing the ostrich in this matter. UNILAG cannot afford to bury its head in the sand. Sexual harassment is not peculiar to Nigerian universities. It is a well established phenomenon. It happens even in well-established universities all over the world. A recent survey by the Telegraph in the UK found that one in three female undergraduates has some experience of sexual assault while on campus.
Also, a survey of 2,126 students of Cambridge University by the Women’s campaign last year found that more than three quarters of the students had experienced harassment while 30 per cent said they had been sexually assaulted. At Egerton University in Kenya, at least two female students are said to drop out of school yearly due to the problem of sexual harassment.
The only difference between universities in the developed ones and the ones in Africa is that while they are taking pragmatic steps to solve the problem, African universities are pretending as if it does not exist. But the earlier the students are protected, the better for everyone.
Both Harvard and Cambridge have well documented policies on sexual harassment. They consider it a serious offence. Everybody is well-protected – both the lecturers and the students. Apart from their well- articulated policies, they also provide counselling services for traumatised victims. In spite of these provisions, their students are still complaining and they are asking for better policies. They think what the universities are using as working documents should be reviewed in conformity with the latest dynamics of the problem. To them, the policies are 10 years out-of-date.
Nigerian universities should emulate their counterparts in the developed world by formulating policies and procedures for responding to cases of sexual harassment. They should establish formal channels of communication where students can report cases of harassment.
Students should know where to go for help when they are harassed by randy lecturers. They should have access to names, emails and phone numbers of people that could be contacted when in trouble. Victims should also be assured of being protected and that they will not be victimised.
Nigerian universities should understand that those who engage in acts of sexual harassment are not likely to stop unless they are challenged. If the lecturers know that their jobs would be on the line if caught, they will exercise some caution. But as long as they think the system is there to protect them, they will continue to perpetrate this heinous crime against women.
Note: This article was first published in 2015