Sex harassment law ‘toothless bulldog’ without presidential nod

Campus legislation passed by Nigerian senate in July 2020 still waiting for assent

四月 15, 2024
A young girl was seen holding Nigeria Flag behind a barricade during 62nd independence day celebration at eagle square, Abuja, Nigeria
Source: iStock/Oke Oluwasegun

A bill designed to protect Nigerian students from systemic sexual harassment, passed by parliament almost four years ago, remains a “toothless bulldog” until approved by the country’s president, experts have warned.

The Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill, passed by Nigeria’s Senate in July 2020, is designed to prevent and prohibit the sexual harassment of students in tertiary educational institutions, and provides for redress of complaints. 

However, despite repeated pleas, the bill was not assented to by president Muhammadu Buhari before he left office in May last year, nor yet by his successor Bola Tinubu.

Campaigners believe the change in leadership may have contributed to the delay, while opposition to it by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), which argues that the bill unfairly targets lecturers and encroaches on institutional autonomy, may also have been a factor.

A 2018 World Bank study showed that about 70 per cent of students had been sexually harassed at Nigerian universities.

Sarah Egbo, policy lead at the Gender Mobile Initiative, a Nigerian female and youth-led non-governmental organisation, said that sexual harassment was a “systemic” issue that affected enrolment and continuation rates, as well as the quality of education.

“This is a problem that affects everyone – not just women, although they are the most affected – it still has ripple effects on everyone, both for the institution and for the country as a whole,” said Ms Egbo, who researched sexual violence at Nigerian campuses while a master’s student at the University of Sussex.

One key problem has been that, while perpetrators of sexual harassment can be sanctioned by one university, they then often move on to another without repercussions, because of the lack of a legislative framework.

Campus resource: Eight ways to improve responses to sexual misconduct in universities

Ms Egbo said a culture of silence has sustained the problem of sexual harassment, with many scared to speak up – a dilemma that legislation could help reverse.

“At the risk of pessimism, Nigeria is the graveyard of policies assented to but seldom implemented unless there is a political imperative,” said Rosemary Oyinlola Popoola, a researcher and lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“It is difficult to tell when the bill will reach assent because it does not seem to sit at the top of political priorities. It offers no score points for political manoeuvring.”

Adetutu Aina-Pelemo, senior lecturer at Redeemer’s University, a private institution in Ede, said having clear policies, educating lecturers and students and dealing with both parties within the academic environment could help create awareness.

However, Dr Aina-Pelemo warned that “implementation is key”, adding: “The bill remains a toothless bulldog until passed into law.

“The first step of addressing a problem is to give it a legal backing. This will put men and women in check and aid victims in speaking up as opposed to the culture of silence adopted by many.”



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